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St. Thomas to Trinidad

March 8 Through March 16 , 2001



Captain David Appleton

Mate/Safety/Navigator Dr. Lee Tucker

Student Engineer Mark Moody

Student Boatswain Patrick Sullivan

Sunday, February 25

I arrived at 2130, loaded my gear aboard and hit the sack.

Monday, February 26 through Wednesday, March 7

I arose early and began stowing gear and reorienting myself to HALIMEDA.  I had enjoyed sailing her on a couple of Bermuda Passages last year as well as several Advanced Coastal Cruises around the DelMarVa and between New England and the Chesapeake.

Through some scheduling snafus I arrived more than a week early for this assignment.  So I spent the next few days helping Curt and Eva Chapman, who had been taking care of HALIMEDA during her stay in St. Thomas, with some maintenance work and equipment upgrades.  The major installation was a new ICOM 710 SSB radio.  Curt, a skilled HAM, helped me, a novice at things Marconian, understand the mysteries of antenna and ground installations necessary for long distance radio communications.  This installation took several days and required the installation of a new back stay antenna as well, the old one proved a poor transmitter having been worn out.  All this effort proved worthwhile.  Later, we were able to maintain daily radio contact with Curt and Eva aboard SITOA, as well as with my friend and erstwhile mate, Eric Peterson (see “SIRENA’s Near Miss”) who was enjoying some time down island with his wife Carleen on ISLAND TIME, another IP 35, this winter, currently in St. Martin.  We set up a regular radio schedule meeting every morning at 0745 on several possible frequencies, depending on propagation.  Curt and Eric reported our HALIMEDA signal was loud and strong most of the time.  So our technician, Neal Henderson of Tropicom in St. Thomas, seems to have done a first class job.  On Tuesday, March 7, my mate for this voyage, Dr. Lee Tucker, arrived.  I was pleased to have him aboard again.  He’s extremely experienced, having sailed thousands of ocean miles on MD School passages and on his own IP 380 as well.  He’d been my mate on 4 previous voyages and proved himself an excellent teacher as well as a fine sailor.

We spent Wednesday doing some more routine maintenance.  We reprogrammed the autopilot that was not working and got it going successfully.  We also topped off the fuel and water tanks, and then did some planning for the voyage and provisioning.

Thursday, March 8

This was official arrival day and Patrick Sullivan from New York checked in fairly early in the day.  I’d hoped to get started early, perhaps beginning the seminar today, but the rest of the crew, Mark Moody from Colorado was not to arrive until 2030 this evening.  Patrick had ample time for a leisurely orientation to the boat.  This was a solid crew.  Patrick, a career journalist currently working as a Producer for ABC News, had a classic Swan on Long Island Sound.  And Mark had mostly lake sailing experience in Colorado on his Pacific Seacraft 26, but had done some chartering in the Caribbean as well, as had Patrick.  They both took quickly to HALIMEDA's rig and were ready to sail her on an ocean passage within a few hours.

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Friday, March 9

At 0745 we made contact with SITOA.  Curt and Eva had her in St. Croix with another MD School class.  We chatted about maintenance and our voyage plans, and they told us theirs.  We were unable to raise ISLAND TIME this morning.

After breakfast, we held a crew orientation meeting and seminar, outlining the voyage.  This was a new trip for us all, including myself, so we planned it very carefully.  We had the Trade Winds to reach across, and that promised an exhilarating sail, but they could go SE on us, and that is the direction to Trinidad!  So we gathered as much information as we could from charts, pilot charts, sailing directions, cruising guides and such, but we also sought local knowledge from veteran cruisers around the dock.  Two of these, Ed and Chuck, had excellent advice, though slightly differing opinions as to the exact route we should take.  But they agreed we should do as much easting as possible.  So we elected to plan a strategy of heading over to St. John Saturday, dropping the hook there and making our final preparations for the voyage while at anchor.  Then we’d head out early Sunday, up Francis Drake Channel in the BVI and out to Round Rock, just SE of Virgin Gorda, and as east as possible out to the Leewards and Windwards.  We intended to “round Saba like a windward mark” before heading south about keeping about 10 miles west of the Antilles island chain.  We continued the other aspects of the seminar, the watch system and general rules for operating the ship and the daily routine, using the Offshore Training Cruises Manual as our guide.  We also went over the safety rules and the general standing orders.  After lunch we made billet assignments for the voyage.  Since this was to be a short crew, only four of us, we needed to make some alterations in the usual plan, doubling up assignments here and there.  Lee would assume navigation duties as usual, and all will participate in these exercises, Mark would handle the engineering duties and Patrick would oversee the deck as Boatswain.  I would be available to help wherever needed.  We then spent the rest of the day going through the presail check lists for each department ensuring all were familiar with the ship’s systems, equipment, rig and safety equipment.

