Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Unexpected Passage to Grenada

Just in case you were wondering… we are not in St Thomas anymore… well not all of us anyway. Rebecca is still there waiting for us to return and working at Tickles. The rest of us and Wandering Dolphin are safely in St George’s, Grenada. How exactly did this come about? If you recall we left at the end of July heading south to avoid the Hurricanes and the Auto Pilot quit on us so I was forced to head back to St Thomas rather than attempt a five day sail with four kids hand steering the whole way.

I managed to work out the issues and get it up and running within the next week but the whole emotional mess of leaving Rebecca behind was just something I couldn’t bring myself to do again. I had a couple of good windows and even a call from my friend Dick (“Changin’ Tags”) who was willing to sail with me on the next available window. I just didn’t want to go so I kept putting it off hoping and hoping that no storm would threaten us enough that I would have to head to the mangroves in Salinas or Vieques with the kids to ride it out. We managed to eek out almost all of August before I saw the development of Danielle, Earl, and Fiona in the Eastern Atlantic. I had been watching the weather like a hawk and when I saw these three storms I knew that my last window was that day, Thursday August 26th. Rebecca had that Thursday and Friday off so even though I should have left that day I stayed and we prepared the boat to head for the mangroves. Saturday morning when I left St Thomas I was still not sure if I would be heading for the mangroves or Grenada. It all depended on the wind. I figured if I had the wind to sail south I would just get out of the zone. I knew the path for the hurricane (Earl) already had it curving north and arriving Monday or Tuesday so I figured two days of good sailing would put me south of it’s path and I would personally rather not have to ride out any hurricanes with kids onboard even in the mangroves.

As we left St Thomas I was able to sail south with no problems so south it was. Before leaving this time I had given all of the kids a dramamene so they were drifting off into never never land. The wind was only blowing 10 to 12 from theE SE so the seas were beautiful and low and Wandering Dolphin always feels good, and sails fast close hauled. By evening the kids were waking up and feeling good so we had a chat and I reminded them of the rules. They already knew that offshore they always had to wear a harness and clip in with the tether whenever they went above (even in the cockpit) but this time they were to help make sure DAD did the same thing. I also showed them how to heave to in an emergency, use the radio, set off the EPIRB, and call on the SAT phone. Then I told them our new rules for this passage. They were alowed to be awake whenever they wanted or sleep whenever they wanted day or night. Whenever the engine was running or the solar panels were putting out 13V or more they were allowed to play Wii or watch movies at any time day or night. Snacks, fruit and drink mixes were there for the asking and NO SCHOOL ALLOWED for the duration of the passage. I would never have thought that those few little freedoms would make such a huge difference in a passage. The kids had a ball for five days. Benny eventually found himself helping EmilyAnne with her night watches. She was the only one actually on a watch schedule with me. She was great and never failed to wake me up if she had any question about anything she saw or noticed a ship on AIS or a squall on the radar.

During my 0300 to 0600 watch on Sunday night as I listened to the WX weather on the VHF from NOAA I started to panic. It sounded from the hurricane warnings and watches that had been issued that Earl had sped up and was heading straight for us. I called Beck at 0400 and asked her what she saw on the internet and she called our friend Herman who began to feed us weather info and put my mind at ease that we had already sailed far enough south that we would not be hit by the storm itself. He also gave me routing instructions that helped me avoid the outer bands. THANK YOU HERMAN!!!!

Earl hit St Thomas on Monday and while our friends and Becky were getting nailed with hurricane force winds and boats were dragging anchor or sinking in Honeymoon Bay and Becky and the folks at Island View Guest House were protecting their home and hearth we had west winds clocking to the SW at 18 to 20 with gusts no higher than 25. We tacked that morning and Wandering Dolphin started FLYING south on a beem reach. For 24 hours we made tracks to the south and further from the storm and the one following it.

Tuesday brought light winds from the SE which was exactly where we needed to go to make Grenada so we fell off to a due east reach for St Lucia counting on a clocking of the wind at some point closer to the islands. That day we made Pizza and continued our movie marathon watching the newest Star Trek and having a Wii Brawl tournament.

In the evening as we were sitting in the cockpit watching the sunset when the general call for all hands was issued with the word, “DOLPHIN’S!” EmilyAnne and Benny clipped into the jacklines and made their way to the bow pulpit where they sat to watch the show. We were all enjoying the playfull pod when I saw Kanyon’s eyes grow wide as he watched behind us. I turned to see what he was seeing just in time to catch the monster dorsal fin of a killer whale and smell his breath as he exhaled no more than an arms length from the rail of our cockpit. What Kanyon had seen before I turned around was the whales full face, teeth and black and white head as it surfaced for a breath. For about twenty minutes we watched this pod of killer whales and their attending pod of dolphins until we sailed out of their range.

On Wednesday, September 1st we pulled into the marina at St George’s. Benny looked sad and said,

“I wish we could stay offshore all the time…” When EmilyAnne asked why he replied, “No school, no bedtime, movies and Wii whenever and snacks all the time…. WHY NOT!”

The kids all agree that this was the best passage they have ever had. EmilyAnne was WONDERFUL as crew and by the time we arrived in Grenada we were tacking, gybing, and reefing with ease.

I should have left earlier. I sure should have taken Dick up on his offer and left WAY earlier. I should have at least left on Thursday or Friday. But the decisions we make in life are all colored by our emotions. The hurricanes delude people.. there is plenty of warning now that one is coming but it’s easy to be an optimist and think the storm will just miss you. Usually that’s what it does. Many boats were lost in St Thomas. A friend of ours now has a boat on Honeymoon beach because he didn’t at least move across the bay to a more protected spot. Our mistake this year was that we didn’t stick with our original plan and sail south as a family. Leaving Beck in St Thomas to work made it just too hard to leave when we should have. From now on it’s our intention to always be out of the “zone” during the peak season at least.

Meanwhile, here we are, Grenada is beautiful and the people are great and for once the marina is at a price we can afford.

God Bless,

Captain Tofer