A rather lengthy tale this time, but I am sure my family will appreciate the detail !!
Hurricane season was still with us, but it was time to start making plans to head back north to Antigua. It would be a bit of a wrench to leave Grenada for many reasons, but we were looking forward to re-exploring the wonderful island of Antigua and catching up with old friends, and the chance to welcome more family and friends on board over the coming months.
We were well provisioned and had made the most of stocking up on the wonderful fresh produce that is so abundant in Grenada. We were amused to see a couple of young sailors in the supermarket queue who had decided their provisioning only required 20 packets of instant noodles, 4 bags of tortilla crisps and 2 bottles of mojito mix. Our passage planning for the 350+ miles was done to give us roughly a week at sea with a few stops, a possible night sail, plus 5 days contingency before family landed in Antigua. With plans A, B, C, D and E in place, safety checks done (including a quick hop onto the back of the boom to check the backstay fittings), we had a final swim on the wonderful Grand Anse beach, had a few farewell drinks and even said our farewell on the cruisers radio net. We were ready – as sailors we should know better than to say that.....
Our first hop was to Carriacou where we intend to snorkel at Sandy Island before finally leaving Grenada and her islands. We were having to motor-sail for a while in the lee of Grenada when we heard an alarm sound. The engine coolant was too warm. We stopped the engine, stuck up the headsail and managed to continue to make progress as we waited for the engine to be cool enough to investigate. Steve tracked the problem down to the impeller, but there was obviously an underlying issue as he had replaced the impeller only a few days earlier and it was already starting to wear. Despite putting in another new impeller, checking and clearing all the pipes, checking the through hull fittings etc.. etc... the engine refused to work.
By now some very wet squalls had arrived and the wind was drifting us too far off our intended track so we made the prudent decision to return to Grenada and get the problem fixed. As we progressed towards St George's the wind died and we kept our fingers crossed that we would have enough momentum to sail across the entrance channel to the marked anchorage area. We finally glided into position just before dark and no doubt gave the other yachts something to look at as we anchored under sail.
We managed to get an engineer on board the next afternoon who fixed up the impeller housing and got the engine running. He advised that the repair would last the season, but we cheerfully said we would get a new part as soon as we arrived in Antigua. Having had an enforced rest and being keen to progress, we made the decision to night sail up to Bequia and save Sandy Island for another time. This time we progressed much further, but after a few hours of running overnight, the engine decided to fail again. We continued to sail well through the night and the next morning, after much short tacking into Bequia, we were pleased to see that there were very few yachts around and that Lower Bay was empty. We successfully anchored under sail again and decided to go below for a couple of hours sleep before tackling the engine again.
An hour and a half later our sleep was disturbed when the wind picked up and a short while later we heard a loud bang. We leapt on deck to discover that a catamaran from Princess Margaret's Beach had dragged its anchor and somehow managed to hit the only yacht in Lower Bay – us !! We quickly deployed our fenders and got on the radio to see if someone could assist with the runaway cat. Apparently no-one listens to the radio in Bequia on a Saturday morning, but eventually a dinghy approached with a very worried looking couple who turned out to be the owners. By now their cat had managed to hook our anchor or chain and was bobbing very close to our stern. We explained that we couldn't start our engine to try and sort the problem out so the husband valiantly dived into the water and managed to unhook the chains and his wife then raised theirs out of the way. They were extremely apologetic, but miraculously we had suffered no damage. Unfortunately they had a scratch in their hull where they collided with our anchor roller, but it could have all been much worse.
As our plans for sleep had now been somewhat disturbed, we discussed what to do next. Whilst we thought that would could find an engineer in Bequia, we were not sure if the small chandlery would be either open or have parts that we needed. After much deliberation we took the decision to try to sail on to St Lucia where we could find much larger chandleries and boat yards. We successfully sailed off the anchor and picked up the winds in the St Vincent – Bequia channel. We decided to sail up the east coast of St Vincent as this should give us more wind and a good direction to reach St Lucia. As we rounded the bottom of St Vincent we were hit by a massive squall and had to just run with it for 40 minutes until it had reduced enough for us to try and get back on track. As is typical with sailing, the wind then decided to completely die, but we were left with a nasty swell. We realised that our situation was now far from ideal and Steve spent the next 4 hours trying everything to get the engine running as I tried to find a puff of wind to keep us offshore.
