03. Caribbean, St Lucia to Panama 2008

14:04.59N 060:56.91W Rodney Bay, St Lucia 20th December 2007

During the crossing my credit card expired and it has caused all kinds of problems with the billing for the graptolite.eu website and me being able to update photos and video. It is proving tricky to sort out from the Caribbean, but normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. I can obviously still add words (like these..and these) but just now I have more interesting stuff to do. I’ll start it up again before continuing west. Summary of events in Rodney Bay, St Lucia so far. Eat, drink, party, party, beach, eat, drink, party etc. Tom arrived yesterday for Christmas and New Year. Lori leaves for Portugal tomorrow and is back New Years Day.

14:04.59N 060:56.91W Rodney Bay, St Lucia 22nd December 2007

The website access problems seem to be solved and there are now new photos on graptolite.eu . Although video is going to have to wait for a faster internet connection than they have here in the marina. The Award Ceremony was held today for the ARC. Graptolite got a special mention for blogging but no trophy. After the award do, Patti, Tamsin, Tom and myself went to the Gros Islet ‘Jump Up’ which is a Friday night shanty town street bash. A Notting Hill Carnival meets Cowes Week type do. Note to self: never let Tom loose with rum punch again. Lori left for Xmas in Portugal with family. The rest of us will be toughing it out here until maybe Boxing Day then having a sail south to the Grenadines. There are still a few more bits and pieces to fix on the boat before leaving though.

14:04.59N 060:56.91W Rodney Bay, St Lucia 23rd December 2007

A Crabbers blog,

Crew here; We realise that our public gets anxious when the blogs dry up but it feels to us that there is no news in port. Liz’s sister did remark that all we seemed to do or write about doing whilst at sea was eating. You wouldn’t think so if you’d have seen us on arrival; Skipper with new notches on his belt (to make it go smaller), others with a more svelte look – all now restored thanks to Caribbean cuisine and Piton beer.

Anyway, the prize giving was last night and we were there. The gig started off with a duf mic on the stage which when fixed came on at full volume plus feedback which blew all the fuses in the house. Time for more rum punch till it got fixed. You don’t know how boring these events can be till you have to sit through the whole thing and not the edited highlights. In the intermission Liz and I made for a less congested bar behind closed doors but didn’t stay long as the ARC MD was hosting drinky’s for the St Lucia PM, Cabinet Ministers and other hangers on – Ooops!  Got a good rum punch recipe from the PM’s wife tho’.  As for the results we came 16th in our class, one place in front of Andante of Mersey which may interest a couple of readers!

As for the awards, we wuz robbed guv!  As an example of witty / humorous blogs, Graptolite’s blog was quoted verbatim. (It was one of Martyn’s – not one of the really good ones) Then the prizes were given to three other boats. Pah!

Rant aside, the marina has seen a mini ARC exodus following the collection of trophy’s last night so after a serious go with a cattle prod to those in need, a number of jobs have now been ticked off.  After two stints at the top of the mast by Liz we finally saw the genoa halyard back in its rightful place and this am saw the new genoa furled (bent – for techies) onto the forestay. A trip to the supermarket and other checking out technicalities will see us heading out tomorrow for an anchorage in view of the Pitons 3 hours away.

Pitons, St Lucia 24th December 2007

Tom, Midshipman here,

  After succumbing to a lax Caribbean lifestyle, waiting at the fuel pontoon for an hour and Ian almost removing several of his own fingers with a sailing knife, we finally left Rodney Bay at set course for The Pitons.  A fine cruise all day with light hail and a minor snowstorm. When reaching the Pitons we were offered assistance by Boat Boy Ethiopia but then he buggered off leaving us with Equal Rights. He tied us up nice and tight onto a Palm tree, after dropping anchor just off a beach underneath The Pitons, and leaving us after taking $5. Five minutes after arriving I was off straight into the sea followed by Martyn and Liz. Ian seemed very keen but couldn’t due to risk of major infection. Were staying in tonight with Chicken on the Barbie. Nice.

