Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Limin' in Charlotteville

Our last sunset swim at Pirates Beach Tobago, with Diane and Evan from Ceilydh                                   
Cruisers are well practiced in the Tobago/Trinidad tradition of "limin" - getting together, relaxing and having fun, mon. Don't come to Charlotteville if you want cool cocktail bars, fine dining, retail therapy and an air conditioned supermarket.  Charlotteville has none of these, but has so much more to offer - friendship with the locals and serenity being high on the list. Provisioning is adequate, with excellent fruit and vegetables available in the town, and fresh fish at the market every day.

We spent over 5 weeks in the anchorage with Ceilydh as our neighbour.  Other cruising boats came and went, and an average of 10 to 15 boats stayed in the safe, uncrowded anchorage inside Man of War Bay.

In this early part of the wet season the weather was very mild and dry. Cool breezes blew down over the mountains and through the open hatches all day and night.  We saw no mosquitoes during our stay in Charlotteville, and only 6 cases of Zika have been reported on the entire island of Tobago. The sandy beach provided a fantastic spot for sundowner swims late each afternoon.  We saw so many beautiful sunsets, even a few with "green flashes."

On the beach we enjoyed weekly beach barbeques.  Wood was collected, dinghies beached, cruisers gathered and many fish were cooked on our grill.  We also refined cooking breadfruit in the coals - cook till done (3/4 hour on hot coals), peel off the burnt skin, cut into small bits and serve with hot garlic butter. So delicious. Joe the fisherman and Mohamed from Customs regularly joined us, sharing in the history and local island gossip. How privileged we are as cruisers to welcomed into this community.

Attack remoras and friends under our hull
But all was not perfect in this relatively cyclone-free piece of paradise.  We still had attack remoras living under our boat.

Before departure Neil dived on the hull to clean the propeller and found two of them, the big one circling him, the other suctioned onto the starboard side of our keel.

There was minimum  growth on our 22 month-old antifoul paint, however the first 10 meters of anchor chain were covered in very fuzzy seaweed. Ley spent a hot hour on the foredeck pulling up a meter at a time, scrubbing and rinsing off most of the growth.

We departed Charlotteville on August 29 for an overnight sail to Grenada.  Mark came by in his boat Expect The Unexpected, and waved us off.  Joe the fisherman, his uncle, was working as a carpenter in town and Irwin, the fruit and vegie man, was at his stall.

Sad to be leaving, but happy to know that we will be back in late January.

 Mark and friends seeing us depart.  Image by Diane Selkirk

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Stainless Hose Clamp Failures

Hose clamps seem to be such simple things - yet choosing the wrong types can sure mess up an otherwise perfect sailing day.

As we departed from Suriname three weeks ago we found that our salt water pump was sucking some air - water was still flowing, but each time the pump started it took a few seconds to prime.  That pump feeds the deck wash system and the toilet, so it wasn't a major inconvenience.  However we then found that the water maker was also sucking air - more of a problem, because it then produced fresh water with a lot of air, and the tanks were not filling as fast (it's also not good for the RO water maker system).

We eventually found the culprits - two failed hose clamps on the salt water manifold - they had cracked right through but still looked just fine. 

Back in 2001 we had replaced all of the perforated hose clamps on board with stronger and more reliable non-perforated types. It was a real chore at the time but it proved worth while as the systems became more reliable. I remember running all over Surfers Paradise, Sydney, Darwin and even Singapore chasing up my favourite Norma brand "Torro" type hose clamps. However after more than a decade in service some of our clamps are now starting to fail, where they have been exposed to saltwater drips or spray.

Of course they are all made from 316 stainless steel, with 316 stainless screws, so what is going wrong ?

It seems that our failures are not the Norma clamps - they are other brands including ABA, that have a fairly large perforation hidden inside the clamping screw mechanism.

The Norma "Torro" clamps have a more robust screw attachment and a smaller perforation in the band. To see non-perforated hose clamps failing is unusual, specially when they made of 316 grade stainless steel, however when you look at the failure  it's predictable - they failed at the perforation hidden inside the clamp mechanism.

