It’s been a while since the crew of Ty Dewi did one of our ‘day in the life’ series and since people say they like them, here’s another. This time, I’ve picked an action packed day when we made the passage from St Kitts to St Barts. It’s a fifty mile trip, a long one for us – well, for those of us who didn’t do a nearly three thousand mile Atlantic crossing – and it was a trip with lots of interesting events….
We like to set off early for these trips, it means that even if we have problems we can still arrive in daylight. Gesa and I had said six o’clock, I thought that was wake up, she took it as departure so the alarm goes at oh-five-thirty (what does the oh stand for, oh-my-god-its-early) I stagger out of bed, realising that the sun isn’t up but we might as prepare anyway. There’s a little left over washing up from the night before but first things first, I put the kettle on for coffee. Do the washing up, dry, put away because it’ll just fall on the floor if we don’t stow it well. Make that coffee and check engine oil, turn on instruments, write the passage details in the logbook and we are pretty much ready to leave. Gesa stows the last few loose items, gets our lifejackets from the kids room and goes on deck. I start the engine, turn on the anchor windlass and follow. As we prepare, Max appears, wondering what’s going on and wanting to help. He’s great like this, always helps with the anchor and other things, whilst Issie stays firmly in her bunk. We send Max to get a t-shirt, then put his lifejacket on and he goes up front with us.
We hoist the mainsail, tying in two reefs (only using 70% of the sail) because we know we’ll have to motor into a brisk breeze soon. Anchor up. Max presses the button whilst Gesa signals direct to me and I use rudder and throttle to move the boat up to the anchor. Gesa ties the anchor to the bow of the boat as I set a course for the bottom of St Kitts. We are still in the shelter of the island so we have a pleasant half hour to start with in flat water with a gentle breeze. We take the opportunity to have a bit of breakfast, although Max isn’t keen on his, he gets a bit seasick so that’s probably a good thing. Max and I take the fishing line out of the locker and drop the lure in the water, letting the line unwind until we are trailing forty metres of line behind us. So now Max has helped set the line and anything we catch is claimed as his and mine!
There’s a narrow gap between Nevis and St Kitts called, oddly enough, The Narrows. It’s not really that narrow, a couple of miles wide, but it does funnel wind and current through from east to west. Sadly, we have to go the other way, so it’s an hour of slow and bumpy motoring in steep, shallow seas. The good news is that this is the hard bit, once through we turn away and romp northwards with a fair breeze.
As we get to the deeper water, we breathe a sigh of relief and turn away, setting the jib and turning off the engine. At that moment, the fishing line jumps and stretches – we have a fish. Checking that the boat is heading in the right direction and all set up well, I haul in the line only to find that it’s another darn barracuda. They feed on reef fish and can accumulate the ciguatera nerve poison, so we don’t risk eating them. It’s not quite so huge as the last one and he’s not swallowed the hook as far, so it’s a fairly easy job to set him free again. The line goes back in the water and we hope for something more edible.
Max has succumbed to sea-sickness and is lying in the saloon bunk feeling and looking sorry for himself. I dig out the big plastic bowl and leave it beside him just in case. Issie has set herself up in the aft cabin with a few books and is happily reading away, munching breakfast and occasionally claiming to be ‘a bit seasick, Daddy’ between bites of her marmite sandwich. That girl’s got my cast iron stomach.
The radio lights up. “PAN PAN, PAN PAN, PAN PAN, All stations, this is US Coast Guard aircraft. We have received reports of a person in the water on the east coast of St Kitts and request all vessels to keep a sharp lookout.” Interesting. Wait, we’re on the east coast of St Kitts and I can’t see another vessel anywhere. Perhaps we should find out more. I call the coast guard, and they give us the position they are searching, which is just two miles away but closer inshore. We could be there in fifteen minutes. I tell them this but remind them we are a big sailing yacht and not best suited to a search and rescue. They thank us but we can carry on unless they call us back. We see the aircraft, a fast jet, making repeated passes across the sea nearer the coast. After an hour he breaks off, flies low past us and heads off in the direction of the Virgin Islands, where we guess he is based. We’ll have to look up the local paper on the web when we can and see if anything is mentioned.
By now, Gesa has succumbed to sea-sickness too. I have already helped Max, who has been sick twice into the bowl, but Gesa looks after herself, leaning over the side for a minute or two then disappearing below to lie down and sort of sleep. Max is a disconsolate ball curled up in his bunk. Gesa will get up if I really need her but otherwise stays firmly in her bunk. At times like this, I am reminded just how tough some bits of this trip are for Gesa, and how wonderful she is to be here, doing this despite the discomforts and challenges.
At noon the fishing line jumps again. It’s a heavy one this time and I put the line around a winch to help as I pull it in. The noise of the winch brings Gesa on deck just as I get the fish alongside the boat. It’s a dolphin. Now, before our postbag fills up with indignant emails about us murdering Flipper, this is not your cute, jumping in the bow wave mammal – around here dolphin is also the name for mahi-mahi, which has a reputation as a good sport fish with fabulous taste. It’s living up to the first part, as it fights against the line. It’s body is iridescent green and blue, flashing and changing as it struggles. In the final heave on the line, I pull the fish out of the water and swing it forward in an arc so it loops over the guardrails and lands on the side decks. This is the most lively catch we’ve had, as it flaps hard on the deck. Even a shot of the strongest rum only quells it a fraction and it is sad to watch such a beautiful animal gasping it’s last. Some fish, like mackerel, just lie down and die once they are out of the water, but this one has a lot more determination. I prefer to put them out of their misery, and a winch handle is useful here. Almost half an hour after taking the hook, we have a handsome, three foot long fish in the cockpit. I put away the fishing line, we won’t need that for a few days.
I settle down and read some more of my book. I’m re-reading The Life of Pi and enjoying it thoroughly. Boy is shipwrecked and stranded in a lifeboat for 277 days with a Bengal Tiger for company. Boy shows tiger who is boss and survives. Sailor is stranded on yacht for eighteen months with only wife and kids for company. Sailor is taught who’s boss. Might survive, watch this space.
In part II, we meet a racing fleet, arrive in St Barts, give away some of our fish and have a nice dinner and sunset…