Monday, March 22, 2010

The perils of ignoring the Admiral's advice

It was an interesting day the other day. We said goodbye to Saint Vincent and sailed north (sigh, don't like sailing north) to Saint Lucia. As we worked our way up the Saint Vincent coast we ducked into Wallilabou Bay to see part of the set from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. The dock and scaffold (or hoist?) where Captain Jack Sparrow makes his escape from the English at the beginning of the movie is still there, as is the natural stone arch that Jack passed on his way into port. It was fun seeing these and we look forward to watching the movie again to pick out sites that we've seen on our trip so far. After leaving the lee of St Vincent we had a brisk sail up to St Lucia.

We arrived in Soufriere, which is on the south west coast of Saint Lucia at the Pitons, around 1:30. The Pitons are magnificent. They are inactive volcanoes formed about 40 million years ago. Here's a photo of the Pitons:

We had planned a fairly early arrival with the hope that one of the few mooring balls in the bay would be available. This desire to moor rather than anchor (I generally prefer to anchor) was driven by simple geography. The Pitons are mostly vertical... both above the water and below. In other words, the bottom in Soufriere Bay is mostly rock and coral, and drops to China within a few yards from shore. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found all the moorings occupied.

Soufriere is a customs port and we needed to clear in, so we didn't really want to move on to another anchorage. With no other choice, we tried to anchor on the steep slope next to the moorings with the intention of running a stern line to shore to avoid dragging into deeper water. Unfortunately, as we tried to set our anchor, it would catch but then start dragging. The scraping feel transmitted up the chain told me the bottom was either hard sand, sand on rock or just plain rock. As we were trying to anchor in 60 feet of water we couldn't see the bottom to be sure. It would probably be OK, but I wasn't willing to gamble as you have a very rocky lee shore a few yards away and I was unfamiliar with the weather in this bay. After 4 attempts to set the anchor, we saw a boat leave one of the two large yacht moorings and we grabbed it. The ranger said it was no problem staying there, but we were asked to move the following morning since a 100 foot catamaran was booked in to use it. Fortunately one of the small yacht moorings had opened up as the folks using it moved on to another anchorage.

The seven moorings available for us small yachts are lined up about 150 feet from shore. They are quite close together so you must run a line ashore to avoid bashing into your neighbor as winds and tides shift. It is an easy swim or dinghy ride to shore to tie off the stern line to a palm tree, or you can allow one of the boat boys to do it for you for a small charge. I dropped the dinghy and headed ashore towing our stern line. Once ashore, I left the dinghy outside of the small surf and tied it's bow line around a small rock hoping the dinghy would play nice, stay outside the surf and not wash up on the rocky shore. Unfortunately, the wind had other ideas and kept pushing it in onto the rocks. Keeping one eye on the dinghy and realizing my line wasn't quite long enough to reach the tree-line, I spied a convenient fallen huge palm tree log that seemed well jammed up in the rocks. I tried to shift it and it wouldn't budge. Perfect, I thought. I scrambled back down through the rocks to push the dinghy back off shore and back up to the log to tie off the line. That accomplished, I pushed the dinghy back off the shore again and jumped aboard to find Mirasol pointing the wrong way on the mooring ball.

Jen was standing on the bow yelling something at me that I could not understand over the outboard engine's noise, so I replied a little huffily (never a good idea) that "wasn't she supposed to be turning the boat stern-to the shore instead of yelling things at me?". I used the dinghy to help push the stern around to face shore and then climbed on board to a somewhat chilly look from Jen. I finished tying off the line to shore and then asked Jen what she was shouting at me.

"Well, I was wondering if you thought that tying off to that log was a good idea." After all the work of getting the stern line secured this was the last thing I wanted to hear, so my reply was something along the lines of "Well, if I didn't think it was a good idea I wouldn't have tied it to the log, would I have?". I should have mentioned that I would have preferred to tie off to a tree but I didn't have enough line but I was grumpy and a little put off that she should question my judgement as she was 200' away standing dry on Mirasol at the time.

After that pleasant exchange, Jen retired to the salon and I stood in the cockpit, both stewing a little and both watching the log as wind and wakes pushed Mirasol about. Then the log betrayed me and shifted, but surely it was just settling in. Of course, I said to myself, that is all it is. Then it shifted again and dragged a couple of feet. "Crap", I thought. "Now I have to go tell her she's right. There'll be no living with her after this." With a mouth full of crow I went inside and let her know I needed to lengthen the line and move it to a palm tree. To Jen's credit, she didn't gloat... much... and I haven't heard about it in at least 12 hours.