80 hours at sea (and the prep it takes to get ready to go)

We had been given authorization to arrive in Grenada between July 1st and 3rd.  Pre Covid, we would’ve planned stops at the many beautiful islands along the way. But due to quarantine restrictions, that option was, for the most part, no longer available to us.  We had requested and were granted approval to stop at Guadeloupe or Martinique if we felt we needed to for any reason but, since we wouldn’t be allowed to get off the boat, our plan was to sail straight to Grenada.  The trip from St Martin would be around 370 nautical miles.  We normally calculate our speed at 5 knots, so we figured 75 to 80 hours total.  This would be our second longest non-stop trip ever, the first being the Gulf of Mexico.

Too bad we can’t visit any of these islands along the way

Weather is one of, if not the most, important components of our preparation for any sail.  We both start checking forecasts, on multiple sites, well before our departure date and as it gets closer to time to leave, Russell is checking it numerous times per day. 

There are a lot of other things that need to be done as well.  We’d been in one spot for months, so the boat was in “house mode” meaning we had items laying around that needed to be stowed away. We also needed to make a couple of runs to the grocery store.  Upon our arrival in Grenada, we would immediately be quarantined to the boat for 14 days, so we needed to be provisioned for both the sail down and our time in quarantine. 

Shopping means packing it from the grocery to the dinghy then to Ddraig

In the days before we left, Russell spent some time going over our engine, checking oils, verifying the amount of diesel in our tanks and generally making sure things in the engine room were ship shape and ready to go.  Before we leave on any passage, he transfers fuel from our large fuel tanks to a smaller day tank.  This process runs the diesel through a couple of filters insuring we have good clean fuel to burn.  Dirty fuel is one of the main causes of issues people have with their engines.  We can run our engine for twelve hours off our day tank and he can transfer more underway when needed.  He also made sure to run the water maker.  In simple terms, a reverse osmosis water maker takes seawater pushes it through a membrane and makes salt free drinkable water.  These systems need to be run every 3 to 4 days to ensure the water left inside doesn’t stagnate. 

Barnacles and other things grow on the bottom of boats, especially in saltwater.  We’d been periodically scraping them off during time in St Martin, but he gave the bottom a good cleaning.  Having a dirty bottom on your boat will greatly affect its performance so this is an important step. Unless you hire someone to clean it on a regular basis it’s something you need to be prepared to jump in the water and do.  We’ve experimented with all kinds of scrapers and brushes, with handles and without, to come up with the best ones for the job.  Ddraig is a wide, full keeled boat so there’s a lot of area.  We can only clean a small portion of it from the surface and then he uses a hookah line attached scuba tank to get the rest.

While he was doing this, I focused on the ‘pink’ jobs. I spent a morning getting our laundry washed and after making sure all our stuff was properly stowed away, I had to think about meals.  For me, cooking under way is pretty much just not going to happen.  I can’t spend a lot time down below.  The heat and motion make me seasick no matter what I do to try to stop it.  I had to make sure we had enough meals pre-prepped that could either be eaten cold or quickly reheated, to last for the 3 to 4 days we would be underway.  I usually make sure we have what we need for sandwiches and wraps but I also feel it’s important to have at least one hot meal per day.  For this trip, I made a chicken and egg noodle dish, fajitas and a pasta carbonara.  I also made a vegetable beef soup that I put in in a thermos so we could have a hot meal the first night without any effort. We make sure to have plenty of snacks and drinks easily available too.

For a short passage, we normally pull Puff up on the dinghy davits.  However, for a passage of this length, we wanted to stow her on deck.  This is a job for the both of us.  First, we have to bring the motor aboard.  Russell gets down into the dinghy and attaches the straps then I use a pulley system to pull it up onto the railing while he guides it.   The dinghy goes up on our front deck.  We use the main sail halyard and Russell wenches it up while I guide it into position.  It sits upright on some chocks he built and then gets tied down.

Finally, before we pull anchor, the sail covers have to be removed, our shade cover has to come down, all of the cabinet doors are locked and the windows and hatches closed.

Our anchor and chain also had a lot of growth from being out so long so Russell had to clean it as he was bringing it on board but finally, at 8:45 am on June 28th, we waved goodbye to our boat neighbors as we motored out of the anchorage and we were Grenada bound.

Happy to be underway

It was an absolutely gorgeous day with near perfect winds and calm seas.  Once we cleared the island, we tacked over for what would pretty much be our point of sail for the next three and a half days.  So long St. Martin, hopefully only until next year!

