Thursday, June 14, 2007

Antigua for Race Week; our steering cable broke but we arrived safely

Passage from Venezuela: Never leave Port on a Friday!

As a safety precaution before our three or four day passage from Venezuela to Antigua, Mike arranged to maintain a regular 12 hourly contact schedule with both Derek (Dream Weaver) in Porlamar, and Charles and Caroline (Itza Purla) then in St. Lucia. We left Porlamar, Margarita Island, early on Friday morning in fair winds and sunshine.

On the Sunday afternoon Mike and I were in the cockpit when at about 4.30 there was a small bang in the cockpit area. As we promptly sat up to attention and looked about us for the source of the noise, we felt the boat round up into the wind - all by itself. What had happened? Slight panic situation! A swift turn of the wheel soon proved that we had lost our steering – “Oh, Dratt!!!” (and other similar words).

Overlooking the crowded harbours of Antigua

Fortunately Mike had made an extension to the metal emergency tiller before we left Canada two years previously; instead of sweeping across the cockpit at ankle breaking level the bar was now about 20 inches above the floor.

It soon became obvious that we could have done with an extra few inches of height, as sitting at the back of the boat and bending down to the steering was extremely very uncomfortable.

We duly reported our predicament to our friends; with the tiller in place and full of renewed optimism we headed off again in the light air conditions. Another challenge: how to find a way of rigging up a self steering system for the tiller which ensured that we stayed more or less on course. String and bungee cords provided the solution.

The next day, a Monday, we decided to change direction slightly up to Guadalupe rather than continue to Antigua - our primary destination. By this time we knew that IP would have sailed there to meet us. Two other couples; Brenda and John on Willow; Katie and Harrison on Circe; both in the area and listening out for us, were also making haste to head to Guadeloupe. We knew they would stand by in case we got into real trouble and help us when we arrived.

Controlling the emergency tiller was easier said than done as well as exceedingly uncomfortable. Soon we began to take turns on the tiller - a half-hour each, on and off. Even though Mike had modified the tiller we still found it difficult to manage in the slightly choppy seas with wind on the nose; we were exceptionally fortunate to have fair weather and light winds.

Cheshire Cat with Itza Purla and Chinook anchored in Antigua

It is always such a tremendous feeling to know one has good friends standing by in times of need; we felt that any one of our buddies would have come out to meet us and help us cover those last few miles if it had been necessary.

Indeed, when we did sail slowly into the anchorage in Guadalupe at around midnight, there they all were, ready to help us anchor safely.

J Boats racing with much smaller classic yachts

What a welcome we received when we finally reached our destination!
Itza Purla, Willow and Circe and Debbie and Brian on Chinook had all arrived in the harbour at Falmouth, Antigua ahead of us. Andrea and David on Gallant of Fowey; Jenny and Tom on Annie B were there as well; later we met Derek on Dream Weaver; Serendipity of Falmouth; Lillymaid; ‘Tall Paul’ on Zutalief; Steven on Corasol; Tristam on Usqueabach; Sophie and several others.

The venue was packed in anticipation of two of the great events in the annual sailing calendar -Classic Week, when vintage design boats gather to race in a friendly and gentlemanly fashion - and Race Week, where some of the most competitive racing boats and crews compete with ferocious passion.

Usqueabach and Crew racing in Classic Week

Tristam had invited Mike and I to crew on his Joshua Slocum ‘Spray’ replica for the week and soon we gathered with the others to don our impressive racing colours; black bowler hats, waistcoats and white shirts with cute little red bow ties.

At the racing start line we soon found ourselves working hard to even get around the course - it was very evident the boat wasn't built for racing! Tristam, being the canny sea dog that he is, took advantage of a shortened course, and it transpired that we were first (in our class) over the line that day! There was a bit of a drama on the final day when Usqueabach was battling along in the thick of a crowded course when the steering cable broke (déjà vu?); Tall Paul made a temporarily fix with true bodger's skill, using anything he could find lying around.

We had a wonderful and memorable Classic Week, sailing and making merry with old and new friends.

Best of all was watching some of the most famous old boats race the same course as us, carrying thousands of feet of sail more than any modern cruising boat, with their crews working flat out to win the prestigious races.