So, we'll keep using the Norma Torro clamps whenever possible, in the "W5" 316 stainless steel grade. They are now available with Philips "cross" drive, as an option - how many gouged and bleeding fingers would that avoid ? If you want to see basic hose clamps done properly, check this link, specially the options on the last pages. I'm quite sure that other good quality brands exist - I just haven't found them yet.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Caribbean Summer - Hurrican Season

This is our first time in the North Atlantic with Crystal Blues, and also our first time to be watching for hurricanes. Here in Tobago we are below the "normal" track of these storms, and at a latitude of 11.19 degrees north we are below the 12 degrees 7 minutes north navigation limit imposed by our insurer for the summer months.

So we can cruise in Trinidad, Tobago and southern Grenada, but the rest of the island chain is off limits from June 1st to November 30th.

Friends and family back in Australia have asked how much warning we would get and how we know if we are in the path of a storm. The answer is shown here - the US Government NOAA National Hurricane Center publishes an excellent information site with data updated every six hours. Weather disturbances and low pressure systems are shown clearly, with detailed analysis and probability of storm formation in the forecast period (5 days).

If we hover our mouse cursor over one of the identified disturbances a complete analysis is provided, as shown at left here.

Of course this is only one of the forecasting tools available to us, which include regular HF radio broadcasts from experienced forecasters. However this is the one we turn to each morning and evening for an update of activity in the region.

Outside of these reports we still download daily GRIB files from the Sailmail "saildocs" server that give us a seven to ten day forecast based on standard weather prediction models. In theory these various services give us the information we need to decide on staying put or moving, if a tropical low does develop.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Charlotteville, Tobago - Just Chillin

We arrived in beautiful Charlotteville just 12 days ago - and it's everything we wanted in a Carribbean anchorage. Very friendly people, very few tourists (excellent..) plus good supplies of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood right on the waterfront.

The local customs and immigration team are wonderfully helpful, and clearance procedures are handled in a spirit of friendship. Most importantly, the water here is clean - we're anchored in 16 meters just a little west of the town, directly off Man Of War Bay.  We can swim off the boat - if you like being chased by Remora fish - but each afternoon we meet with other cruisers on the beach for swimming, chatting and telling the usual friendly lies over a cold beer ...this is not a difficult place to just chill.

Crystal Blues Bottom Left, In Man Of War Anchorage

The locals are a big part of the happiness plot - this is one of those places where the local folk actually invite you stay longer and they really mean it - where the fisherman deliver live crayfish after breakfast in the morning, where everyone is friendly, no pressure at all mon. However, the singular gas station is always out of gas - both diesel and petrol. OK, that's a little unfair, as it is usually available at least one day a week, but hey, ain't that enough ? Of course they NEVER run short of beer or rum - or crayfish.

On average there have been 15 or 16 boats in here since we arrived. It seems the number of boats is increasing, and we're told there were 60 boats here this time last year. I'm sure the bay can handle them, though I'm not sure my French and German is up to scratch for that crowd - this is the first place we've been (since New Caledonia) where the majority of cruising folk do not speak English as a primary language.

Honestly, I almost daily curse the Australian education system that decided I didn't need to study any languages - though it graciously did give me a taste for music, something I've lately learned to cherish very dearly.

So, despite our Anglophile upbringing, we manage to share food, wine and opinions with those from other nations - principally because they all speak great English, of course. As do the Tobago locals, so we have no problems with market, transport or even buying rum. Perfect, except I still need diesel...if only I could chill a little more, mon, like the locals.

Warm Clear Water At Last
Yesterday we rented a car and drove to the other end of the island, which became a significant disappointment. Too many tourists, way too many sales folk, and no real local community spirit. If I see another T-shirt, T-spoon, sunhat or recycled coconut shell for sale I'll scream.