13:14.73N 061:30W Walliabou Bay, St Vincent, Christmas Eve 2007

Cleared Customs and Immigration in Soufiere, St Lucia in the morning and then sent Tom for a swim to the beach to take the long line off the palm tree. We then set a course south with the Pitons mountains falling away behind us. By late afternoon we arrived at the equally mountainous island of St Vincent and pulled into the tiny Wallilabou Bay to check in with the St Vincent authorities. All the buildings looked strangely familiar and our boat boy told us it was the film set for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. It’s a little bit decayed now but still recognisable as the dock Captain Jack Sparrow stepped ashore from the top of his mast. Serious toilet trauma was narrowly avoided this evening when a flying fish swooped in through the forward heads portlight. Fortunately no one was busy. A Merry Christmas to all our readers. If you didn’t get a card from me as usual then you are not alone. Due to ineptitude, sloth and being nowhere near post-boxes, I didn’t manage to send any out this year. Not even the electronic ones. I’m assuming nobody sent me one either except for my Uncle Reg and Auntie Nora who managed to get a card to Rodney Bay Marina before we left telling me I now own part of a cow in Africa. Well done. Best wishes to all. from Martyn (and Tom, Ian & Liz)

12:58.36N 061:14.85W, Petit Nevis, Grenadines, Christmas Day 2007

Santa didn’t turn up but it was possibly not putting mince pies out that did it. Some pressies though from family. Thank you very much. Had a swim off the back of the boat as one does on Christmas Day morning. It’s very warm here. Tom was sent towards the beach to untie us from a piling, and we set off for the Grenadines. The first island rounded was Bequia but we ended up anchored off a small uninhabited island to the south of Bequia called Petit Nevis. Near the landing jetty we found an old whaling station with cauldrons for boiling blubber which are apparently still used by the locals when the IWC lets them. Swam some more this afternoon but I think we may have missed the Queen on the telly.

12:38.09N 061:23.89W Mayreau, Grenadines, Boxing Day 2007

Just the usual Boxing Day activities here. Sailed to Tobago Cays in the St Vincent Grenadines. Anchored and swam with some turtles and stingrays. Then found another anchorage for the night in Saline Bay on the tiny island of Mayreau and watched the sunset.

12:56.54N 061:18.63W Bequia, Grenadines, 27th December 2007

Back to the island of Bequia (pronounced ‘Beckway’, apparently) and this time to the harbour of Port Elizabeth. Our cruising permit expired today, and we wanted to make sure we are legal to stay longer (we are). Nice harbour with lots of yachts on mooring buoys. We bought a crate of St Vincent beer called ‘Hairoun’ from one boat boy then haggled for some spiny lobsters from another and ended up with three huge ones weighing nearly four pounds each. Some of you will remember boiling up three lobsters at a time in a big pan on the deck of Graptolite a couple of years back on the Hamble River. These brutes had to be folded up just to cook one at a time. Two of them were more than enough for the four of us. Spiny Norman survived as he is the biggest and baddest and is now living in a lobster pot hung over the side of the boat. Nobody wants to mess with Norman.

12:59.40N 061:14.11W Bequia, Grenadines, 28th December 2007

A lazy day. Tom and I went into Port Elizabeth by dinghy to buy a St Vincent Grenadines courtesy flag then we all took a short sail to the other side of Bequia Island to Friendship Bay for a quieter mooring and swim. Spiny Norman was invited for lunch. He was quickly despatched with a knife through the head under veterinary supervision, but it takes lobsters a little while for them to come to terms with the fact they are actually dead. It’s not particularly nice seeing food jumping around by itself on the barbie but it doesn’t get any fresher than that. And very tasty too with an avocado and tomato salad. The mooring in the bay has been a bit bouncy with lots of surf on the rocks nearby. Talked ourselves out of going ashore through the breakers for dinner and watched ‘Shrek’ on DVD instead.

