1 May – Heading west from Puerto Rico


May 12th, 2018


Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on May 12th, 2018 in Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019.

20:57.5N  073:41W

Extracts from the Ships Log…

Saturday 28 April

Weighed anchor and got under way around eight o’clock, threading our way out through the low mangrove islands and coral reefs to the deeper water, where we hoisted a full mainsail and genoa and set off downwind around the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico, about ten miles distant.


The Dominican Republic

By ten, we were clear of the land and headed out across the Mona Passage and the northwest tip of the Dominican Republic, some 150 miles away.  With a good 25 knots of breeze, we were making excellent time, but as lunchtime approached the wind dropped off and the engine came back on to give us sufficient momentum in a choppy sea.  The Mona Passage can be a very rough stretch of water, partly because the Puerto Rico Trench to the north is so deep and the seabed shelves so quickly just here, but the weather forecast was very benign.  By teatime, the wind had returned and the spinnaker was up.  It stayed up until an hour before sunset when we dropped it – flying it at night with only one person up and about is something we avoid!  We replaced it with the genoa, poled out to catch the wind from behind.  As we set the new sail… CRUNCH!

The expensive sound of splintering carbon fibre… we had forgotten to tighten the downhaul – the line that stops the pole lifting too high or coming too far back.  On this occasion it came too far back as we had tried to pull the pole through the shrouds that hold the mast up. The shroud cut through the carbon like a cheesecutter; the carbon pole is designed to be very light and very strong when compressed, but it is not designed to take any lateral loading at all.

Dismayed, we recovered the bits, tidied up the mess and altered course to try to fill the sail without the help of the pole.  This meant turning left to head towards the most easterly point of the Dominican Republic.

If I cannot fix the pole tomorrow, we face a long passage, zigzagging downwind without the spinnaker.

Sunday 29 April

We motored for a few hours overnight to try to get round Cabo Cabron, the north east tip of the Dominican Republic  and find some calmer water to carry out the pole repair.  I started work early as we wanted to save the fuel for when we really needed it.  Fortunately we carry a repair kit for the pole – we are not the first people to break one!  It’s a length of carbon fibre tubing with a slot cut along it so that you can compress it with a ‘Spanish windlass’ and insert it into the damaged pole as a splint.  I cut away the damaged carbon fibre, cutting the pole into two in the process but keeping as much of it as possible.  When I inserted the splint into the shorter section and released the ‘windlass’, it gripped the pole beautifully. 


Sick pole awaiting surgery in the main saloon


Sleeve inserted into shorter end

Morale improved: this was going to work!  I decided not to try to bind the whole thing together with glass fibre and resin, partly because I would prefer to do it with carbon and I don’t have any, but also because I was not confident of being able to bind it tightly enough.  I used a self-amalgamating tape designed as a mast collar instead, before ‘seizing’ the area with 4mm dyneema cord to grip it as hard as possible.  I painted it with quick drying glue and by lunchtime we were west of Cabo Cabron, we had the pole back in action, the spinnaker up and the boat flying along the north coast of the DR towards Haiti.


Repair complete…

 We were pretty relieved and took time to gaze at the beautiful coastline: fine, forest-clad mountains dropping straight into the sea and impossibly deep water just a few hundred yards offshore.  The odd sign of life – charcoal burning – and a couple of fishing boats gave it the air of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.  Beautiful and tempting, but we resisted.

By mid afternoon the wind was up over 20 knots, so we decided to drop the kite to reduce any stress on the spinnaker pole repair.  Sunset brought an added bonus: simultaneous moonrise in the east!

Monday 30 April

By breakfast, we were over halfway along the coast of the island of Hispaniola, with 130 miles to run to Great Inagua, one of the most southerly of the Bahamas islands.  A straightforward day of sliding downwind under mainsail and genoa – I was a bit tired after yesterday’s exertions and we felt it was more important to rest than gain an extra knot or so by flying the spinnaker.

Tuesday 1 May


Sunrise off Great Inagua

We anchored off the settlement at Matthew Town, Great Inagua at seven in the morning.  This is a very flat island, not unlike Anegada in the BVIs, but quite a lot bigger.  It’s home to a massive colony of flamingos, and I smelt them before we saw the shore.  Not too many trees and not many people either: the main industry is a huge salt pan, exporting thousands of tonnes a year.  We went into the small harbour in the dinghy to clear Customs and Immigration.  There were four or five Haitian trading and fishing vessels alongside, all sail powered with roughly hewn timber masts and huge spars supporting the lateen sail.  About sixty feet long, no engine, nothing much advanced from the seventeenth century and a crew of 8 – 10.  We tied up on a fairly modern dock and set off to walk the mile up to the Customs offices.  We passed the barracks of the Royal Bahamian Defence Force (no signs of life) a reminder of the complex Anglo-American ownership of these islands. 


Traditional Haitian sailing trader alongside at Great Inagua

The Immigration chaps were very friendly, so when we said we only wanted to stay for a few hours, they sent us straight round to Customs to see if we could negotiate a reduction in the US$300 ‘Cruising Permit’.  Despite a powercut there, the Immigration officer (‘Hi guys, welcome to my darkness!’) was very chipper but unable to reduce the fee.  We agreed that he could not see us in the darkness so long as we returned to the yacht, so we avoided the fee but missed out on a chance to see the island.  I think if we were aiming to spend a week or so in the Bahamas, US$300 would be perfectly reasonable.


Rush hour on Great Inagua

We stopped at the harbourmaster’s office to check our emails using his wifi.  A small coaster, probably 300 tonnes, was just leaving.  As he passed through the narrow harbour entrance, his ‘canal effect’ suction (think what happens to your rubber duck in the bath – it always tries to stick to the side!) pulled one of the Haitian vessels off the wall.  For some reason they did not have a bow line attached and within moments, the small wooden vessel was at right angles to the harbour wall and the ship and wedged between the two.  CRUNCH… Her bow section folded up unto the air and whilst the mast didn’t come down (echoes of PhoeniX 2009…) she started taking on water and was distinctly lower by the bow by the time about twenty Haitian seamen had emerged from the shade and pulled them back alongside.

The Harbour Master shrugged his shoulders.  ‘They’re Haitian.  They have nothing.  They are very resourceful and will have it repaired in no time’.  I thought about my rather trivial but fancy carbon fibre repair kit and the risks that men take when they go down to the sea in ships…


The casualty alongside.  The remodelled stem post is clearly visible.  The bends in the mast were put there by Mother Nature.