Sunday, April 18, 2010

April 17, 2010 - Caribbean Landfall

Land Ho!

It has been exactly two months since we departed South Africa. In that short period we've sailed at least 5500 miles (I don't know the exact number; the trip counter on the chart plotter maxes out every 9999 miles, which it did at some point during this passage, and stops counting until one of us manually resets it, which I did when I noticed it, but it could have been on the blink for days). That's a lot of miles in two months. That's almost as many miles as we covered during the seven months it took us to travel from New Zealand to Singapore (via Vanuatu, Australia and Indonesia). It feels like all we do is sail. At one point last week we were tempted to hang a right and keep going all the way to Bermuda or home to Newport - you know, since we're in the groove. That bout of momentary insanity lasted all of two minutes.

During the last four days of the run from Ascension we had a variety of mostly pleasant sailing conditions. For two days we ran downwind under sunny skies with a full main and the jib poled out to windward. Then we sailed right into the middle of a high pressure system that killed the normally reliable northeast trades. So then we spent a day and a half motoring. Unfortunately, most of the time we were running the engine we were pushing a frustratingly persistent counter current, which ran up to 2 knots at times. If we hadn't been motoring, we would have been drifting back towards Brazil. This morning as we closed Barbados we finally shook the current and the wind filled in. We sailed the last few miles in light air cutting through flat seas in the company of whales.

18 days after departing Ascension, we arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbados this afternoon. The 3000 mile passage from Ascension took us one day less than our 3000 mile Pacific crossing three years ago. That passage remains our longest uninterrupted stretch of time at sea.

For all the good they did us, we might as well have left the lines stored on the outboard handle.

Unlike our Pacific crossing, fishing has been abysmal on this passage with only one small wahoo landed and a small tuna lost at the boat to show for something like 7000 lure miles (we trailed an average of 2.5 lures for 3000 miles). From talking to friends who sailed from South Africa to Brasil, it seems that our experience is not atypical for the South and Equatorial Atlantic. So, we've been hitting the freezer pretty hard. There is nothing like chateaubriand on the grill to break up the monotony of a long passage. Our somewhat sparse (okay, really sparse) South Africa provisioning also provided us with an opportunity to determine that given enough time crackers purchased in Malaysia and India will still go off, no matter how much palm oil they have in them.

Sten has been doing yoeman's work in the galley on this trip. Last week when we were uncomfortably pounding along, beam to the seas, he spent two hours making a hearty sausage and tomato pasta sauce from scratch on a boat that was hurking and jerking. For two weeks, until the big stalk bananas that St. Ledger gave us at Ascension finally ran out, he made banana walnut pancakes for us most mornings. His pancakes are delicious, nutritious and parsimonious - they use 2 fewer eggs than fried eggs or an omelet. Yesterday he took advantage of the fact that we were motoring along in flat calm seas to make waffles, which are always a treat.

When we arrived in Carlisle Bay this afternoon Sten called the Bridgetown Signal Station on 16 and asked if we could anchor and proceed to do our clearance by dinghy. He explained that we were hesitant to bring our yacht into the commercial port with a stiff northwesterly (not the typical northeasterly) blowing. The radio operator said that was unusual and that he would have to ask Customs. He called us back after a few minutes and confirmed that we could come to the port on our dinghy. It is kind of a long dinghy ride from the bay (particularly with a NW wind blowing) but once we were in the port we were glad we had done it. There are big square fender pads every 25 feet or so to keep cruise ships off the cement wall. There is one section of wall without standoffs in a corner near the tug boat where we could have tied up but the substantial chop and wind blowing against the wall would have made things decidedly interesting.

While I was in the the cruise ship passenger terminal visiting the Port Health, Customs and Immigration offices (in that order), Sten was out floating around the harbor in the dinghy as there wasn't a decent place to tie it up (the pilot boat was parked in front of the closest steps). By the time I got back to him, he had been baking in the sun for an hour and all he wanted was to find a spot to have a cold beer. So we took the dinghy up the Careenage, a canal leading into the center of Bridgetown. We found a waterfront cafe and parked ourselves at an outside table. Sten ordered a Banks, the local beer and I had a rum and tonic, which is not a hardship when the local is Mount Gay.

As we sipped our drinks we watched sportfishing boats offload their catch and a guy sitting in the stern of one boat painstakingly filleting one flying fish after another. Flying fish is a local favorite, so we ordered some for dinner. For a fish that smells so strong when it lands in our cockpit or on deck underway, the flesh is surprisingly mild. After the fried stuff I was ready to order dessert, but Sten wanted to have some more "real food" first, so we ordered a round of fish cakes. The texture reminded us of Rhode Island clam cakes, but the flavor was much saltier as they are made with rehydrated salt cod. During the time of slavery and sugar plantations, salt cod was a cheap way for plantation owners to provide their workers with protein and to replenish the salt they lost sweating in the fields. Today it remains a common ingredient in the traditional cuisine of Barbados.

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