12:56.54N 061:18.63W Bequia, Grenadines,  29th December 2007

We nearly rolled the dinghy in the surf but eventually stormed the beach in Friendship Bay and had lunch in a hotel beach bar. In the afternoon we circumnavigated Bequia back to Port Elizabeth for clearing out formalities to be able to leave at first light to get back to St Lucia for New Year.

Port Elizabeth harbour in the evening was very raucous with parties on every other boat. We went ashore and had dinner in ‘Frangipani’s’ restaurant surrounded by smoking Italians and small dogs. Food was good though. Later Ian fell asleep on deck and was soaked in a rainstorm. It was probably just Natures little way of saying drink more water and less rum punch!

We plan to be back at Soufriere/Pitons tomorrow and then moor in Marigot Bay, St Lucia for New Years Eve.

13:58.00N 061:01.46W Marigot Bay, St Lucia, New Year’s Day 2008

Had a swim in the coral reef of the Pitons anchorage then sailed to Marigot Bay. Dinner of Lobster Thermidor and Beef Wellington at Doolittle’s, followed by limbo and fire-eating (by other more flexible people) and then big fireworks over the bay. Tom had nothing to do with the rum punch, for those concerned. Don’t know where he gets that from! Happy New Year to all at 00:52 Caribbean time.

13:58.00N 061:01.46W Marigot Bay, St Lucia, 2nd January 2008

Still tucked in the mangroves of Marigot Bay and easily managed to do almost nothing all day except watch the comings and goings of other yachts and buying a few croissants. Lori arrived back by helicopter as one does.

14:04.60N 060:57.45W Rodney Bay, St Lucia, 3rd January 2008

Moved up the coast a bit from Marigot Bay back to Rodney Bay. This time anchored off Reduit Beach. The marina will be seeing enough of us over the next few weeks. Everything is still shut here for New Year so didn’t do much today. No apologies.

14:04.58N 060:56.96W Rodney Bay Marina, 4th January 2008

Back into the marina so Ian & Liz could make an early morning flight to the BVI’s for some real sailing. Friends and relatives of the Crabbers need read no more of this blog as they left before 05:00 this morning. Ian & Liz, thanks for your reliability, resourcefulness, and northern sense of humour. It made an otherwise arduous Atlantic crossing a real pleasure. Good luck with the leg op, Ian. Port tack will never be as easy again.

14:04.58N 060:56.96W Rodney Bay Marina, 6th January 2008

A Lori blog. Well, it’s good to be back on Grapto and I am now over my jet lag. I’ll make the most of being in control of the blog to say a big thank you to my family and Ben and Kerry for a fab Christmas in Portugal – my only regret was that I didn’t get to see my dad – love and miss you loads dad. Thanks too to Baz, Jenny, Rosie and Ava for a great NYE.

Skip took Tom to the airport this afternoon and the next time he will be on the boat will be when it arrives in Cairns. He will be missed on the boat and it was sad to see him go. I had a day going thro’ the boat cleaning and making a note of the food we have and the food we will need for the next leg. Have the first hammock up for fruit and veg – shades of Las Palmas. I can feel the excitement building again – that promise of the next adventure ahead. World ARC boats are arriving and gathering on pontoon A.

I have been reading about the wildlife on the Galapagos (have you seen a picture of the blue footed boobie? how cute is that?) and in preparation I have started my open water PADI diving course. My first dive was off the Pitons in a marine reserve, the second was off a coral reef between the Pitons and Marigot Bay and I was completely knocked out by the experience! There’s so much to see down there! Seahorses, Norman’s great aunt, fish of such brilliant colours – ok, so you know but I didn’t. Everyone must take up diving immediately! Need to obtain the advanced level if I’m to see the Hammerhead sharks off Galapagos though so I’ve been studying for my first written exam in between cleaning. The next stage starts here in St Lucia. I can’t wait. Lori

Martinique 16th January 2008

In Martinique just now. I’ll put the location in sometime. Came here to get a generator serviced but ended up hitting a submerged wreck. Obviously, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be according to Sir Francis Drake’s chart. Should have posted someone up in the crows nest. I went over the side with a snorkel to have a look while Lori was looking for a diving manual and an instructor (Ian – you’re not the only one now to go over the side to sort out my problems). The sight was all a bit nasty with the keel bulb stuck in the flanks of this battleship and my bow crunched up on its topsides. We managed to drag it off using a kedge anchor just before it got dark and limped into the nearest marina. Left a lot of expensive anti-fouling paint behind but mostly it was just scrapes and bruised pride! Back to St Lucia tomorrow when the generator has been fixed up.

