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Sailing back to St John from the BVI’s i decided to “do things the right way” and clear in. If you read the US coast guard rules carefully it is written that boats that are unable to support motorized propulsion and are under 10 M are exempt from registration. This little known fact is why almost no nativo is registered, and gets away with it. But good luck trying to educate an “officer of the law” about the law..

After alluding threateningly to the risk of having my boat confiscated, he warned me to get the paperwork in order a.s.a.p. and i shuffled out of there as quickly as possible,.. but wait ! There’s more; a uniformed lady stops me to ask if i’m aware of the rules concerning on board refuse. Foolishly i confess that i don’t to which she gives me a paper foldout and goes over the rules in pedantic detail. Turns out any garbage containing organic matter from non US countries (such as the BVI’s) is considered a bio hazard and needs to get disposed of at the special incinerator for hazardous wastes, at my expense naturally. Kitchen refuse cannot be stored on deck or there is a fine for that, such as used paper plates, she added. Paper plates? I have never and will never waste valuable treewood for such a purpose, i have proper plates that get washed and re-used for one’s whole lifetime, i was thinking, also realizing that the fact that we wash them right in the seawater was no doubt a felony as well, so i just smiled and nodded politely. In fact all our kitchen refuse which is bio degradable just goes straight overboard to feed the crabs and other marine detrivores. At sea, tin cans and glass go right over the side as well, since they turn into iron oxide and sand respectively, at no environmental harm. What i do not throw at sea is plastic, for obvious reasons. Since i detest having garbage build up on board what i do before a trip is put all the plastic packaged food sans package in big jars i have which are roach proof and all the plastic goes right back ashore to the tip. That way no problematic garbage builds up on board.

At any rate i kept my garbage philosophy to myself and with a great self restraint managed to not blurt out «so how do you manage to round up all the birds that fly across from Tortola without having checked in whilst joyously pooping the whole time, so that they can be incinerated?»

The sermon over, i was not sad to get out of that office!

Oasis leaving the Virgins

Leaving St John with poor weather clouds gathering.

Note how the dinghy sits tucked behind the coach roof; weight low down, and offering an absolute minimum of windage. Also in the most convenient position possible to just untie, flip over and slide over the rail into the water. This picture was taken just out the bay, which is why it’s still so calm.

St John is a very strange island. It is the logical conclusions of extreme gentrification. Rich people (read really really rich) have been buying up property, driving up prices to astronomical heights. Then the locals can’t afford a roof and feel marginalized, forgetting of course that they sold voluntarily. Once that gets started it escalates into a severely divided society, with tremendous amounts of tension.

The rich people create a dumpster diving paradise though. A friend there showed me an almost brand new fairly decent bicycle he found at the dump; the only thing wrong with it was a flat tyre! I might have been tempted to see what goodies i could scavenge too but had neither the time nor the desire to see a single extra thing added to the already overloaded Oasis.

Here a friendly neighbour on a catamaran gave me his storm jib, saying he had retired from sailing and so would no longer need it and i did make an exception to not wanting more stuff on board when it’s something that makes the boat safer. This proved to be an extremely valuable addition the Oasis’s set of sails, fitting perfectly and with a very flat cut, which is what you want in strong winds. At the same time, the Oasis’s other jib, the original one, which came with the boat, i had recut as a storm mainsail.

After a few days in St John getting some more things done onboard we left, just as the weather was turning for the worse, heading towards St Martin.

Now it’s certain that the Caribbean can’t compare to the wild and wooly North Sea (save for when there is a hurricane!) but that is not a reason to allow the azure skies and limpid waters lull one into thinking that it is always idyllic. In fact it can get quite brave and unpleasant at times. Naturally no pics of the best moments, not really thinking about taking pictures when things get hectic, and besides, i always worry about getting the camera wet. Suffice to say therefore that soon after leaving the wind picked up to about force six or seven and the waves quickly became lumpen and confused, the boat leaping and bucking over them, the lee rail awash as i put more reefs in the jib.

Then i discovered the Oasis was leaking a rather unacceptable amount. I pondered carrying on like this across the Anegada passage which is famous for its vicious seas or turning back to St John losing precious distance gained to windward and possibly having to re encounter the menacing customs man.. Studying the chart i saw that there was actually a little cove just north of us that we could shelter in and i could see what this leak was really about.