By late afternoon we were faced with the predicament of having no engine and no wind, with the swell pushing us onto a lee shore. “What does the chart show for this part of the coast if we have to try and anchor?” I shouted down below. “Uncharted rocks” came the reply. Oh dear ! After much discussion we made the very difficult decision that we were going to have to contact St Vincent Coast Guard and ask for assistance. For the first time in our sailing lives we had to be towed in, but this was a much better alternative than drifting onto a rocky shore, without an engine, as night approached. The coast guards managed to secure us to a mooring buoy in Calliaqua and came on board to check we were OK and to fill in the necessary paper work. We were very pleasantly surprised by the fee for being towed in and very grateful when they offered to get an engineer to us next morning.
The very helpful coast guard returned at 8am next day with an engineer who proceeded to spend many hours tracing issues, going ashore to his workshop and returning to get our engine running again. Whilst very happy, we were also very cautious with our optimism and decided to spend another night in St Vincent so that we could test the engine. We ran, stopped and ran the engine for many hours during the afternoon until we finally started to believe that the problem had been resolved. We finally retired to bed ready for an early start next morning.
We decided to sail up the west coast of St Vincent this time as we knew there were numerous anchorages if we ran into problems again. Unfortunately, 4 hours into our journey, the engine failed again. We decided to return to see if the engineer could have another look, but knew that we couldn't risk sailing around the reef into the Blue Lagoon and so chose to try and pick up a mooring buoy at Young Island instead. We radioed as we approached and were kindly escorted onto a mooring buoy by one of the Young Island Moorings team. Our engineer returned and another few hours of swearing and work and the engine seemed to be back on track. By now we were completely paranoid and decided to spend yet another night in St Vincent running and testing the engine. We were obviously also rather behind schedule and concerned that our family member would be arriving in Antigua before we did. After much reviewing of flights, hotels and options, we decided to book them into a hotel in Antigua for a few nights to take the pressure off our arrival and ensure they would be comfortable. We then took the opportunity to go ashore for some fresh produce and so checked in with customs and immigration first. We were very, very happy to be advised that as we had been towed in by the coast guard, the customs and immigration fees would be waived. How wonderful are St Vincent Coast Guard, Customs and Immigration ? Yet another thing to love about the fascinating island of St Vincent.
The lovely sailing gods decided to treat us to yet another storm in the middle of the night and at 1am we responded to a strange noise to discover that our mooring line had snapped. We quickly started the engine (phew!) and circled as we tried to find another mooring buoy We soon realised that the wind, driving rain and dark was not going to make things easy and we were also concerned about catching one of the many mooring buoy lines in our propeller. We made the possibly crazy decision that we were better out of the bay and drove out to sea crossing our fingers that we wouldn't snag any lines. Things were calmer out there and we decided to use the wind to our advantage and set sail again for Antigua. This may sound like another crazy decision to many sailors, but was the decision we took at the time.
We had wonderful wind and speed and were soon past St Vincent and St Lucia. Relieved to finally be making good progress we pressed on through the following night. We lost the wind up the west coast of Dominica as expected and the engine inevitably decided to fail again. After a few hours of trying to fix the engine, drifting backwards and dodging a tanker who must have wondered what we were doing, the wind returned and we continued up past the Isle des Saintes and the west coast of Guadeloupe.
As we approached the north of Guadeloupe the wind died and we started the tedious drift backwards again. By now we were resigned to having to face yet another challenge and decided it was a good opportunity to have a shower off the back of the boat and a relaxed lunch. At the most inconvenient moment the wind returned and we raced off on the final leg to Antigua. We know Antigua fairly well and were able to keep well clear of the reefs in the dark and finally dropped anchor again near Jolly Harbour. We collapsed into bed and caught up with some well needed sleep and were finally moored alongside the Jolly Harbour Marina pontoon next morning. We were really rather relived to be back in our home port in one piece, able to catch up with our family member only a day late and order the new engine parts we so clearly needed.
We can look back slightly more calmly now on our 'adventure' and marvel again at various aspects – how contingency days just vanish; we do still remember how to anchor under sail; the people in St Vincent are very helpful; our yacht sails fantastically (a comfortable 8 knots with 3 reefs in at one stage); and how unbelievable it is that you get hit by a runaway yacht when anchored alone in a bay. That's idyllic sailing in the Caribbean for you !!