Thursday 14 Mar, BVI day 10: Virgin Gorda to Tortola via Sandy Cay, and fly the Parasailor spinnaker at long last!
We had a wonderful night’s sleep with the boat anchored both bow and stern held firmly at right angles to the Savannah beach. This was to make sure the swell is coming in perpendicular to the boat giving a gentle pitching motion and zero rocking. And it worked a treat. When we looked out at breakfast though, we did note that we are rather near to a shoreline reef. Maybe re-anchoring in the dark was not our best idea!
After breakfast we rig the Parasailor sheets, guys and barba-haulers. The wind is perfect to try the Parasailor for the first time, on the 18 mile downwind leg to Jost Van Dyke island. There is just 7-12knts from the east and gentle seas.
But first, the drama of lifting both anchors. We do it in reverse of our action last night. Oana drops in more bow chain while I get the stern anchor line onto a winch. It’s only a 7kg Delta anchor but it has really bitten into the sand. It doesn’t finally pop till the stern is right over it. Once up, Oana then pulls back in the bow chain. And half way through that she realizes the up-anchor-button on the deck is stuck on and we cannot stop it pulling in the chain! Just what we needed as we are now swinging towards the reef.
So we leave it reeling in the anchor chain by itself while Oana dives below ready to flip the circuit breaker as soon as the anchor is off the bottom. But miraculously the deck switch resets itself when the anchor is just 2m below the bow. I bring up the last bit using the buttons on the steering pedestal rather than the bow. Phew, that was almost a calamity. First one of the day. If there was one anchor lifting that we didn’t need a sticky switch, it was this one. These switches were new with the refit just 2 years ago and now failing already? Must make a complaint to Mr. Lewmar!
We gently steer out of the anchorage finding our usual path through the reef. Then set course directly north to give us a good angle to fly the Parasailor downwind. When at the right point we head downwind and lift the Parasailor chute on the spinnaker halyard. I manage to manually lift it 7/8ths to the top, then Oana gets the last few meters with the electric winch in the cockpit.
Once the chute is up the next job is to connect the 2 guys and 2 sheets. Then lift up the snuffler to release the spinnaker …. but only a few meters up before we realize one of the sheets is the wrong way through the life lines. Damn, there is always a snag. Maybe the life lines should be renamed “annoyance lines” because it always seems we get at least one sheet or pole guy the wrong way through them! Once corrected we try again. This time all good.
I did note that it takes a very big pull to get the glassfibre snuffler up and over the wing area of the spinnaker. But once that wing popped out the snuffler raised by itself and all of a sudden we had 230m2 (2200sqft) of spinnaker full of wind and our first real look at our purchase.
For the first 30 minutes we steer dead downwind but really couldn’t get it to fly symmetrically. It was either one side or the other, but never central. 150-160 degrees off wind, using only 2 lines (guy to windward and sheet to leeward), it flew perfectly in this 8-9 knot true wind. We were not breaking any speed records but 5 knots in 6knts apparent wind isn’t bad. And at 140-150 deg off wind we soon picked up to 7 knots. Lovely. And it is sooo stable. A completely different animal to our asymmetric spinnaker.
Admittedly the sea was calm but it was solid as a rock up there with the para-wing flying well, lifting the spinnaker, stabilizing it. We then took it as high as we could at 70-80deg apparent wind and it still filled and pulled really strongly, even in this light breeze and we noted we were easily over taking all the other yachts and cats coming back from Anegada.
As we passed the north of Tortola the wind veered and we were dead downwind again. This time I pulled the barba-haulers tight down to the midships cleats and pulled both sheets in hard while controlling the height of the foot using the 2 guy lines – flying with all 4 lines tight. This seemed to do the trick. The spinnaker was much more stable than before and if it did roll port or starboard it soon recovered without need of our intervention. Wonderful. That’s what the German manufactures say it is supposed to do!
I was so pumped up flying the Parasailor that I decided I would fly the drone to film it from the air. Maybe one step to far, trying to control both the drone and a new spinnaker! At first the drone wasn’t playing ball. It declared it needed its IMU calibrating. So I kept switching it off and on again, and eventually it declared “all good to go”.
First take-off it raised 20cm then fell back to the deck. I should have gotten the hint. But I tried again. This time it took off but something didn’t seem right and I just managed to grab it before it disappeared into the sea over the transom. And it gave my fingers a fair beating with its small propellor blades as I did so.
This time I got the hint loud and clear, and took it below and back to its box. Clearly it was not in any mood to fly today. Maybe jealous of our attention to the spinnaker? Drones can be funny things … funny awkward that is, not funny haha.
So we continued just focusing on the spinnaker. Oana was quite intrigued with its colours as the sun shone through the material as we sailed directly into the sun. And it did look really good. The material is spotless like new. Only some seams on the foot are slightly discolored.
We declared it a great buy at 1/4 the new price. And again I have Oana to thank for spotting it for sale on the internet. I would never have thought it possible to have found the perfect size for Cloudy Bay on the second hand market, let alone in the area of the world where we actually were (it was for sale in Grenada ).
As we approach Jost Van Dyke we pass the small Sandy Cay island with a few catamarans anchored in turquoise shallow water on its lee side. So the Parasailor gets quickly snuffled in a lull of wind and send it down the forehatch. Then we anchor next to the cats for a rest and some lunch.
2 near disasters (anchor switch and the drone) and one triumph (the Parasailor) …. we are ready to lower our blood pressure!
After lunch we head off towards The Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, but after just a few hundred meters we make the decision to head back upwind and anchor instead in Cane Garden Bay on the NW side of Tortola. (yes, this is kind of how we make our cruising decisions!).
This side of Tortola is very green. It somehow reminds us of the Sporades in Greece, and seems to be beckoning us. In the sheltered bay we anchor just outside the mooring field that is full of chart cats, then head ashore to explore.
It’s a very nice bay and beach, with a few bars scattered along the beach. After a walk up and down the long beach we settle for a drink in Paradise BVI bar that has a good singer performing. Lots of young white people here, all apparently knowing each other. Turns out they all live and work on Tortola. Hmmmm maybe we should not bypass this island as we had planned. It could be worth exploring. So tomorrow we will hunt for a car.
In the late evening we chill in the cockpit over looking the USVIs and note that there is a significant density of lighting on those islands compared to the BVIs. Clearly they are far greater populated. So maybe the BVIs will be the last quiet islands we will visit for a while. Hmmm we looked forward to civilization, but now not so sure!