Saturday, March 10

Again we rise early, breakfast and start to work.  We intend to leave port today and head for St. John.  After our daily radio chat with SITOA (again we fail to raise ISLAND TIME) we set about our final preparations for sea, going over our checklists.  Mark notes the packing gland dripping somewhat more than he would expect.... about a drop a second.  But that is not excessive, and we resolve to leave it alone but monitor it under way, particularly in dynamic conditions.  The major task of the morning is to rig the sea anchor.  All help Patrick with this task since it’s more than a one man operation, and all need to be familiar with this gear.  We discuss the conditions under which we would deploy it, then do a mock deployment at the dock.  This shows all how it’s done as well as giving us an opportunity for a thorough inspection of this equipment.  At 1030 we secure for sea and clear the dock

  • Eng. hrs. 1365.7
  • Gen. hrs. 00839.1
  • Diesel Tank Full @ 140 US Gal.
  • Water Tank Full @ 240 US Gal.
  • Log reading 14890 -- Trip Log 388.4

And at 1035 we are underway heading for St. John

At 1100 Mark checks the packing gland seepage... about 2.5 drops a second dynamic.  Still ok.

1200 N.  We are just off Buck Island vicinity of N18°17’ x W 65°53’.  We’re motor sailing under main alone very close to the wind.  While underway we continue to conduct our seminar, familiarizing crew with watch keeping responsibilities, hourly checks and so forth.  We also set the watch schedule.  We will keep to the school’s traditional 4 hour watches with two crew on watch at all times, but since we have but 4 aboard instead of six, we will have to go port & starboard, 4 on and 4 off, with Patrick and myself standing one watch, and Lee and Mark on the other.  By 1530 we’re entering Coral Bay on the SW end of St. John and at 1600 we were able to find a good anchorage, review anchoring procedures with crew, and drop the hook.  We then took some time preparing the DR plot on the DMA plotting sheets we use for ocean passages.  And at about 1700 Lee led a swim call working party to give the bottom a good scrub while enjoying the pleasures of a late afternoon tropical dip.  I prepared a “Skid Row Stroganoff” dinner, one of my favorite shipboard culinary concoctions, which all claimed to enjoy immensely.  At 1900 we have another SSB contact with SITOA and report our progress.  We then cleaned up and went to bed early, eagerly anticipating the main voyage to commence in the morning.

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Sunday, March 11

0600  We’re up, refreshed with a beautiful night’s sleep, a beautiful morning in Paradise, and we’re ready to go.  After a quick cereal breakfast, we set about the last chores before getting underway.  We hoist and secure the dingy to the davits, rig and set the storm trisail to familiarize all with its operation, make some last minute navigation checks, updating the DR Plot and plotting our intended course.  0745  We make our morning contact with SITOA, and this time we’re able to raise ISLAND TIME as well.  We keep our chat brief because we are eager to set sail, but get important information out... position, intended route, crew condition and so on.

0800  Weigh anchor: Eng hrs 1371.5 Gen 00839.1 Trip Log - 405.5

Winds are SE at about 15 under partly cloudy skies and we can set sail as soon as we exit Coral Bay which we do at 0830, securing the engine and enjoying the sail and the silence.  At 0900 we begin our daily seminar with today’s topic, emergency procedures and assignments and the ditch kit contents.  While proceeding with this agenda, Mark, removing the ship’s EPIRB from its hard bottle container, accidentally trips the switch setting off an ACCIDENTAL FALSE ALARM.....  we secure it immediately but the signal has gone out; SARSAT has no doubt picked up this signal and begun the inquiry into its source.  This 406 EPIRB puts out a signal to satellite monitors which relay the signal to SARSAT Command in Florida and Washington DC.  Once this signal is received, they call the contact person, which in our case is Nancy in the School office.  They did so, and before I could secure the EPIRB and pick up the VHF to call USCG on VHF Channel 16, I heard “HALIMEDA!” being hailed on 16 by USCG San Juan.  We responded to them immediately, shifted to 22 A and explained the misfire and assured them we were all right.

