Preparing Ad Astra for Matthew
Noon, Wednesday September 28th, 2016.
It is sunny at moment, but with fat low clouds all around; Ad Astra is tucked into the hurricane hole of Point Egmont, the winds are from the north at 6 mph, temperature 86 F, humidity 84% and the barometer is at 29.86 inches of mercury, and falling.
The tropical depression that will be called Matthew* later today is north east of us at about 100 miles east of the Windward Isles and is aiming to hit Martinique hard with the full force of its right cross coming anti-clockwise.
- Saturday Edit: Matthew is making all kinds of records as it is a late season Category 5 hurricane the furthest south ever recorded
We first got a warning about this possible storm when it was just a vague disturbance kicking off from the cape verde islands off of Africa, when we were anchored in Bequia.
This complicated the vacation plans of our friend David who flew down in his plane from Texas to St Vincent. Will this storm materialize? Will it go north like all storms? Will it go south? Where should we go? The models were so divergent and only the GFS model showed any possible danger. It was too early to do any specific plans.
Not knowing when we would have to make hard decisions we went straight for the Tabago Cays the highlight of the vacation plan. The Tabago Cays are an incredible set of islets set inside of a giant barrier horseshoe reef called the World’s End Reef. You could spend a night in a dozen different little spots and still have places to explore.
David got in some windsurfing with spectacular aerials, and even gave me and Kyle a lesson. At one point Kyle went airborne despite my holding onto his harness, he hurled to windward and then I followed and crashed down on him too.
Later that evening our South African friend JK showed up in Windkat with Mandalay too and announced “This is a fuck up. This is very very bad. Very ver bad. This is a fuck-up.” His thick Afrikaans accent completely destroyed any sense of serious concern.
Later that evening we got together and decided that it was time to get down to Grenada. Next morning we weighed anchor and were at Union at 8:30 am to check out of SVG and for David and Kaiwen to catch a ferry to St Vincent to move David’s plane out of danger. Problem, the ferry just left and there would not be another until Monday. Alright, let’s go to Greneda.
We had a nice sail past Carriacoa, Kick’em Genny and the other outer rocks of Greneda, we made the harbor of St George’s by 4:30 pm and tucked into some marginal holding in 20 feet of disturbed rock and coral. The anchorage was full with about 50 boats, including the windjammer fleet that we saw so often in Bequia. Two more Danish boats including a floating school named Sagitta for Danish teenage boys was there. It was hard to imagine where all of these boats are going to go?
Early the next morning Kaiwen and David took a 5 am taxi to the airport to get his plane off the tarmac at St Vincent as they do not even have tie-downs let alone a hangar and the models were showing that Invest 97 (the technical tracking name) was aiming for the channel between St Vincent and St Lucia.
We had a little trouble with checking in as Sue-quei still holds a Taiwanese passport and those require prior approval to enter Grenada. The immigration officer was pleasant but impounded her passport as it was a Sunday morning and directed us to go to immigration headquarters Monday morning.
The next morning, the immigration officer asked, “Why did you enter Grenada without determining our visa requirements of your Taiwanese crew.”
“Uh, I apologize sir, I was a lazy captain, we have sailed the Leeward and Windward isles and this is the first time we needed a visa. I was distracted trying to get south of the storm.”
“Ah, yes. That is a good reason.” he smiled easily and then we discussed the weather, Grenada and other pleasantries and paid $100 USD for a multiple-entry VISA good for a year.
Later that evening as our friends on Cap II, Windkat and Mandalay arrived in St George’s, we decided to have a weather conference at the happy hour in the Victory Bar at the yacht club.
As we streamed into the inner harbor of St George’s, the the AI Venus formally known as the flesh of Steve Jobs took shelter. She actually is a solid slab of gleaming white, stainless steel and glass. She makes no sounds as she moves, even when engaging here powerful bow thrusters to put her alongside the dock. Six crew members stood ready to toss over the fenders the size of mini coopers. We were all expecting a clean, synchronized toss, but it turned out to be a casual affair. It was fitting at the end she telescoped in her forward mast — Venus has no unnecessary lines or bulges.
We took over a huge bench with 14 of us with all manner if laptops, tablets and smart phones and discussed the various options. I97 was still bearing west with even some of the newer models showing it to run potentially south of Grendada and cutting off a run to Trinidad.
Sagitta had already cast off for Trinidad an hour before and at 76 feet long, she would make Trinidad handily.
JK and Peter independently came up with the idea of riding the storm out at sea, by first sailing south from St Georg’s and then keeping the wind on the port quarter off by 30 degrees make a great big counter-clockwise loop going south of Grenada about 50 miles (half-way to Trinidad).
Another option was to hole up in Point Egmont or another hole on the south coast. The worry though, surely these holes are already full of local boats. Luckily for us, David and Kaiwen just came up to the table with smartphone pictures of the south coast at 1000 feet from the flight back from St. Vincent. Point Egmont looks like it still had some room.
Mandalay and Windkat were very comfortable with the idea of the 24 hour anti-clockwise sail. I did not doubt it was a solid plan, but for me I had two concerns. The first was that by the time we turned west I would then be meeting the wave train that I97 created a day before, these were modeled to be a median height of 3m or about 10 feet. I have done that before, and it is something the boat can do, but it is not something I enjoy as it causes fatigue. The second concern is that David generously offered Kyle a ride back to Austin to visit friends and a flight back on a private plane across the Caribbean is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Ad Astra would be down its First Mate for its first storm. That would mean 24 hours of sailing for myself. With the toughest part at night, with inches of rain, and a wave train on the nose. I guess I am not much of a sailor as that didn’t seem appealing to me.
