compass rose

 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Tropical weather in Village Cay Marina, Tortola, BVI
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.
Friday, February 7, 2003
    Weather is a topic of fascination to sailors. At home, we pretty much know our weather by looking West. If there's a storm blowing in, carry an umbrella. There are some minor variations (such as the Santa Ana's in the fall) but most of the time, look west. You can probably sustain very high accuracy by saying tomorrow will be pretty much like today.
The tropical sailor has a number of other concerns. The dominant effect is the Trade Winds which come from the East and dominate the weather here. A big storm in Africa will deposit red dust over every thing here. At this time of year, change in weather comes from the North. Old worn out fronts travel down from Florida and may (or may not) loose their punch by the time they get down here and may or may not bring clouds. A rising barometer, such as brought by a high forming to the North will bring big winds as the pressure gradient (differences) cause the famed Christmas winds. This makes for a rollicking sail but sleeping can be difficult with every piece of string on the boat howling. A low coming through, on the other hand, can mitigate and slow the trades and make for much easier passages to the windward (i.e., easterly). The sailor doesn't really worry to much about rain - it's a free fresh water rinse. A little squall coming your direction often gets you to run for soap because at 12 cents a gallon (and limited storage capacity) fresh water is not something you dump on the decks. Its warm, its free; no problem. Waves however can be another issue. A big storm in the North Atlantic will generate waves crashing on the beaches and make landing the dinghy a wet and wild experience. Sleeping (depending on how the boat is moored) can be like sleeping in a running washing machine. More importantly, it can make for enormous seas on the Atlantic side of the Caribbean in the passages. The chain of islands you see on the map mark the edge of one of the big tectonic plates. The deeps of the Atlantic give way very suddenly to the (relative) shallows of the Islands. The same volume of water moving up and down in miles deep ocean trenches, instantly gets faster and steeper in the shallows between Islands and make passage between them treacherous. So, listening to and discussing the weather is becoming a major occupation ranking right up there with working on the boat and in many cases, both activities can be combined. Fortunately, we have
connected with a whole group of Hams, most of whom are long term sailors in the Caribbean and all of whom seem friendly, courteous and kind. Roberta and Larry on Dionis are the first we met. Listening to the weather net, we heard people talking about Larry coming back down from Maine and then exchanged greetings with a likely looking couple in a restaurant. Turned out to be THE Larry. We have visited their Hans Christian for sundown and seen how 17 years of cruising improves a boat. What we are trying to do now is learn how to cram 17 years of local weather knowledge into the period between now and the time we are ready for passages. On the boat repair front: waiting for our own version of Godot: a working refrigerator. The part secured at Coral Bay proves not to be quite the right size and took an enormous amount of Island engineering to get installed. I am listening to the steady hum of the vacuum pump as we test to see if we caused any new leaks getting the expansion valve in. We will leave it on a vacuum overnight and, god willing, put in freon and move from an icebox to a refrigerator. The transom shower is now reinstalled after coming apart when the shower hose got caught in the steering chain. We manufactured a bag from scraps donated by a canvas maker and rebuilt the shower with a rube goldberg collection of brass adaptors. It looks like the bag will confine the hose and keep it from mischief and we will no longer have to run dripping the length of the boat for a fresh water rinse after sea baths. On the sailing front: we are getting quite good at anchoring. It is a tricky dance requiring at least two people in clear communication via hand signals. We have been tearing around Drake's Channel between the US and the British Islands and have avoided all the hard parts. We now have a permit to hang on short term moorings at the fine dive spots and can name quite a few more fish, coral and sponges. The winds are good enough that we can generally hit hull speed in everything below a beam reach. Our repairs on running rigging are beginning to show improvement in line handling so tacking and gibing is getting smoother. I have learned to interpret panicky yelps as "Ease the main" and Susie has become quite clear on the difference between head up and fall off. Boat dings are beginning to heal faster than they form and we believe we are fixing more than we are breaking. To us, this is progress.

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