EPIRB False Alarms are a serious problem, and all precautions should be taken out to send out a signal unnecessarily.  However, I must admit to being a bit glad this accident happened.  Within 5 minutes of our setting off the device, we were being hailed on VHF 16 by the Coast Guard.  This was very reassuring.  We continued our seminar discussing this valuable lesson and making emergency billet assignments while working our way East in Francis Drake Channel heading for Round Rock, our chosen jump off point.  Patrick, at the helm, was enjoying the speed HALIMEDA was making under full sail in the SE breeze, and especially pleased to be closing on the charter catamaran off our port bow.  1100  We tack for Round Rock Passage and head South for the first time.  At just before Noon we enter the passage and note a fairly strong adverse current.  At Noon our position is N18°24’ X W64°17’ just past Round Rock into the greater Caribbean.  During the early afternoon we tack a couple of times, heading NE often, to just south of Virgin Gorda.  We continue our seminars while sailing, particularly focusing on navigation issues and the DR plot.  By mid afternoon the wind has backed to a more consistently Easterly direction and we are able to make a course of 145°M.

As evening approaches we discuss night sailing issues including recognition of navigation lights and special considerations for collision avoidance during night passages.  At 1800 we copy weather report from NMN Portsmouth, VA which predicts good winds for our area, Easterly from 15 to 25 for the next few days.  After dinner we settle in for a smooth sail, taking one reef for the night given the fact we are relatively short handed.  Standing orders to all off watch crew : “Get rest whenever possible!”  At 1900 we make radio contact with SITOA & ISLAND TIME, this contact with IT extremely good and we had a nice talk!

Monday, March 12

During the night we make good progress with one reef in the main and winds Easterly often reaching 22 knots.  This is turning out to be the reach we had hoped for.  The midwatch is beautiful with light cumulus clouds and brilliant stars between them and winds out of the East at 18-20 giving us 6.2 to 6.5 knots through the water easily.  By 0500 we are over Saba Bank and we see Saba off our port bow.  We didn’t make the windward mark!  And at 0630 we realize why we should avoid the Saba Flats.... Lee and Mark on the 4-8 watch seem to be having some difficulty, so I went topside to find them struggling with a problem: how to free HALIMEDA from the clutches of a fish trap line on which we had become ensnared.  Winds had lightened significantly so we first tried to tack off the trap.  But it was not to be.  We had a 300’+ drogue off the stern which made maneuvering the vessel nearly impossible.  We determined the prop was fouled and there was no alternative but to dive on it and free it by hand.  So I suited up and jumped in with mask and snorkel and tether attached to my harness.  We also deployed a static line for me to hold on to, rigged from starboard midship.  We were making about 2 knots even though we shortened sail and hove too, so I would need something to hold on to as I tried to free the prop.  I did not want to cut a fisherman’s rig if I could avoid it.  So I tried to work our prop free of the line, struggling for about 15-20 minutes.  But the movement of the boat and the pressure on the line was too much.  So I finally cut it loose, returned aboard, and reset sails.  This whole operation took about an hour.  After this we set sail, had breakfast and pressed on.  Noon found us off St. Kitts and Nevis at N17°05 x W 63°03.  We’re making good progress.  We copy NMN weather again predicting E winds 18 - 20 knots or so in our area.  We are setting a course to stand off the islands by some 8 to 10 nm at least, avoiding the calms and disturbed air on the lee sides of these obstructions.  Nonetheless we are in the weather systems of these land masses.  They produce a contrail similar to that of a jet aircraft.  The trade winds passing them creates an updraft, condensation phenomenon making clouds trail off down wind on the lee side, creating perpetual rain forests on the west side of some of these islands.  So by afternoon we are experiencing some squalls, partly due to this “island effect” no doubt.  West of Montserrat we experience a squall with winds to 28 knots around 1400.  A couple of these during the afternoon give us wonderful opportunities to practice reefing in various configurations with winds topping 32 knots once or twice.  And our studies continue.  Our stalwart Mate, Dr. Lee Tucker, has prepared a great Sea Medicine discussion and we go through it with him using HALIMEDA’s well-thought-out “Med Packs” (prepared under Lee’s direction) to show what should be aboard the serious cruising sailboat.  During the afternoon we stage a surprise MOB drill and discuss the virtues of stopping the boat as soon as possible.  By late afternoon the winds subside and settle in Easterly at about 14 to 17 knts.  Our DR Plot, confirmed by the proximity of the islands, shows us well east of our rhumb line.  So we can afford to bust off on a bit more of a comfortable reach on these East winds.  But our 1800 NMN weather report indicates we may be experiencing some veering winds going a bit south on us, so we have to continue adding East into our course when we can.