We were very glad to return to peaceful Charlotteville in the north, a one hour drive over winding mountainous roads. It seems that 90% of the tourism on this island is concentrated within 3 or 4 kilometers of the airport, where flights from Europe deliver white skinned Brits and many others. Long may they stay in the south - right now, Charlotteville is heaven.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Course For The Caribbean

Ley In The Galley As We Beat To The North West At Sunset
After three weeks in Suriname we set sail again for our first Caribbean landfall - Tobago.  It was a 500 nautical mile north westerly voyage that started with very nice light northerly winds - we had flat seas, a favourable current and seven knots of boat speed.

That all changed in the middle of the first night watch, when we snagged an illegal fish net about 30nm offshore. We were motoring at the time, the wind having died out completely, and the net brought us to a standstill while also stalling our Cummins diesel.

With lights on deck we could see the net trailing aft, now twisted into a thick rope by the rotation of our propeller. Using the boat-hook we snagged the net and pulled it to the surface, then cut it free with a serrated blade knife. The top rope of the net was at least 14mm diameter, with floats directly attached, so there was no way we could ever pass over it.
Net With Top Floats
Now drifting free, we unfurled the genoa and slowly pulled away into the night, sailing on a very slight breeze at around 3.0 knots. Six hours later I came on watch again after sunrise and prepared to dive under the boat to clear the propeller and running gear and check for damage.

Preparing to enter the water I was startled by a large fish that appeared from under the boat - a Remora of course, only this one was much bigger than I had seen before.  Once under water I found myself out-numbered by eight large Remora, with another four visible hanging on the keel, plus a larger dark colored creature that I wasn't quite sure of, circling out beyond them. OK, I've chased remora around the boat before, but these guys were bigger and had a different attitude - they wanted to chase me...

As soon as I was underwater they were at me, and by the time I got to the propeller and net I was fending them off with a knife! After cutting away some of the net the fish did get the better of me and I came back to the stern - but then realised we were badly handicapped without an engine, and went back again to finish the job.  It wasn't fun ... for every few links of net that were cut I was fending off the damn fish again.  That larger dark one kept circling and coming in behind me, with just enough aggression to keep me distracted and dodging behind the rudder and skeg. I now believe it was a small Ocean White Tip shark, the rounded fin tips and white mottling being quite obvious. A rare creature, who fortunately backed off when I directly challenged it.

Eventually the remaining net was cut free from the propeller, and floated free off the stern where the image above was taken.  I then quickly checked the propeller blades and rudder and levitated out of the water pretty fast. This sort of behavior from Remora is unusual I think, though earlier this evening another Remora chased our friend Diane, of the yacht Ceilydh, as she was swimming off the boat here in Tobago. Her husband Evan was bitten by one just a week or so back. A Caribbean hazard perhaps?

The other notable feature of this passage was the large amount of Saragosso weed that was drifting on the ocean surface - we'd never experienced this before.  Sometimes very large rafts of weed were spotted, and it was constant enough that Ley wasn't able to troll a lure behind the boat without fouling the hooks with weed.
Saragosso Weed

The remainder of our voyage to Tobago was more relaxed, though we did manage to lose an impeller on the Cummins and had to change out the sea water pump the day before we arrived. Good winds and awkward arrival timing found us off the Tobago coast fully 16 hours before we could approach the land - Tobago Customs being fussy about arrival and reporting times, so we spent the final evening lazing around offshore in almost a flat calm.  Next morning we motored in and were welcomed into Tobago by a very friendly customs and immigration team in Charlotteville.

Tobago Appears At Sunset

Monday, 1 August 2016

Suriname Cruising Services Guide

For those following in our wake, we've published a useful guide to cruising services in Suriname, adding to the collection of guides available online.

The guide can be downloaded from this blog - click on the appropriate tab above, select Suriname (or any other country) from the list, and the pdf file will be delivered from our Dropbox cloud storage.

The guides are searchable, so you can use Adobe search functions to find items based on keywords. 

The Suriname guide can also be downloaded here.

Enjoy Suriname!