It proved to be a wonderfully calm anchorage with astonishingly transparent water. No motor boats, no houses, just peace and quiet.

Oasis leak repair

Oasis heeled over with weights attached to the boom end.

Remarkably i was able to locate the leak very easily (this is not the usual case with a leak) and it turned out to be a deteriorated butt seam. I would just have to patch it temporarily with some epoxy putty. Since it was near the waterline and knowing from experience how hard it is to force putty into a crack underwater such that it remains stuck to the hull rather that the spatula, or neither, dropping to the seafloor, i decided to heel the boat such that the bad seam would be just free of the water.

With the 5000 kg of lead ballast, 2.2 M draft and 3.3 M of beam the Oasis is certainly quite stiff but at least the boom is long enough to give enough leverage to heel the boat over usefully. With anchors, chain and buckets of water at the end of the boom i was able to get the damaged area just out of the water.

bad butt seam

The end of the plank at the butt seam was not looking terribly healthy.

A bit of PC11 epoxy putty took care of this leak.

Boy in bosun chair

Hauling an excessively chatty child up the mast keeps him otherwise amused for a little while.

Cooking corn breads

My wife making us some delicious corn bread.

My internet will be cut off any day now since i stopped paying for it, so this will be the last post for a while i think. By next post i should be in a more stable situation i hope.

This week i’ll post a video montage i had made of taking the boat back to Puerto Rico.

Turned out that our arrangements in Vieques made it very difficult to actually get the necessary modifications made to the boat since we lived on one side of the island and the only safe harbours are on the other side, making me waste far too much time going back and forth.

The changes the boat needed were a cabin, some basic accomodations and changing the rig from racing to something more suitable for cruising. But the most pressing thing to attend to was the weak chainplates; since they had been changed from the original outside the hull setup to the present inside the hull arrangement, it created a leak point and the constant passage of rainwater was very detrimental for the structure in that area.

The boy in the video is my son, and he is feeling noticeably green towards the beginning of the trip. It is Dia de los Reyes, which is why the presents at dawn.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice i did not put up the mainsail, despite the weather being perfect. This was because i was worried about putting too much stress on the chainplates. In fact, as it was, the planks were flexing inwards every time the boat rolled heavily due to the inertia of the mast. It’s the sort of inevitable thing that comes with a “new for you” boat, even one that is ready to sail, which this one was. In fact, the problem had been creeping up for some time, as was evident by the patch-up work done above the chainplates where blocking had been added to help hold the plate supports down, in turn shifting the loads from hull to deck. The thought of these guys racing like this was scary enough, but was also a testament to how sometimes pretty improbable things work. At any rate, i was not in the mood to take any additional chances.

The jib had a little rip in it too which held up fine downwind, but the moment i rounded up for the last leg up the bay it ripped the stitching the rest of the way, par for the course with “new for you” boats. No big deal, even like that the boat climbed up to windward well enough to make the last couple mile beat.

The best part of course never got taped, precisely because it was exciting. There is a shortcut into that huge bay, which cuts some fifteen miles off the deep anchorage if approaching from windward; it is called “La boca del infierno” (hell’s mouth). It is a cut between two of the barrier islands with 3.3 meters of water if you cut it at the right place, but with a bit of swell running becomes a very ugly bit of surf over the coral heads indeed. Now with 2.2 meters of draft that does not give a comfortable margin, but conditions seemed good enough, so i cut through with my wife being my second eyes up front and the corals flashing by underneath so close you could see the veins on the brain coral.

At one time it had occurred to me that it may be worthwhile to make a video documentary of this supposedly “impossible” voyage to windward to Brasil from the Caribbean and it had also passed through my mind that just when it may be interesting to film, everyone is busy dealing with the boat. Therefore, there has to be a person on board dedicated solely to the camera.

Now it so happens that a while ago already, i decided that i will no longer take men on board small boats with me. At first my wife was ok with this but eventually jealous feelings cropped up, so the whole idea was ditched. And that is how the best part got lost.

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In other news,

Dmitry Orlov over at cluborlov.blogspot.com wrote a post about about moding his boat with a permanent auxiliary rudder, in order to facilitate a suitable self steering method. He is of course completely correct about the absurdity of wheel steering in small boats. I would go further and say that wheels in anything under several dozen tons is for fashion, not for any practical benefits.