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Tuesday, March 13

0000  Battery levels are down but we have ample amps to get us through to morning and elect not to start the generator, allowing the crew to get a good rest as we slip along at 6.5 to 7 knots on East winds to 18 knots making good time.  0140 we contact the cruise ship that has been approaching off our stern.  FASCINATION reports having us on radar and intends to pass us to our starboard.  And at 0210 she passes about 1.5 miles to our starboard, a little close but comfortable since we are in contact and they know where we are.  0315  The winds subside and we are forced to start the main engine and disturb the peace of the evening.  Oh, well.  Batteries need charging anyway.  0830  We have a good chance to give the ship a thorough clean up this morning.  Everyone is getting rest and getting used to the routine.  Winds are a little erratic in the lee of the islands and we find ourselves going from reef to full sail to motor sailing at various times.  Through the morning we have enough stable water to get some good practice taking some celestial shots.  The close proximity of the islands offers some good terrestrial navigation as well.  1200 position N 15°16’ x W 61°40’ -- the Noon NMN weather predicts more of the same, perhaps 20 - 25 Easterly winds for our area.  Seas to 8 feet.  1515  Surprise MOB Drill.....we stop and recover gear thrown off to simulate MOB, good drill, taking only about 3-4 minutes to get alongside MOB.

We also stop and heave too at this point, trying various configurations of sail and rudder to see what the boat will do in various conditions.  We also raise storm trisail and immobilize boom in boom crutch.  And then we sail on storm trisail for a bit before securing from drill and resuming our course.  And at 1600 we recover and return to course and ship’s routine after stowing gear from drill.

Passing St. Lucia we saw a large freighter displaying lights indicating a “vessel not under command.”  This is an unusual situation I’ve not seen very often.  She seemed to be just sitting there, riding quietly.  Since she posed no threat to us, we simply press on.

Wednesday, March 14

Through the night all went well.  We had to start the engine due to fluky winds, and do some motor sailing through the lee of the islands, but all was routine now and the crew took everything in stride.

Some quiet zones in the lee of St. Vincent provide smooth water and stable platform for celestial shots and other navigational exercises.  We also take this opportunity to do a complete round of systems checks including digging into the starboard lazerette to check all the generator fluids, belts, etc.  Noon finds us at N 13°00.0’ x 61°26.1 at the southern end of St. Vincent heading for the Grenadines.  We continue our celestial navigation exercises through the afternoon as we pass into the lee of Grenada at dinner time and we start the engine as the wind dies.  Just after dinner as night falls Lee’s hand line that we've trailed astern most of the voyage pops and we’ve hooked a fish!  Unfortunately it becomes a bit of a trial to bring it in as the dark ness falls.  The line gets tangled.  But Lee lands the fish anyway.  Unfortunately it turns out to be a junk fish, not suitable for eating.  We resolve to take in the fishing line long before dark in the future.  At 2000 we see the lights at the airport on the southern tip of Grenada, Point Saline.  We are passing quite close to this island since the Northern Equatorial Current we expect to encounter after passing the island will probably set us Westerly with about 1.5 knots of current.  2300  We pass Point Saline and pass on into the equatorial current area.  Checking our course and speed over ground by GPS reading compared to our compass heading we note we are being set WNW at about 1.5 knots of drift.  But once out of the lee of Grenada we are able to make good speed, over 7.3 knots through the water on average in the 18 to 22 knot winds that have now backed to ENE.  This enables us to make the necessary 175° T course to Point Entrada, our target on the North coast of Trinidad, with ease.

