Antigua to US, day 6 – spinnaker

by Glen (via IridiumGo)

Saturday 2 June: Haiti to Northwest Cay
Breaking News: At 02:22 we reach 10,000 nautical miles on the new log (~20,000Km). That is: 10,000nm in the last 12 months. It was a year ago we fitted the new plotter that reset the log. Wow, don’t think many people do that in their car each year! We realise just how much we have traveled.
For the record, Cloudy Bay had done 4000nm in her first 8 years, by the time we purchased her. In our first season (Spain) we added another 2000nm. So all-in she has done 16,000nm. We are certainly making her earn her keep! That said, we won’t attempt to calculate cost per mile to maintain her – she’s a bit of a rich-bitch in that statistic!
Our great run of high speed in bright moonlight continues as we approach the passage between Inagua Islands. The 12 hours up to midnight we clocked 96nm, an average of 8kts.
As we close in on the gap through the islands, the sea gets confused and the wind dies back, giving us a bit of a lumpy ride. Glen can hear Oana swearing from the back cabin (in her sleep?) as she gets severely wobbled in bed!
Despite their size, bigger than many of the Lesser Antillies, these islands are totally uninhabited, no lights, no roads, no people. As we pass we can see long white beaches with sand dunes behind. And there are many sea birds diving in the sea, fishing. It’s tempting to land to see what’s-what, but must press on while we have wind. It is forecast to die tomorrow, for several days.
In the lee of the islands, the wind dies towards 12kts and the sea is flat, so perfect conditions to have a go with the Monster, our asymmetric spinnaker. We set it up on port side, sheeting from the end of the boom. Actually, we swapped to the old retainer on the boom and use the new retainer as spinnaker sheet. Bet you won’t find that setup in any books on “how to fly a spinnaker”.
We also improved the tack set up with a swivel and quick release (stabbing) cleat. We figure that if the wind picks up and we are no longer able to pull the sock down to snuffle it, we will release the tack, letting the spinnaker fly free on its sheet. This depowering should then allow us to get the sock over it. This is the first time we fly it with just the 2 of us. So we take our time to make sure everything is perfectly ready.
We hoist the sock behind the mainsail, then furl the mainsail away to launch. As Glen hauls on the sock uphaul, Oana is on the sheet – just like good old days on MaiJay, our J22 in Dubai. Only this spinnaker is probably 6x bigger!
We also leave the genoa poled-out to starboard. Glen’s biggest fear with the spinnaker is that it may wrap itself around the forestay. He’s had that on his Contessa, which meant going up the mast to sort it out, absolutely not what we want to be doing at sea. We’ll leave those kind of antics to the likes of Ellen MacArthur! With the genoa out there is little chance of the spinnaker wrapping.
As the sock goes up the wind fills it with a bang. All of a sudden we have it flying perfectly, not wobbling around for once. Once it is stable we furl the genoa away. We experiment taking the main back out, but it just interferes with the spinnaker. So we end up flying it alone. It’s very stable and peaceful. We think it must be glad to be out of the forepeak for a change! Dead downwind the speed is maybe 1/2kt more, frankly it’s not much different to full main and poled-out genoa. But of course it is prettier!
In analysis, and hinde-sight, we can sail perfectly well 180-150deg off wind with main and poled genoa. And any angle less than 140 deg the genoa pulls perfectly. So it’s only really that 10deg window from 140-150deg that we would need the asymmetric. And it’s much easier to just change course by 10deg than all the trouble (and anxiety!) of putting a spinnaker up. We wish now we had tried and tested more down wind sailing before all the expense of buying our Monster! Not to mention that it uses most of the forepeak cabin when lying idle ūüôĀ Next question: how can we get rid of it and recover some of the money?
For our next trick of the day, Glen prepares the drone. It is simple irresistible not to fly it while we have the spinnaker up sailing in this bluest of water. But we are foiled on that one. As we have changed our geography it wants to be recalibrated “by placing the drone on firm dry land”. Well, that doesn’t work on a rocking boat! Sure enough it doesn’t calibrate and refuses to fly until a proper calibration is done. This drone is just too intelligent! We need a dumb one for the boat!
At lunch time the wind changes 10-20 deg to 140 off the wind. On this broad reach the flow across the spinnaker reverses (now luff to leech) and its showing us just how powerful it is; pulling us nicely at 8.5kts…we love it now! When the wind occasionally increases to 14-16kts we are actually flying along at 9+kts, what a thrill!
Mid-afternoon we are approaching Hogsty Reef, a large horseshoe atoll with a small cay in one corner called Northwest Cay. We see a “lump” on the horizon… what can that be? It’s a ship wreck, and as we scan the horizon with monocular, there is another wreck, …and another …and an other. Hm, is it really a good idea to go and anchor in this atoll?
2nm away from the Hogsty Reef, we bring the spinnaker down. Steer downwind, out with the main, snuffler down, and few minutes later spinnaker is folded and tied on the deck. Phew, that went well. Apart from the fact we broke the snuffler ring. Well, we had been told snaffling may not be possible above 12kt true wind! Now that we sail again with main and genoa, and after the earlier excitement, we wonder how will we ever be satisfied with a speed of just 6kts!
We can see the very inviting turquoise water inside the atoll from the distance, and looking forward to anchor inside and go for a snorkel over the reef. As we motor in, Oana goes on the bow to keep a lookout for hazards, but the depth is constant approx 7m. It is a very large atoll, 4x3nm, and it takes us a while to motor to where we hoped was the most sheltered area on the inside of the windward reef. Which in fact it wasn’t; the sea was very choppy, and there was no protection from the swell coming in over the reef. Too bad.
So we motor back out, aiming to anchor by the Northwest Cay. Surprisingly, there is a boat already anchored here: a motor boat, liveaboard, with all sorts of junk collected all over the decks. We suspect somebody who wants to be away from the real world. The sea is choppy here too, so we make a move, leaving the lonely boat and owner to their solitude.
Only 2 hours till sunset, so we have the usual main and poled genoa, as we don’t want to fly the spinnaker at night….. yet. Current plan is to go through the Tongue of the Ocean and up to Nassau, but we are not too sure if we can get through. We debate again if we go out in the Atlantic, or go west of the Bahamas. One updated wind forecast later, and we are still a bit undecided if we should change our plan or not. Weather routing shows the fastest way to get to Charleston would be far out in the Atlantic.
On this note, Glen goes for a nap to clear his head, while Oana is taking the first shift of the night. So ends another very pleasant day sailing.

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