14:04.58N 060:56.96W Rodney Bay, St Lucia, 23rd January 2008

What has been happening to Grapto all this time? I hear you ask. She’s now back in Rodney Bay, St Lucia. Martinique, although it’s a nice place in itself, the visit does not rank up there with the best of experiences. While having the generator serviced, the fuel system turned out to have had been given some dodgy diesel at some point and was infested with diesel bug and water. The tanks needed cleaning out, biocide-ing and the fuel pump replaced. It all took three days to sort out. It didn’t help that after the first day the French engineer working on the problem got thrown in jail and had his tools and car impounded by the Police. Too much enforced idleness after many months at sea also got Lori and me to realize that maybe we could both do with a change of company. Lori’s family and friends will find her on another World ARC blog for the yacht ‘Quasar’ until the Spring.

New Grapto crew flew in a couple of days ago in the ample shape of Colin Laidlaw who you will remember from Lagos, Portugal. The next leg will be crewed by Colin and me to Panama, possibly stopping off at Aruba, Netherlands Antilles for a rest and a bite to eat on the way. I’m going to need a few more bodies for handling ropes for the Panama Canal transit if any of my gentle readers care to jump on a plane fairly quick. The World ARC start is out in Rodney Bay, midday tomorrow. It might take us a week to get to Cristobal, Panama. Watch this space.

13:55.0N 061:50.7W 24th Caribbean Sea, January 2008

Colin and I picked up a few groceries in the morning and mooched out of the marina about 11:00. Naughtily we zoomed past ‘Kealoa 8’ on the way out of the marina lagoon. Let’s face it, there are going to be very few opportunities for me to beat a 72-foot boat to anything on this trip. Any way I hope you got a good photo, Rosie. We anchored out in Rodney Bay and had a sandwich and a beer waiting for the off. We crossed the start line close to the hooter and everyone piled into the channel shoreside of the ‘Barrel o Beef’ rock, rounded a turning buoy near Castries and pointed towards Panama. (Actually, Aruba but don’t tell the Race Committee). As darkness fell there were boats in the distance ahead and to port and starboard. More importantly, some were also behind us. So. Result! The resident chef cooked up a spicy pork dish with baked potatoes and we started a watch system which should keep us nice and knackered for the next 500 miles. I’m writing this on my first watch and I’m going to have to have a look around outside now in case we are being overtaken.

13:26.0N 065:10.0W NW of Caracas, Venezuela, 25th January 2008

I was just in the process of writing what an enjoyable sail this has been when a squall crept up on us in the dark about twenty minutes ago and snapped my spinnaker pole in two. I’m not a happy bunny now. Still, I gather from today’s radio net that a good few boats couldn’t start on time in Rodney Bay because of problems with kit so it could be worse.

We are currently about 180 miles NW of Caracas, Venezuela. Still aiming for a quick Aruba stopover about 280 miles further on.

12:54.61N 067:19.10W North of Venezuela, 26 Jan 2008

We took a look at the busted spinnaker pole this morning and concluded that a shorter but probably useable pole can be cobbled together from the bits. It needs bigger pop-rivets than I have on board to do a good job but it can wait until Panama. Burns Night tonight. We have nae chieftain’o’the puddin race in the stores nor neeps and tatties but we could be having a wee dram of something later if the squalls stay away. We are only 24 hours from Aruba.. Only one day away from….