“Why don’t we go into Point Egmont in the morning and look around, if there is space, then I feel obligated to take it?” I asked JK.
After a pause and a sobering look, JK said in thick Afrikaans, “Yes. This is what we must do. We must check it out. If there is room, we take it. If not, then we sail.”
Keith on CAP II enjoyed all of the weather discussion but for him it was moot as he was able to book some space for Cap II inside the marina. I had misgivings about the dozen or so derelict boats in the harbor losing bits of themselves.
We hoped to hear the HRC vs Trump debate, but at 9pm that is well passed cruiser’s midnight and there would be a big day ahead of us.
Tuesday morning (yesterday), we motored the 11 miles around the south west point of Grenada and found Point Egmont. It lies at the rear of a long finger of water and then a small cut gives way to an inner mangrove bay.
It was brutally hot at 8am, and we needed to hustle to get Ad Astra tied up to the mangroves before I would release David and Kyle. The winds were from the east, and I decided to back Ad Astra into the mangroves on the southern coast. This would give us the strongest possible protection from any storm surge enhanced waves. The only concern is some dubious looking abandoned construction behind the boat in the crook of the hill making the south protection. Overall it seems safe as only a south east wind from a narrow angle could blow that material into Ad Astra.
After David and Kyle helped us set the key spring lines, we used the dinghy and somebody’s private dock here in the mangroves to get them to shore and waved them off to the airport.
Max, Kaiwen and myself would work for a few more hours adding more lines, and our second, kedge anchor set to the North East. By noon it was just brutally hot with no wind and a baking sun. As we had another day before the storm got here, I called a halt to the work.
Kaiwen and I then explored by dinghy the next cove over and found a small marina, ate some lunch and I had two powerful rum punches. Ah, it was still hot and humid, but feeling better. There were a lot of other cruisers working to make their boats safe in the marina and we chatted with a couple and then returned to Ad Astra.
We sat in the shade of the fly bridge canvas and reviewed what we had left to do, and then the most glorious squall came in. Cool, refreshing rain all over us and the boat. It was delicious. After the rain passed I greedily laid out on the cool, wet new flybridge cushions and enjoyed the feeling of shade on my body and the cool water on the canvas with the breeze blowing across — a sandwich evaporative cooler and me the lunch meat.
Nothing seemed important to do, so we simply sat in that cool shade with the breeze and read our books until we had just enough light left to get some more work done.
We deflated the small dinghy and discovered that it had some 50 pounds of water inside of one of the air bladders. Drained it via using the spare halyard to lift the dinghy while Max pressed the air release and allowed the extremely rotten water (think something way past the evil water in an old cottage cheese container).
We were spent. We showered, and then ate some tasty chicken curry Sue-quei created, and then it was time to finally play Max’s board game Contraband that he was working on as my birthday present.
The play test went very well, it is essentially privateer set in the modern caribbean. You bought ships and then bought cargo and then sailed around the islands. Max wrote a companion program in Python that would randomly determine the prices of goods at each of your landfalls (but would give you incremental credit the farther you sailed). The game included pirates and police, but the most fun where the hurricane rules. At any given time there are three hurricanes that roam the islands and they do tremendous damage. On the very first turn Max lost one of his boats and his second was badly weakened.
Kaiwen later lost one of her boats in a scrap with Max and so she sailed her remaining boat to the ABCs and kept well south. I ended up min-maxing the delivery of drugs in the Puerto Rican waters and won the game. We are all looking forward to the next play-test.
This morning we took advantage of the relatively cool temps to finish preparing Ad Astra. We stripped all of the cushions and canvas and stored them away. Added two more lines to the mangroves, re-tied down the SUP, Kayak and small dinghy and dozens of smaller tasks.
I believe Ad Astra is ready. It is just beginning to sprinkle now, and we should have impressive thunderstorms and lightening for the next 24 hours.
Thursday Morning September 29th, 2016
On Thursday morning, Matthew has passed us to the west, and locally some squalls, rain and wind gusts to 30 knots. We were feeling actually bored from being so secure in our hurricane hole that we decided to make for Prickly Bay just a few miles to the west of our hurricane hole.
As we untied our lines to the mangroves one monohull in the anchorage dragged in just 20 knots of wind and went gliding sideways missing two other boats before the crew woke up and got the boat under control.
As we made our way towards open ocean we saw some great white caps and breakers marking the reefs on the headlands on either side of us, then the rollers got larger. After just a few minutes of taking the rollers on the nose we turned to the west and started surfing down these waves. Very exciting, getting between 8 and 10 kts as we surfed, and the first time I have had breaking waves hit Ad Astra. One particular one was probably about 8–10 foot on the face and broke right on our port beam. Ad Astra scooted a bit sideways but dumped that energy extremely calmly. It was a comfortable learning experience for us — as always Ad Astra delivers.
Saturday morning Oct 1st, 2016
Now we are at the Tiki bar in Prickly Bay with some great wifi and power connectors of all types, and reading that Matthew is now a massive Category 5 hurricane, and the farthest south on record.
The most amazing place is here in Prickly Bay — a micro brewery with 20 or so different 10 barrel systems being run in parallel. They have a solid IPA (windward), but what was a great surprise to me is that they had an amazing English ESB that was very easy drinking. Much, much gratitude to my Danish friend Peter on Mandalay for turning me on to this place!