This should be our view for the next few days

The sky was still a bit hazy with Saharan dust, but we were able to see both Saba and St. Eustatius as we sailed by that afternoon.  Oddly enough, I had better reception on my phone out there than I had for the past three months in Marigot Bay.

Passing Saba on the first day of the trip

We’ve had numerous questions from friends and family about what we do at night.  The short answer is, we keep going.  We have an autopilot so there isn’t a need to hand steer but there has to be someone awake and paying attention at all times.   To make this happen, we take 3-hour watches from 6 pm to 6 am.  Beginning at around 4 pm, I’ll usually take the helm so Russell can try to nap before his watch then I try to rest from when he takes over at 6 until my turn again at 9.  Does this mean we each get 3 full hours of sleep at a time?  Absolutely not!  I’m normally up anytime he makes a sail change. We generally like to reef the sail before nightfall.  Basically, that means making the sail smaller, so we won’t be overpowered if the wind gets high.  To reef the main sail, Russell must go up on deck to the mast and lower the sail some so he can attach it at the reef point and pull in the reef lines.   On some boats this can all be done from the cockpit but not on our boat.  Since he has to leave the cockpit, that means I will be sitting at the helm in case of an emergency – see last years post about him going overboard! Reefing usually takes place during his watch so I lose a bit of sleep.  There’s also plenty of times that I have to wake him up.  If there’s a major wind change, if we seem to be sailing headlong into a squall line or generally any situation that I’m uncomfortable with.  But, having clearly defined watches seems to help us get enough sleep so that we’re fully functional and mostly comfortable while continuously having someone at the helm.  We also swap off during the day, but it’s as needed instead of on a schedule.

Doing his Captain thing

The first day and a half of our sail to Grenada provided good sailing and took us past a number of islands.  Being on the downwind (called the lee) side of an island offers protection but it can also block your wind making for a much slower sail.  After losing speed and having to turn on the motor passing St Kitts and Nevis, we went a little farther offshore so for the rest of the trip we barely got even a glance of the islands we passed.  Hopefully we can visit all of them next year on our passage back up the Caribbean.

A beautiful day at sea

On the afternoon of the second day a squall formed near us and winds increased from 14 knots to 22 knots in just minutes.  We had most of our head sail out which was too much sail for those conditions especially since we weren’t sure if the winds would continue to increase.  Getting that big sail furled, in that much wind, was a real fight and by the time Russell got it in, we noticed some tears along the edge.  It looks as though the actual sail is fine, but the fabric UV protective strip will need to be repaired or replaced.  Either way, that means the sail will come down and the sewing machine will come out during our time in Grenada.

A squall just starting to form

That night we had a little stowaway.  There was a bird that started following us around sunset.  He would buzz just over our heads looking for a place to land.  He eventually landed on our fish cleaning table and stayed the entire night leaving at sunrise the next morning.

Our little stowaway flew off just after I got this picture

On day three we had winds up to 25 knots for a while.  Luckily, we already had both the jib and mainsail reefed.  Even though we would probably have rather had the jib reefed even smaller, Ddraig performed like a champ.  That evening squalls continued to pop up and die out all around us so Russell decided we would just motor overnight.

We tried to fish numerous times along the way but the only thing we caught was Sargassum.  That’s a type of brown seaweed which floats on the top of the water and is very prevalent around here.

There had recently been whale sightings off Guadeloupe and I was hopeful we would see some but sadly we didn’t.  Our last morning at sea, we were visited by a pod of dolphins.  There must have been 18 to 20 of them and they stayed around playing at the bow for about ten minutes before disappearing.

There’s an active under sea volcano just north of Grenada known as Kick-um Jenny.  Our route took us well away from it, but we were close enough for it to show up on our chart plotter.  Hopefully it stays quite for the duration of our stay.

Kick-um Jenny is the circle on the left of the screen

We got into Grenada around 4 pm on July 1st and were directed to go to the dock for a temporary check in.  After answering some questions and having a temperature check, we headed out to the quarantine anchorage to wait with the other hundred or more boats already there.

We were definitely not the only boat coming into Grenada
Waiting our turn
Our official, but temporary, clearance

All and all, this trip was fairly uneventful with mostly calm seas, some clear night skies with thousands of stars, some amazing sunrise and sunset views and a few squalls which, for the most part, stayed away from us.  And for all of that, we are very grateful!!

All of us waiting out quarantine together

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