All the boats all raced together over a similar course – be they large or small. This appeared to be very confusing, as the slower boats were constantly overtaken by the faster and more agile craft.

The Huge J-boats with enormous sails together with some of the very small classic yachts.

Mari Cha 4 was competing, (the fastest racing boat in the world at this time) having made amazing time crossing the Atlantic in something like 6 days. It takes the average cruiser about 21 days to sail over the same route!Mari Cha 4 took just over 2 hours to get to Antigua from Guadeloupe - the same passage took us a full day in CC!

Amongst the beautiful streamlined classic boats there were six tall ships competing in their own races.

They had come from distant lands and seemed to glide across the horizon with all sails flying, a reminder that the same ships would have been the first to arrive in these waters over 300 years ago with Nelson's navy, or with pirates and buccaneers on board, searching for treasure in the New World.

We walked, or rather scrambled, up the steep hill to Shirley Heights to see the magnificent view across the two harbours.

Another, more leisurely stroll took us along the old fortifications behind Nelson's dockyard, where we could imagine ourselves going back in time as we looked out over the ocean, just as the sailors and soldiers in far off times would have scanned the distant clouds for sails on the horizon.

All the anchorages were full, the marinas jam packed, and the after-hours bars and restaurants busy as could be. We had lots of opportunities to meet everyone for coffee, meals or just drinks in one of the local bars.

The organizers put on a number of special events, favourites seemed to be free rum on the beach and give-away hats: hundreds of people jammed into every available space for these events. We collected our share of Race Week hats, and in consequence consumed our fair share of rum!

By the time Cheshire Cat had reached Antigua Mike and I had changed our cruising plans. We had decided not to go to the Mediterranean, but to return south and travel west through the Panama Canal. Sadly this meant we had to bid farewell and bon voyage to some of our best buddies - Itza Purla, Chinook and Gallant were all planning to leave for the Atlantic Crossing. This was a sad note - knowing that we wouldn't see these friends for some considerable time and perhaps our paths would never cross again!

David and Mike demonstrating - what exactly?

We did however, have a wonderful evening on Annie B when we all gathered together with musical instruments and lead by Tom, had yet another unforgettable night of music and laughter. Maybe a little pole dancing crept in somewhere. Jen; Andrea and David; Derek; Brenda and John; Paul; Debbie and Brian were amongst the revellers.

Our plans were changed yet again when we agreed to sail to the UK with David on his Amel - Gallant of Fowey. This trip enabled us to spend a few weeks visiting relatives; all too soon we had to fly back to Antigua and removce ourselves out of the hurricane area of the Caribbean.

The island was almost deserted. Many of the bars and restaurants had closed and the old Nelson's Dockyard had returned to its normal tranquil and serene state. We had ample opportunity to stroll around the old buildings which formed the garrison where Nelson and his sailors had lived and worked in days gone by. We could easily imagine that our shoes trod the same paths as those old Royal Navy sailors and officers - even Nelson himself.

We learned how the old boats were careened at the end of the dock so that barnacles and growth could be striped of the underwater wood and repairs made.

The wheel was probably manned by many more sailors than just a Mike!

In Nelson's Harbour we saw the old sail lofts, workshops and officer’s quarters, storage areas, all fully restored and turned into museums, shops and an upscale hotel.

Nelson's Harbour

We'd stripped Cheshire Cat when we left her in the marina, just in case a hurricane or bad weather hit the island while we were away. All the sails were folded and stored below, together with anything we could remove off the decks.
It took a few days of extremely hard work to put the sails back on and set everything to rights before we could contemplate setting off south. Hot and tired from days of hard work putting everything in order, we were finally ready, and so left Antigua and all her charm.
We sailed south stopping briefly at Bequia where we anchored down for a welcome night's rest before continuing to Carriacou and then on to visit Grenada again. We rested for a couple of days in Hogg’s Bay (scene of many a happy memory) and continued on our way south out of Hurricane country.

Much later we were really happy we had left the beautiful island of Grenada even though we had been sorely tempting to stay awhile. As it was we were safe and sound and miles away when the catastrophic hurricane “Ivan the Terrible” went through, sinking boats, ruining lives and devastating the island.


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edward said...

if you are talking to charles lamb and the itza purla could you please ask him to contact the National Beacon Registry in Ottawa Canada to update the file on his EPIRB. The address is
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