Raise the anchor!

We are heading south to the exotic Los Roques archipelago.

It is Thursday July 20th, 2017. In an hour Ad Astra will set sail for the Los Roques island group 433 nm to the south west from Sint Martin. We should have a nice sail, the tropical storm Don has faded as it crossed Grenada and taking strong winds through the southern Caribbean right now. We will be sailing through the weather window behind Don and before the next wave rumbles through.

Have not seen this in a while!

Have not seen this in a while!

We are sailing south relatively late before the hurricane season ramps up, and already this season has been abnormally active.

The sail itself is very straight forward:

  • The winds have been very strong for the last couple of days with 25 and even 30 kts common throughout the day, the winds should lessen slightly tomorrow, but should still be stronger than normal trade winds.
  • After raising anchor in Marigot Bay in the late afternoon (5pm), we will put two reefs into the main, round the western headlands of the French side of Sint Martin and set the auto-pilot for 180 True South and sail between Saba and Statia for 45 nm keeping the large shallow Saba bank on our starboard side. We should clear the Saba bank in the first couple of hours after midnight.
  • One this reach I expect Ad Astra to deliver at least 7 knots, and would likely consistently give us 8+ with a clean bottom and perhaps more aggressive use of canvas. That being said, even with a dirty bottom, on a broad reach with 25-30 knots of true wind from aft Ad Astra does 9 knots!
  • After clearing the Saba Bank, we turn just 33 degrees to the west and head 213 true for 380 nm.
  • By sunrise of Saturday morning we should be about 40 nm south of the Saba bank, with 340 nm to go.
  • At 7 kts would would then arrive off of Gran Roques at 7am on Sunday morning. If we end up running slower or have some problem, this leaves us about 10 hours of leeway for getting into the reefs at Gran Roques. If we are running faster, such as 8 kts, we would actually have a problem as that puts us in at midnight. To deal with that we will just manage the boat speed and strive for 7.2 or so.
  • I really do not know what to expect in terms of WIFI or mobile phone coverage down there, so it is unclear to me when is the next time we will be able to check in. I am planning to spend about 4 to 6 weeks between Los Roques and Aves before heading to Bonaire.

Yesterday the boys finished scraping the bottom, while Kaiwen and I do the last bit of provisioning before we head south and get a couple of spare butane tanks (cooking) before we head south. And all the crew pitched in to clean up after all the fun we had together with Eloy, Isaac, Christine and Abby.

We are all very excited to set sail and head to Los Roques, after so many deliberations and plan variations two days ago Kaiwen announced that she just wanted to start sailing ASAP!

Ad Astra has never been so stocked with food. We had a good amount of dry stores from Martinique, then we added a lot more here in Sint Maarten with two major provisioning trips. Each time our Dinghy Exit Strategy was impossibly loaded as we made the long wet ride across the SXM Lagoon and then upwind Marigot Bay.

We have started getting into making our own bread aboard – I am still excited by the results of my artichoke water and fresh minced white onion bread. So we now have on board months worth of various flours and yeasts and other baking products. I was excited yesterday to find some Tapioca in the baker section. I remember my grandmother Klibby used to treat me with Tapioca!

Found some Memmi noodle soup base so we can make our own Tempura sauce, Udon, and Soba variations. Some chopped clams as Max wants to learn to make his own clam chowder soup. Pestos, mustards, spices, tomato pastes, sauces, lots of various rice, three big bags of potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, and on and on. Also Mount Gay Eclipse in the 1 liter bottle was on sale for $11 so I bought a half a dozen for trade with fishermen as well as a lot of fish hooks that were on sale.

We have teas, coffees, soups, beans, fresh veggies for a week, and 36 eggs. If pressed, I suspect we could manage 6 months on the stores that we have aboard.

Isaac and Christine cooked an amazing lunch of bbq chicken tacos with cucumber slaw, veggies and refried beans. We have leftovers for dinner. Kaiwen is also pre-cooking for the passage with tuna and potato salad, 12 boiled eggs and Lasagne! So we will certainly be able to eat well without any work.

Max organized all of our first aid and medications. We are set there as well. Although at some point we need to get some broad spectrum antibiotics. One doctor in Miami suggested that I invest in some long-duration stimulants(!) as well as some opiates.

Being at the great sailing Mecca of Sint Martin we have tackled dozens and dozens of boat projects and it has been so satisfying to see The Boat List Approach Zero. Is it at Zero? No, it is not. But then again there is not much left on the list:

The largest outstanding defect item is that the Raymarine apparent wind instrument remains stubbornly non-functional. We get apparent speed from the Raymarine unit (true wind speed plus the vector addition of the boat’s speed) but for direction we have to use the organic systems. The true loss is that we can not have the autopilot steer to a fixed angle off the wind. This means that we need to spend more time and energy trimming the sails, or adjusting the course. I have decided that I am going to upgrade to an open NMEA 2000 connecting Maretron solid-state ultrasonic instrument. I first heard of this off a video by Brian on the S/V Delos and since then I have seen quite a few others talk positively of this device. I will wait until Kaiwen goes back to Austin and have her bring it back to Ad Astra in October.

Then we have some small stuff like three new chips in the gel coat over the last 4 weeks, and Kyle’s bathroom door handle needs to be re-installed. The winches need to be serviced, but they are all working just fine after we replaced three failing foot switches. Some of the LED strip lights are failing a fraction of their LEDs, and I bought a few replacement strips here in SXM. So these are a few smaller projects.

The most exciting item left on The Boat List is the glorious LITHIUM house bank install. That will be a dedicated blog post with lots of pictures and videos. But the preview is that I now have on board of Ad Astra 1420 Amp-hours of LiFePO4 cells and all of the shunts, fuses, lugs, wire, high and low voltage protection relays and 48 smart battery managing units. Down south it will be a project over a couple of weeks to make this DIY Lithium setup as clean and as robust as possible. In the end we will have 2050 Watts of solar powering 1420 Amp-hours of battery storage – all of it solid state and green.

Kyle and Kaiwen have just come back from the last visit to a French Bakery until we see the Marquesas sometime in Q2 of 2018. We are having a great breakfast of scrambled eggs stuffing fresh croissants. Kyle has checked us out of the French side of St. Martin. On our way back from dropping of Eloy, Isaac and Christine at the SXM airport we will grab some more cash at an ATM, raise the dinghy on the davits and strap it down for blue water passage.

When we get to Los Roques we are all just going to relax and recover, wait to we get bored, and then take one more day off before we attempt to be productive again.

While we relax this is going to be our view:

And now I am going to my last swim in the Eastern Caribbean here in SXM and raise that anchor!

The Southern Caribbean – a new chapter for Ad Astra!