12:31.22N 070:02.56W Saturday 26th Jan 08

What an interesting day we’ve had. The morning was uneventful but just as we sat down for a lunch of some Jamaican jerked chicken off the barbie, all the boat’s 12v power died. This was not the usual batteries, which were good, but maybe something to do with a short in the isolator switch. Colin is an electrician by trade and we gave it our best shot but failed to fix it while bouncing around hove-to.  This was somewhat serious in that we had no way to start the main engine, no way to start the generator, no navigation instruments, and charts (more about this later), no radio comms, no autopilot, no radar, no depth sounder. We were thrown well back to the 19th Century in terms of sailing capabilities, and we didn’t even have the old salt who says “Three fathoms, sand and broken shell, Cap’n” either. Although we had planned to go to Aruba anyway and Aruba was only about 40 miles away, we suddenly found ourselves wondering if we could actually find the place. We did have a few bits of modern technology still functional. There was a primitive hand-held GPS out of the grab-bag. Our paper charts were a bit limited, Aruba being off the official route, but the laptop still had enough power to read our electronic chips of the main system. The sat phone also still had enough power to make a call or two but it really didn’t want to play (more about this later as well). As the chicken went cold on the deck table we set sail in the approximate direction of Aruba. Landfall was at night, naturally. If you ever need your bowels loosening, then approaching an unknown reef-fringed island in the dark without any navigation instruments, navigation lights or engine is the way to do it. As we were nearing our best guess at Oranjestadt, the capital, wondering where the marina was and if we actually had the right stuff to sail into a crowded berth anyway, we had an unlit Coastguard RIB come up alongside our own unlit boat demanding that we hand over our firearms and other contraband. Getting almost no sense out of either Colin or myself they took pity on us and offered to lead us through the reefs. Them in a RIB and us sailing (note: sailing) after them. They took us to what turned out to be the cruise-ship dock where we came to rest against some tractor tyres and concrete. Then we were thoroughly searched for the aforesaid firearms etc. Very politely too, I have to say. Later, fired up with adrenalin, Colin and I tried to head towards the sound of a loud music concert but discovered that nobody gets in or out of the cruise-ship dock without the right paperwork. A visit from Immigration and Customs has been promised for 06:00 tomorrow. Hopefully a specialist marine electrical wallah as well. The sat phone problem was found to be bits of yesterday’s broken spinnaker pole being lashed across the external antenna. Now sorted, this is how you are getting to hear this sorry tale.

12:31.22N 070:02.56W Orangestadt, Auruba 27th January 2008

It turns out that our power failure of yesterday was the result of an electrical fire and there are melted wires everywhere. It might take a while to get somebody in to fix it up. There are worse places to be stuck than Aruba at Carnival time. The boat will soon become uninhabitable without power or water so if news dries up for a while it is because I’ve not been able to charge up my laptop or phone.

12:46.48N 071:03.76W, Orangestadt, Aruba 30th January 2008

When all the major wiring and switches inside a boat turns into a nest of smoking, dripping black and red snakes, surely a skipper can be forgiven for thinking that it’s all over. To those I sent text messages to, saying just that, well, I might have been a bit pessimistic. After three days of rewiring by Clifford Rosa and his electrical men we got the welcome sound of engine and generator back. Not all is perfect and there are some circuits still fried but we had enough to put to sea about 22:30 UTC Tuesday and we are now going at flank speed to get to Panama while there are still WARC boats still around to be rafted up with. What was the problem with the wiring? The electricians had found that a big cable coming out of the generator had got heat and vibration damaged and short-circuited against the casing. The generator was only installed last summer. The company shall remain nameless for the moment (you know who you are) until they have had an opportunity to make amends. I’m sure you are all bored to tears by now about these problems. Not all was bad news in Aruba. Once we could get the main engine running we moved out of the cruise ship dock to the marina in Oranjestad. As part of the marina package we got full use of the Marriott Renaissance Resort & Casino facilities of pool, gym, spa and private island and beaches. Although we never got to the private island. Or used the gym either but they did have nice showers. Oranjestad is mostly a town set up for huge cruise ships to dump their portly American passengers for a day of spending in the Dutch-meets-Disney shopping malls, but the Aruban people seem friendly, and the place is probably worth a longer visit sometime.