It reminds me a little bit of Eric Sponberg’s moding of another sailboat’s rudder. Although considerably more sophisticated (and expensive) the concept is somewhat similar and was also a great improvement.

It is very important for rudders to have enough power, and unfortunately, this is something that seems to be rather neglected in a lot of designs. I have plenty to add to that, and rudder issues in general, but it will have to wait for a future post.

On board "L'Artemis" sailing in Martinique

On board “L’Artemis” sailing in Martinique

I'm the one to the left in both pictures

I’m the one to the left in both pictures

All the basics I learnt by osmosis; complete immersion.

The correct angle to trim the sails for example was just “Obvious” and needed no explanation. Sail trimming angles is something that only much later did I study the actual why and wherefore of.

Where the wind comes from for example is something that is so obvious that when I first met someone who was genuinely baffled as to how to tell which way the wind is going I was in shock. Even with one’s eyes closed one just feels how the air is moving across one’s body and head and knows without any further analysis, just like you know which way is up and which is down. Later my father did refine on this, because for a sailor knowing how the wind is moving is not enough; he needs to know exactly from where it comes.

He said to wiggle my head from side to side a little until you feel it just the same in both ears so you are looking straight at the wind. Then he said «There is another way too. You see the smallest of the waves riding upon the other less small riding upon the bigger ones and the way the smallest of them all go is how the wind moves»

He did not explain to me that there was in fact a fundamental difference between these two though, and I will never know if this was by accident or design. Eventually I noticed the difference myself and asked him about it. So he then explained what apparent wind is. I had never thought about it, but it made perfect sense right away.

Which way the tiller goes to turn the boat likewise was completely self evident and again I was surprised when I discovered it was not actually at all obvious to everyone.

How to steer a sailboat to windward high as possible while keeping the sails full and keep good way on also hardly required belaboring.

Indeed the first time I steered was the “L’Artemis” all 15 meters plus considerable appendages into a crowded anchorage. Due to a sudden and extremely unfortunate situation he needed me to steer, while he dealt with the sails, something I certainly did not have the strength for yet. It can’t have been too big a deal for me because the memories of that are kind of indistinct, like it was not very important.

I remember much more clearly the first time I sailed a boat all by myself. I guess the “All by myself” part must have been quite thrilling because this I do remember very well. It was a friend and neighbours’ sailing dinghy. There was very light wind and father called out to me that I was sitting on the wrong side! Slightly embarrassed, I quickly shifted around as I knew better than that. I guess being so used to sailing bigger boats I forgot about the importance of weight positioning in dinghies. The light wind allowed me to get away with it that time.

And so that is it really. How to operate a sailboat just comes down to knowing how to steer it and understanding the correct relationship between boat/sails/wind. You got that, you’re sailing. The rest is just refinements, old tricks to keep you alive (seamanship) , and of course not getting lost or ending up aground, otherwise known as navigating.

Once I was 11, I was rapidly given more and more responsibilities as far as sailing the boat went, from watch keeping to extended stints at the helm, and tending the jib or steering when manoeuvring in harbours. Eventually, as my father’s heart got tickier it became my job to get the anchors up, especially the last one.

Getting under-way in an engine-less sailboat things are very different to in an auxiliary. Once the anchor rode is straight up and down and enough pulling has made it lose its grip on the bottom, (loudly announced: “We’re free!”) the boat will fall off on one tack or the other and start sailing off. Which tack it falls off on is normally deliberately chosen beforehand and making sure that this is so is part of the art of sailing, and I will write more about the details of this in the future.

Having the anchor hang under the boat creates a tremendous drag though and severely hinders the boat’s handling, thus it is imperative to get the last bit up as fast as possible, a task much more suitable for a young teenager than for someone with a bad heart.

At 13, I discovered another branch of sailing; sailboards. I was hooked! My thing was to try and find the perfect combination of smooth water and strong winds so I could tear back and forth as fast as possible, delighting in the sensation of flying at fantastic speeds inches above the water, the board clattering like a drum over the wavelets.

I suppose it must be the same with most anything. If you grow up with it, it rubs off on you so deep that you would not be able to forget it no matter how hard you try.