On Tuesday, we depart Grenada and cross the international border into St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Uppermost in our thinking today is the need to make minimal use of the diesel engine during the sail from Tyrell Bay on the island of Carriacou to Elizabeth Harbor on the island of Bequia. The eventual goal is to have the engine problem diagnosed in St. Lucia where there is a major marina and haul-out facility at Rodney Bay. More sailing and less motoring is our new cruising mantra.
There are only three problems with this credo. First, sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind. Second, the prevailing wind is from the ENE. Third, our destination of St. Lucia is located to the northeast. Since Cutter Loose cannot sail directly into the wind, our only option is to sail a series of tacks on either side of the wind in order to reach our destination.
At first, sailing close to the wind is exhilarating. It conjures up romantic images of classic sailing ships delivering explorers, cargo and passengers to distant ports. The sensation of sheer power transmitted by a boat under sail in fresh wind conditions is an awesome thing to behold.
Gradually, however, fatigue begins to settle in. In 25 knot trade winds and 7 foot seas, beating is a messy proposition. In gusts, a tug-of-war takes place between the helmsman and the wheel. The boat wants desperately to head up closer to the wind. The helmsman is duty bound to steer slightly away from the wind in order to maintain course. The bow slices through the swells, causing waves to crash on the foredeck, sending salt spray everywhere. Relentless motion and pounding has made for a long day. It gives new meaning to the term “beat”, which is how we felt after 12 hours of crashing into seven foot waves. As the crow flies, Elizabeth Harbor is about 38 miles from Tyrell Bay. After tacking for 12 hours, the total distance under the keel for today is 62 miles.
It is dusk by the time Cutter Loose enters the harbor under a yellow Q flag and reduced power. There are two large cruise boats and hundreds of pleasure boats already anchored here in anticipation of the New Year’s Eve celebration. A reggae beat wafts over the harbor from a waterfront bar. Winding our way in near darkness through the glut of anchored boats, we drop anchor in 25 feet just off Tony Gibbon’s beach on the south side of the harbor. After showers and a light meal, the desire to ring in the New Year gives way to exhaustion. Except for the masthead anchor light, Cutter Loose is dark by 8:30 PM.
Since most of the businesses are presumably closed, New Year’s Day is a day of rest and relaxation aboard Cutter Loose. Winfield pays a visit in his skiff Friendship to say hello and to offer provisions and boat services. The hatches are open and the cabin is filled with fresh Christmas winds which are now 25 knots sustained, gusting to 30 knots here in the harbor at Port Elizabeth. Mediocre Wi-Fi Internet access is available from a vendor in the harbor at a cost of $10 US per week. This eliminates the need to carry sensitive electronic devices ashore in the dinghy. Given the wind-driven chop in the harbor, the dinghy ride ashore would almost certainly be a wet and wild experience.
There is a long line of cruisers and charter boat skippers in the Customs and Immigration office on Thursday morning since many charterers schedule their vacations during the holidays. Our request to simultaneously clear in and clear out is met with puzzled looks by the Customs officer. He wants to know when we arrived. Answer: “New Year’s Eve at 7 PM”. He wants to know why we did not clear Customs on New Year’s Day. Answer: “Sir, we assumed that the Customs and Immigration office would be closed on New Year’s Day since it is a national holiday in St. Vincent”. He states that this is an incorrect assumption on our part. He informs us that the Customs and Immigration Office was indeed open on New Year’s Day. Answer: “I’m sorry, Sir. I made an error in judgement. Might it be possible to clear in now?” The Customs officer strolls to the back of the room where he confers with a senior officer. He returns to chide me one more time for my failure to clear in on New Year’s Day. The solution, however, is apparent and simple. We must pay the customary overtime fee for clearances on weekends and holidays. Answer: “No problem, sir”. After waiting in line, completing forms and paying the required clearance fee, the officer stamps our arrival and departure clearances and sends us to the Immigration desk which now has a significant queue of its own. The Immigration officer launches a similar inquiry and chides us for our failure to clear in on New Year’s Day, but stamps our passports and signs our official clearances. The total elapsed time for obtaining clearances is 90 minutes. One thing cruisers have a lot of is time, so no worries about the delay. We must always remind ourselves that we are visitors in a foreign country. Every Customs office has its own way of doing things. The important outcome is that our clearances are in hand and we learned something in the process.
After a few purchases at the vegetable market, it is off to the Gingerbread House for a relaxing lunch overlooking the harbor. Bequia is a funky-cool place. There are a few nice hotels, restaurants and beach bars along the waterfront, but Port Elizabeth retains its laid back, slightly off-beat original character. As the English would say, Bequia is unspoiled. Since the Club Med 2 cruise boat is anchored in the harbor today, the street is filled with tourists wearing swimsuits with cover-ups. The vendors and taxi drivers are actively working the crowd for business.
On Friday morning, we will depart Port Elizabeth and the country of St. Vincent to sail north to the island of St. Lucia. Our goal is to reach Rodney Bay during the weekend and engage the mechanics at Rodney Bay Marina to have a look at our diesel engine early in the week.