compass rose

 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

The One that got away
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.

Jolly Harbor, Antigua 03.31.07

Montserrat: Smokin'
Montserrat: Smokin'

Another aborted trip to Montserrat

We weren't really supposed to be there. Right at the mount where the sea floor goes from 2000 feet to 120 feet in about a boat length about halfway between Montserrat and Antigua. We were supposed to be touring the volcano and the modern day Pompeii that comprise the remaining attractions of Montserrat ever since the eruption in 1995. Unfortunately, we couldn't see any way to launch the dinghy in the big swells that had us regularly surfing while still at anchor. Even if we got the dinghy down, the waves were breaking over the one bucking dock, crashing loudly on the tiny beach and making a spectacular blow hole of a wrecked barge which I suspected had attempted a landing under similar circumstances.

Wrecked Barge on Montserrat
The barge from Hell

We rolled out of bed quite early (literally, with a power assist from the boat's motion) and raised sail, raised anchor and slowly sailed out between the wrecked barge and the small fleet of moored fishing boats lurching to and fro in unison. Why sail? Our engine had died several times on the way down from Nevis and we judged the sails a more reliable means of propulsion out of this iffy anchorage than a motor which might quit at any moment.

It had been a hard beat directly into a southeast wind in very bouncy seas going down to (aptly named) Little Bay, Montserrat. As is typical for Southerly winds, they were fairly light and the hard chop was stopping the boat cold as we tried to beat into the wind. Around about Redondo, the captain started to worry about getting in to Little Bay after dark and even contemplated falling off for Antigua to the east. We really wanted to see the once fashionable houses buried in ash and experience the volcano close up. We would press on but with an assist from the engine. Motor sailing we would sail a little closer to the wind and. more importantly, not just get stopped by the waves. After about an hour, the throttle started adjusting itself - downward. No one had bumped the handle, the engine just slowed. Not good. A little while latter, it just sputtered and died. The admiral took control of the fleet and I went below to work on the engine. For you non-sailors, sailing into the wind is the most uncomfortable point of sail. The boat is the most tilted over, the waves crash into it from the bow and the wind speed is increased by the boat speed. I pulled out the fuel filters and did my best to drain the gunk from the settling chamber and then clean up the fuel which had been bouncing around everywhere.



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Engine dies

New Arch under construction
Eaux Vives gets its fuel polished
Engine still wouldn't start. I tried blowing out fuel lines. Ragged start. Tried repeatedly to bleed the fuel system and wasn't satisfied that the air was completely out but at this point the engine would start and apparently run. Raggedly, but run. Both Susie and I had our doubts about the engine's reliability at this point and decided to return to our sailing purist's approach to Montserrat. This way, we could save the engine to get us out of trouble if we lost control of the boat under sail. We painfully, slowly, sailed into the bay just before dusk and got the anchor down under sail, just firing up the engine at the last minute to be sure we didn't surf up onto the beach.

Conditions being no better in the morning, we decided to give up on the sightseeing plans. This marks our second failure to actually land at Montserrat as similar swells and the wild adventures of a tug and barge had kept me at watch until way past bedtime. I had been worried that the heavily overloaded and nearly awash barge would tear loose from its wildly manoeuvering tug and drift right through our anchoring location onto the rocks at our starboard. The very same barge now lay on the rocks spouting impressive streams of water from the many holes in its huge deck as each wave hit its side. I did not see shards of fiberglass under its massive bulk, but I'm not sure that I would have in all the spray and foam.

Slightly grumpy from the wild dreams provoked by the wild night, we set sail early so as to guarantee arrival in Antigua before dark. Antigua has a fuel dock. Antigua has real mechanics. Antigua did not lie directly into the wind. It was slow sailing out from the lee side of Montserrat but, as we cleared the island, we had a nice steady breeze and much calmer seas. The swell was still there but the chop was gone, the sun was out and we started on one of the most pleasant sails of our season here. Great fishing weather.

Day Glo fish in Indigo Seas
Day Glo fish in indigo seas
About half way across, the hand line jumped out of the cockpit and onto its restraining bungee. Susie hove to (stopped the boat) and I started winding up the stout fishing line onto its wooden spool. There was a lot of weight but not a huge fight. The previous day we had caught and released two barracuda which fight a whole lot and so I was wondering if I had just trapped a big mess of seaweed when it suddenly started swimming side to side. Pulling in until it was just under the boat, I could see it was a Mahi Mahi, otherwise known as Dolphin fish or Dorado probably the best eating fish in these seas. Shouting at Susie excitedly to grab the bucket, I got the fish's head up to the life lines and his tail just clear of the water. Susie would try to get the bucket under his tail but the bucket was considerably smaller than the tail and we were having no luck. Around this time, the fish decided he was in trouble and belatedly started his first serious attempts at escape. At the same time, we were both stunned by his beauty. Day Glo colors out of a sixties poster gleaming in the tropical sun. We made a few attempts to get gloves to just wrestle him aboard when he gave a heave and jumped back into the sea.

Schmutz in the fuel
Smutz in the fuel

Looking down, there were about a dozen of these monsters, milling around greeting their newly freed friend. On both sides of the hull, psychedelic greens and yellows flashed amidst the bottomless indigo of deep Caribbean waters. We were transfixed. It was one of those peak moments that put the whole trip in perspective.

We sailed into Antigua and, in due time, found a fellow with a machine to pump the fuel out of the tank and through filters to clean it up. He pronounced the engine healthy and we are ready to go to Guadeloupe. The engine trouble was not frustrating because we are not really trying to get anywhere very hard and without the diversion, we would never have met the fish. Just one adventure a day is all we ask; one moment of such beauty to compensate for repeatedly having to clean the diesel. The delight of witnessing such a creature is adequate substitute for the meals he would have provided.

But , my next purchase will be a good Gaff.


Lance & Susie
S/V Eaux Vives
Jolly Harbor, Antigua and Barbuda



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