Monday, December 3, 2018

Season Opener

Oh, how good it felt to get off the dock! With all the frustration over the engine and the rolling delays at our hot, airless slip in Puerto del Rey, we’d almost forgotten the point of living on a boat. And then we got to Culebra and enjoyed a starfilled night at anchor in the beautiful, breezy Dakity anchorage, and everything made sense again. We enjoyed a 4-day, 3-night minicruise to start our season before taking a dock again in St. Thomas to begin our repower project, and it was just what we needed before taking on this challenge.

We left Puerto del Rey on the morning of Weds, Nov 28th, after saying our goodbyes to various friends there and relieving Stephen & Luiza of S/V Carpe Ventum (buddy boat from last year) of their Sailrite LSZ-1, as they’re headed back to the states to sell the boat, get hitched, and begin land life together. We were off the dock about an hour later than intended, at 10:15am, and no sooner had we cleared the breakwater than the engine overheat alarm went off. I glanced at the water temp gauge; it was pegged. There was just enough wind to sail, about 8-10 knots from the SSE, so I cut the engine to idle and headed upwind, Dawn heaved up the mainsail, and I killed the engine as we slowly drifted away from the reef at 2 knots. Once she got the boat cleaned up we put out the Yankee and the staysail, and then enjoyed a calm, beautiful 4-5-knot close-to-beam reach. I put both rods out and caught two fish, a barracuda and an edible-size bar jack. I kept the latter and we grilled it up Friday night. I also lost a lure to a hard strike.

Later the winds became more SE and we had to tack once to clear Cayo Luis Pena; then they veered back S but died to 7-8 knots, and we drifted the rest of the way to Culebra. We actually sailed all the way in the reef enterance and only started the engine to grab a mooring ball at Dakity, but later discovered we might as well have started the engine earlier, for our little 4-cum-3-cylinder Yanmar was more resilient than we thought.

After arriving at Dakity around 4pm we launched the dinghy to make the mile-long run into Dewey to take Piper ashore and do happy hour at the newly reopened Dinghy Dock bar & restaurant. No sooner had we tied up there than we saw two very familiar faces, Mike and Martha from S/V Laila, our dock neighbors at Puerto del Rey! The weather forecast for the next day hadn’t changed - light and flaky winds straight from the E - so we decided to stay another day.

Thursday was a delightfully lazy day. I soaked in the bathtub warm water for a while, Dawn and Piper took the paddleboard for a cruise around the anchorage, and then in mid-afternoon our other PdR dockmates, John and Barbara of S/V Mojo, cruised into the anchorage. And then we discovered via Facebook that Hayward, Ainsley & family of S/V Pura Vida were arriving from St. Croix! They spent the summer with other kid boats in Grenada and are now on their way back home to South Carolina. We took the dinghy over to the west side of Culebra via the canal through Dewey, and spent a nice hour aboard Pura Vida catching up. We couldn’t stay long, as we had an early wake up planned for Friday.

The alarm went off at 3:30am, and by 4am we were off the mooring and steaming out of the channel. The forecast had changed several times, becoming progressively lighter, and indeed the wind turned out to be even lighter than the revised forecast: 7-10 knots and variable from NE to SE. This made for challenging sailing as Windbird doesn’t really like to move in less than 10 knots true wind, especially upwind into chop, and so we ended up running the engine at reduced power for 6 of the nearly 10 hours enroute. She really ran pretty smoothly for only running on three cylinders. The best sailing of the day was when we ran along the edge of a 15-18 knot squall in late morning. When we were two miles from Christmas Cove we finally cried uncle, furled the Yankee, and motored lickety-damn straight to the anchorage. All the mooring balls were taken so we anchored in 26 feet of water over thin grass and sand just north of Fish Cay. We ordered late lunch from Pizza Pi, and had the leftovers for dinner.

The next morning was leisurely; I paddle boarded around the anchorage and visited with a couple kids who just sailed a Tayana 42 aft-cockpit, S/V Eclipse, offshore from Boston. After waiting out a brief but intense squall, we hauled anchor and motored through Current Cut and into Red Hook bay. Our reserved slip at American Yacht Harbor was still occupied so we took a vacant mooring ball for a couple hours until the dockmaster cleared us in. And that was the last time our faithful little Yanmar ever ran, for over the weekend we began the process of getting her ready to be removed from the boat. But that’s a story for another post.

First impressions of Red Hook: it’s a little surgey on the dock here, but far less than I expected considering that the bay is open to the eastern prevailing trades. I guess St. John and the offlying cays to the NE break up the swell before it gets in here. The marina here is small, decently nice, and rebuilding after Irma; it’s pretty expensive and some of their policies rub us the wrong way. We probably wouldn’t stay here except that it’s a convenient place to do the repower. The good news is that we’re parked facing west and there’s a nice cooling breeze right down our hatch in the aft cabin. And there are lots of stores and bars around to tempt our rapidly dwindling dollars. Anyways, I’m really eager for this repower to be done so we can get back out there on the hook. Our season opener minicruise was a taste of the good stuff, and I’m looking forward to more.


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