12:03.38N 073:18.37W somewhere north of Colombia 31st January 2008

For most of the day, throwing caution and a degree in environmental science to the wind, we’ve been burning up diesel as fast as we can to try to get to Panama to make the transit with the rest of the WARC fleet. During the afternoon the wind picked up and we gave the engine a rest and got even more speed by hoisting the asymmetric spinnaker and goose-winging with the mainsail. That is until the wind topped Force 7 and we had thoroughly frightened ourselves. Other than that we have had the usual kamikaze squadrons of flying fish bombing the topsides and we had a big escort of dolphins for a while. No video this time though for a change.

11:04.02N 075:45.34W 40 miles north of Cartagena, Colombia 1st February 2008

We hear that the San Blas Islands are a good stopover before Colon, Panama. Not sure if we have the time now after our electrical adventures in Aruba but we are going to give it a try. The wind has been with us. Too much at times with up to 45 knots on our tail on occasion. It’s also been a bit bouncy. Colin goes a bit green-ish if I don’t make him bacon butties at regular intervals. That’s my theory anyway.

10:00.68N 078:13.76W 40 miles north of the Panamanian coast 2nd February 2008

It looks like we will miss the official end of this leg tomorrow by just an hour or two unless Grapto goes faster than she ever has before. “More steam down there in the boiler room!”

I’ve just been re-reading Capt. Joshua Slocum’s ‘Sailing Alone Around the World’ for inspiration. Thank you again Mike and Jacqui for the birthday pressie. I wonder how the good Captain would have handled suddenly becoming engineless and without electronics when he didn’t have any to start with. A simpler age when merely waving a rifle in the direction of thieving natives got them to run away. Times change.

09:22.09N 079:57.02W Shelter Bay, Panama 3rd February 2008

Graptolite has arrived at the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal 17:01 UTC and we are now in Shelter Bay Marina. We will probably be off through the canal on Tuesday but we have a few repairs and a few preparations to make before the canal transit including getting extra-long ropes and finding the bodies to handle them.

09:22.09N 079:57.02W Shelter Bay, Panama 4th February 2008

We are expecting to be into the Canal tomorrow (Tuesday). You may even get to see us on the Panama Canal webcams at http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html (just Google it, it will be easier).

08:54.70N 079:31.34W 23:00 near Panama City 6th February 2008

After fuelling-up and taking on an American, Dixon Cole and Danish/American, Stig Pedersen for additional line-handling crew, the departure from Shelter Bay was uneventful. The group of seven yachts assembled on the Flats near Colon before dark awaiting the pilot boat. After the pilot came onboard, we motored to the Gatun Locks entrance where we rafted up with a non-WARC boat called ‘Scratch’. On entering the big concrete locks, which were all lit up in the dark, heaving lines, to collect the long lines, came whistling in from the line handlers on the lock walls. The gates closed behind us and we were turbulently lifted through three giant flights to Gatun Lake where we anchored for the night. Before daybreak, the Howling monkeys in the forest ashore started a dawn chorus and by 6:00AM we were making breakfast. It seems to be pancakes with maple syrup every day these days for some reason. A new pilot came onboard after breakfast and we were off again across the Gatun Lake. Although a man-made lake (one of the world’s biggest apparently) it is exceptionally pretty with its rain forest covered islands. We motored mostly along the ‘banana route’ out of the main channel, through the islands for about forty miles and reached the down-going Miraflores Locks flight by mid-afternoon. After rafting up again with two other yachts we started in on the down-flight. Maybe somebody was watching the webcam. I waved.Leaving the Canal system, we motored to Flamenco Island Marina in sight of the towering modern city sky-line of Panama City, and then had a few beers and other drinks and a buffet dinner with the rest of the WARC-ers. ‘Graptolite’ is now bathing her bottom in the Pacific Ocean. Who would have believed it possible? This is also a point of no return in that the quickest way home would seem to be to keep going.