Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Week Without Windbird

We just finished up nine days in the BVI, on a charter boat, without Windbird or Piper. The former stayed here on the dock in Puerto del Rey, where our dockmates John and Barbara on Mojo kept an eye on her. The latter went off to a doggy resort called Wildane Kennels, up in the foothills of El Yunque, while we flew from San Juan to Tortola. We were on a Sunsail-branded Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 389 named "Lady Meta," courtesy of Moorings charter boat owner friends who heard about our bum engine predicament. Their generosity was greatly appreciated, but it was still kind've a bummer to be going back to a charter boat. We brought a ton of stuff with us, and I was still constantly wanting various tools or equipment, turning around to get them, and then realizing they were back on Windbird. Plus the Jeanneau felt small, light and cheap compared to Windbird. We experienced some relatively nasty weather over the week and would have appreciated Windbird's solidity. Plus, surprisingly, we didn't find the Jeanneau to be particularly faster or more weatherly than Windbird; we gave her a good workout the last two days, and her performance was roughly the same as Windbird's in moderate to heavy wind.

I didn't actually spend a ton of time on Lady Meta; the whole reason we made the trip when we really would have rather been back in Puerto Rico with Windbird was because my brother Steve had put together a sailing trip on a 48' Leopard catamaran with ten of his friends - only one of whom had sailed before - and he needed my sailing expertise to be able to handle that boat. So I checked Dawn and my brother Jon and his girlfriend Heather out on Lady Meta the first day, then spent the next four days as supervising skipper and sailing instructor on S/V Shipyouknot. Only on the last two days did I cut Steve loose and return to the Jeanneau, which Dawn, Jon and Heather really appreciated. They'd been having a tough time keeping up with the cat in windy, choppy, squally conditions that were challenging for an experienced skipper, nevermind one solo for the first time with fairly green crew. It was frustrating for them to bash for hours only to find the cat arrived an hour earlier, with our crew well into party mode without them.

Sailing the cat was pretty interesting. I've done a few charters on 39-46' Leopard cats, and served as crew on a few others, but always got the impression they were pretty slow and clumsy to windward. Maybe I was just in too light of conditions, or still green and uneducated in sail trim. This time I seldom touched the helm or sheets, but gave instruction to all those interested, and we were able to do really well going to windward in 13 to 23+ knots of wind. When sailing "against" similar charter cats aboard Windbird this spring, I observed that they had a couple knots of boatspeed over us but we pointed nearly 10 degrees higher, generally getting passed off the wind but beating the cats to the upwind mark. This time we were doing 3-4 knots over what Windbird would do in similar conditions and pointing within 5 degrees (58° true wind angle vs 53° for Windbird), for overall better upwind performance.

One thing I initially disliked about the cat but which eventually made sense was its dual mainsheet system, with both sheets fed to a single manual winch. The upwind sheet serves as mainsheet, while the downwind sheet augments the boom vang to control sail twist. The dance of which sheet to put on the winch when gets a little getting used to, especially for jibing. The Jeanneau, meanwhile, had a double-ended mainsheet with each end fed to the primary winches near the helms. The upwind winch is generally used to trim the mainsheet - but again this results in an interesting routine during a jibe.

There were a few changes to the BVI since our visit in April. The islands continue to grow back more foilage and get more lush. I saw fewer structures missing roofs, and reconstruction in Road Town is proceeding apace. A lot of sunken and beached boats have been cleared out, although quite a few still remain. The Great Irma Trash Heap on the southwest side of Tortola is much smaller. The Willy T is back, bigger and better, with cheaper drink prices(!) and this time moored in Peter Island's Great Harbour. Suddenly Peter Island is popular, while The Bight at Norman Island looked deserted both times I saw it. There are rumors the Willy T will have to move again due to complaints by the Peter Island Resort, who apparently did not learn the lesson of Pirate's Bight. The Bitter End Yacht Club in North Sound has torn down all its wrecked structures in preparation for rebuilding, while Saba Rock hasn't seen much progress. Soggy Dollar added a few new palm trees but still feels quite different than the old one. Quito's Gazebo in Cane Garden Bay is almost rebuilt, and Myett's (newly sold to Pusser's) nearly has their second story back on. Anegada Beach Club is its old peaceful, welcoming self.

The seven day charter circuit can really be a slog, especially when you include the long sail to and from Anegada in challenging conditions. Dawn and I much prefer the "BVI Slow Cruise" we practiced aboard Windbird last season. Still, it was a lot of fun to introduce both sailing and the BVI to a boatload of newbies, who were all blown away by the experience. We finished the week with two days of Dawn and I racing Lady Meta against the cat crew, and while we were faster, it was pretty cool to see them sail the boat by themselves. The whole time we were thinking about Windbird; we made a decision about her engine, and set about implementing that decision (which I'll write about soon). We were pretty happy to get back to her (and Piper) today; there's no place like home, which is definitely what Windbird is to us now.

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