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Thursday, March 15

Through the night the winds continue around 20 knts out of the ENE and we are able to keep steady on our course of 160° M to make go our 175°T over ground, making 7.8 + knts through the water netting about 6.5 over ground.  So we are covering the 70 nautical miles between Grenada and Trinidad at a good pace and expect to be entering the Boca Mona cut before noon.  One of our considerations in pacing the trip had been that we wanted to make port during the day and enter port in a timely fashion to clear customs.  We even considered stopping for a spell in the Grenadines if it looked as if we could not make Trinidad in daylight.  There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at such a time that you need to lay to and hold off waiting for daybreak to enter a tricky channel or to arrive at the port only to have to wait for customs and immigration to open their office.  At 0745 we make our regular radio contact with SITOA and ISLAND TIME reporting our view of the beautiful panorama of the Trinidad/Venezuela islands at the Dragoons Mouth opening to the Gulf of Paria, verdant hills dappled with yellow to orange/red tufts of vegetation.  And we enjoy this view while reaching off at 7.4 knts in 15-18 knts of ENE breeze on benevolently rolling 5-6 foot seas.  Both vessels report they are appropriately envious of our morning’s experience.  As it turned out our timing was fortuitous.  We spotted land, the hilly coasts of Trinidad and Venezuela, at daybreak and we were approaching Boca Mona at 0930.  During the night we passed some fishing boats about midway between Grenada and Trinidad.  And on our next voyage, on the way back to St. Thomas we found out why they seemed to be hanging out in this area.  See the next report to find out what happened our first day out on the return trip.  1000 saw us transiting Boca Mona, a passage that looks mighty small on the chart but which is actually very wide.  It is however subject to strong tidal currents and we found the ebbing tide not only slowed us up a bit but provided some appreciable waves.  And the winds became fluky as we passed between the steep hills of Mona Island and the coast Trinidad proper.  So we furled sails and started the engine and motored the final 5 miles to the harbor at Chaguaramas where we would clear customs and immigration and tie up at Crews Inn Marina.

1100 We tie up to Customs dock and I begin the arduous task of clearing customs and immigration.  It took fully 2 hours of waiting in line and filling out forms and waiting again.  Oh well.  The crew took the time to crack open a beer or two in celebration of the successful passage, and to begin cleaning up the boat.

Elapsed Time: from St. John 3/11 -- 4 days -2.5 hours

  • Log Reading: 15.0 (the trip log cycled @999.9) Miles through the water: 625.0
  • Engine hours used: 23.3 hrs
  • Fuel consumed: ?? NO FUEL TAKEN ON

By 1300 we are cleared in and ready to move the short distance over to our slip, B34 at Crews Inn Marina.  Once berthed and checked in, we set about cleaning up the boat in earnest.  We then took advantage of the marina’s amenities, including telephones, a swimming pool, showers, a laundry, and a really fine restaurant.  This last we enjoyed to the fullest that evening, challenging both bartenders and waiters to minister to our vast appetites, which they did with grace and dispatch!  We enjoyed a lovely evening reviewing our experiences with only a hint of exaggeration.

Friday, March 16

Today Patrick, Mark and Lee enjoyed a bit of shore leave, but not before Patrick, a dedicated non-cook, religious in it apparently (quoth New Yorker Pat, “If God intended us to cook, He wouldn’t have created so many fine restaurants!”) PREPARED BREAKFAST!!!  What a treat!  We were amazed, and his scrambled eggs were superb!  By 1000 they were off in a rented car for some additional adventures on Trinidad while I worked on the boat and prepared for the next crew, some of whom I hoped to meet later this day.

Saturday, March 17

Crew change day!  Today we bid fond farewell to our down bound crew, Patrick and Mark, and welcomed the new folks; Bob Thompson, Courtney Pellegrino and Stanley Ellis Boulton, those destined to enjoy what I came to call “ The Dream Reach” from Trinidad to St. Croix.  This day began preparations with the new crew, and was capped off with an excellent dinner party featuring both crews together at The Bight restaurant, across the bay from Crews Inn Marina, transportation provided by Mark Moody Crew & Cab Service.  This affair provided a suitable cap to the experience of the our first crew and a good introduction for our new arrivals.  All were the pioneers of this first training cruise of the Maryland School of Sailing to south of 10° N and to Trinidad.  More on our North bound adventurers in the next report!

Captain David Appleton
Crews Inn Marina, Chaguaramas, Trinidad

March 17, 2001

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