Our Caribbean Adventure: Part One.
In 2012 we decided to sell our 37′ Gozzard Cutter (Ravenclaw) and buy a larger boat in a warmer locale. After much research and consideration we settled on a French built ketch, an Amel. We decided on the 46′ Amel Maramu model built in the 1980’s.
We searched for an acceptable Maramu while waiting for the right buyer for our Gozzard. We hoped to find an Amel in Mexico or Central America but we found the right boat for sale in the British Virgin Islands, on the island of Tortola. With the help of a broker in California we determined that the boat (Languedoc) was an excellent candidate for us. We flew to Tortola for a detailed inspection, survey and sea trial.
Thus began our Caribbean Adventure.
I will keep this short. The boat was near perfect. New engine, new electronics, new rigging, refurbished genset, etc., and a very conscientious owner who was also a marine mechanic and electrician. She had some cosmetic blemishes but Languedoc was fully ready for extended blue water cruising. The Seller was not able to follow through on his plans. His loss, our gain.
The Survey came though with no only minor suggestions for changes. The sea trial went great. We closed on the purchase a few weeks later.
We quickly learned the Caribbean is a very expensive place. The summer storage on land at Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola was three times the cost of our 44′ foot slip in Semiahmoo, Washington. Parts and labor are usually double the cost we were used to. Plus, we discovered the reality of “3rd World Service, 1st World Prices”.
We were warned not to have any unsupervised boat work done so we hired a “manager” recommended by the Tortola broker. We needed minor work. (A little repair to remove some rust along the keel to hull joint and new bottom paint.) But after delaying the work for 2 months the manager and boat yard got it done just one day before our scheduled launch in November. They did such a poor job that large patches of rust appeared on the iron keel just days after launch. It turned out that the contractor removed the epoxy coating from the iron keel, let it sit exposed to the salt air over night, and then painted on one coat of rust preventive paint, immediately followed by Micron 66. All in all, a terrible job. Fortunately, we had not yet paid for the work when we discovered the problems. After much frustration and angst we decided to do our cruising and then figure out how to fix the problem afterwards.
We enjoyed 4 weeks of hanging out and cruising in the Virgin Islands. We hit the highlights of the BVI’s, and St. John and St. Thomas. We swam, snorkeled, ate meals at restaurants on the beaches, shopped for tourist souvenirs, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our new boat turned out to be far more complicated than I knew and much of my time the first few days was spent figuring out the computer controlled electronics, the genset, the wind generator, the single sideband radio, and other features new to us. Finally, after much trial and error I relaxed into a mindset consisting of resignation and new understanding. Some things I figured out, and other things I simply left for later.
We discovered that staying in most marinas in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands is prohibitively expensive (often around $130.00 per night) so we usually stayed at public buoys or anchored. The buoys usually cost $30.00 per night. Some were free. The bays, harbors, and parks (especially St. John) were wonderful. The normal Virgin Island crowds were non-existent in November and December. It was warm all the time.
We decided to go to Puerto Rico and so we headed west. Once we arrived at Culebra, Puerto Rico, we anchored in the large, semi-protected harbor and began to enjoy that delightful island. But we were pressed to get on to Fajardo, Puerto Rico so we ended up leaving one day before we wanted to. We broke a long established rule (NEVER SAIL ON A SCHEDULE) and ended up in the remains of a 4 day storm. The 25 miles to Fajardo were nasty. When we left, it was too rough and windy in the anchorage to muscle our 190 pound dinghy onto the foredeck so we towed it with a securely attached bridle. But the 10′-12′ seas eventually ripped it free and it was lost at sea. We made it to Puerto Del Rey Marina and got safely tied to the dock in a secure slip. We selected that Marina because the boatyard there came highly recommended to re-do the bottom work and fix the mess left over from Nanny Cay. That turned out to be true and the work done by Island Marine, Inc. was excellent. In late December we flew home with Languedoc safely stored out of the water in the huge land storage area.
In the meantime, life intervened so it was spring before we could return. We went to Puerto Rico in May, 2014 to supervise the hull repair work, to do various repairs and improvements ourselves, and to put Languedoc into hurricane storage for 2014. We combined a vacation in Puerto Rico with work on our boat. As it turned out, at Island Marine there was no need for me to supervise every detail (as I should have done on Tortola). The boat yard owner carefully oversaw all the work and it was done right this time. We had a nice vacation, toured the Island of Puerto Rico and secured Languedoc for the summer.
Preparing a sailboat for hurricane storage is another unique aspect of Caribbean cruising. Many people leave their boats in the water, using chains and heavy lines to tie to sturdy dock cleats on concrete docks, while paying exorbitant insurance premiums and praying for no “Named Storms”. We choose to pay the price of haul and launch for cheaper rates on land storage (half the price of Tortola) and less expensive insurance. Of course, land storage prevents any summer use of your boat but since we live in Washington State day trips and weekend cruises are impossible for us so land storage is acceptable.
Hurricane preparation involves removing anything that might break loose or tear loose from the topside of your boat. This means all sails come off, all halyards are double secured, all canvas is removed, etc. It takes a couple days. Some owners opt to have masts removed as well. The boats are stored tightly packed together, with large, heavy duty nylon straps winched to steel pipe embedded in concrete on the ground. Boat owners are responsible for all the storage prep and strapping to the ground. A properly secured boat is safe for category 1, category 2, and maybe category 3 hurricanes but anything over that and its going to be a mess. At Puerto Del Rey, the hurricane storage area is well ashore, behind a large mangrove swamp. Storm surge is not much of a risk so high winds are the major consideration.
We strapped Languedoc with 4 big straps port and starboard. I disconnected all the batteries, shut down all the systems, drained all the water, locked all the hatches, tied and double tied anything that could blow around (like the main boom and the mizzen boom) and hoped for the best. Then, I arranged for some additional work by Island Marine during the summer so that someone would periodically be onboard and could notice if anything needed attention. Some owners hire someone to come aboard weekly and personally inspect inside and out but we chose not to do that based upon our unsatisfactory experience with our “manager” on Tortola and the advice of other cruisers who told us it was not necessary. Security is good at Puerto Del Rey, with continuous patrols day and night and a helpful staff in the Land Storage office.
Languedoc survived the summer with no problems except for two small kittens who move aboard in the fall (staying in our cockpit under the hard dodger). Nothing leaked and upon our return in November, 2013 there were no problems (except for some bones from birds the kittens ate). Not even any mold or mildew below. Our new dinghy davits were expertly installed by Island Marine personnel and Languedoc was sitting happily and safely. We came back to Fajardo to launch Languedoc and really get to know our boat, top to bottom, and to fix the cosmetic problems I mentioned above.
Coming Next: Finding a safe, secure, and affordable marina for Languedoc.