I was glued to Windy watching the forecast for days leading up to our departure. We gleaned as much information about the intended trip as we could.
Our plan was to sail directly from Curacao to the BVI’s. The only problem, a significant one, was that the prevailing winds blow from north-east to east up until mid April. This meant we’d have a close hauled grueling 460 mile passage to sail by hand, as we had failed to get a new autopilot.
We were beginning to dread this voyage. Whenever we explained to other sailors where we needed to get to, they would wince. One chap regaled us at BBQ time with the story of a horrendous 10 day passage beating the same route. No advice online or in person filled us with much confidence to be honest. A couple of the more cheerful sailors told us heartily (with terrific Dutch accents), “You’ll be fine. Just head close to wind, directly to the BVI’s no problem”, but as another sailor told us “I think the Dutch default is to be overly confident in everything we say, so take this with a pinch of salt”.
The time eventually came when the forecast looked about as good as it was going to get, so we headed to customs and immigration with all our documents to clear out. The inspectors can be strict, and we had a slightly complicated situation having sailed in with a different skipper and flying a different flag, so we rehearsed our explanation en route. But in the end they were very understanding, and we didn’t have any bother. We had to explain slowly to them a couple of times that we’d bought the boat, and we were the new owners and that the previous owner and crew member had flown home. There was a tense moment when the chap asked for a skipper licence or some qualifications. My day skipper qualification was on Excalibur, and for a moment I thought he’d insist I head off to retrieve it (from Martinique). Thankfully he let it slide and stamped us out.
On our parting day we said our goodbyes to the friends we’d made there and, with a pep talk about getting out of our berth from our neighbours, we departed. HC reversed out straight, and with a blast of the bowthruster we crept out without any fuss. People walked up and waved us off as we left in our FBB (F*cking Big Boat).
We’ve probably had 4 big wave offs on our trip. The first was in St Kat’s lock from the marina staff. We had a casual chat with a German boat “Where are you off to?” “The Caribbean”. That was an odd feeling. The second was in Falmouth before setting off across the Bay of Biscay to Spain. Friends we’d made in the marina and staff waved us off as we circled around the marina. There was a mix of nerves and trepidation as we blasted out Black Betty on the stereo and swigged a bottle of rum Matt and Jo had given us. The third was our departure from the Canaries, with an ARC Rally fan fare as we blasted out the Howards Way theme tune. That was a pretty exciting moment. Those were all pretty joyous wave-offs, but this one felt a little bit different. This wave-off had both of us shaking our heads wondering what the heck were we doing. With zero experience sailing anything larger than a 30ft boat, and the crazy lead up to this moment, I think we both felt tired, manic and nuts.
We ran through the same routines as we would do on Excalibur, which involved me steering and Trina doing all the donkey work. By the time Trina had finished stowing HC’s gigantic fenders and lines she was flat out exhausted. We called up for the bridge to be opened, and were told it was already open and to go on through. I cranked up HC’s engine and the whine of the turbo kicked in and we powered on through.
Once we cleared the bridge we faced a slog into wind, waves and tide, slowing our progress to 3ish knots (which is slooow). We smashed time after time through the waves. Curacao is just not the place to go sailing unless you’re sailing with the prevailing winds. Anything else is just misery.
HC did well though, and it was pretty impressive seeing her slam through the waves. The slight downside was the resulting mess down below. Trina shouted up that we were shipping quite a lot of water down below, but I didn’t really pay much attention to her until I went down below myself. At the very front of HC is a shower room with double louvre doors to the anchor locker. No word of a lie, after a big smash through the waves a waterfall of water would pour through the slats in the door. Something I’ll never forget. The floor was filled with a good 30 liters of water. We had to operate a manual bilge pump to get rid of the bow pond every so often.
Then there were the window leaks, the dorade leaks and deck leaks. The floors were soaking wet, and the settees were awash with all manner of dead creatures that used to live in them. Imagine the crud in your roof guttering being emptied all over the place.
Then there’s the main automatic bilge pump, which the previous owner had plumbed into the cockpit. So every time the bilge pump operated, the contents of the bilges would be ejected into the cockpit. The upside was it kept our feet nice and warm. The downside was that our feet (and the aft bunk due to a porthole being left open) were covered in an oily, diesely, dead cockroach soup. Finding the aft cabin had filled up with bilge water from the cockpit was a low point. I later discovered it had collected under the bed and had mixed in with a packet of mouse poison that I’d strategically placed under the bunk.
One wave came into the cockpit and fried my mobile phone charging cable, so that destroyed my phone. We were down to Trina’s phone and HC’s crappy chartplotters for navigation.
As we rounded Curacao, it was time to get the main out for the first time and point directly for the BVI’s. We were looking forward to finally being on a beam reach/close hauled, so the sails would balance the boat out and ease the ferocious banging and bashing as we crashed into waves. And it would be the moment of truth about how close to wind Bravura could sail, and whether we’d really be heading for the BVI’s, or end up somewhere west of Puerto Rico. We started to unfurl the main – but it was getting stuck a little way out. I tried to furl it in and out a little way a few times to ease it, but it was bunched up and sticking in the narrow opening of the mast – and getting worse. Eventually it got completely stuck, the fuse on the electric furler blew, and that was the end of that. We decided to head for Bonaire, which is just across from Curacao, and bashed into the waves for another couple of hours as the light faded.
We turned up at night and spent maybe an hour creeping along the shore looking for a free mooring buoy somewhere in the long line of boats. Someone flashed a light from a boat, willing us to see the buoy next to them and pick it up, but I wasn’t comfortable with the limited space we had to work with. So we decided to go into the marina, but the lights on the shore made life pretty difficult, and looking into the marina I couldn’t see what I expected to see. The shape of the marina seemed different at night. It was a windy night and I didn’t want any dramas so we went mooring buoy hunting once more.
We gritted our teeth and opted to pick up a mooring buoy which looked crazy close to shore, with no depth sounder. Some times reluctantly you just have to do what you have to do.
We tied up, dried the settees, pulled out some fresh sheets and slept on opposing seats (the luxurious master bed was soaking wet).