Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Course For The Caribbean

Ley In The Galley As We Beat To The North West At Sunset
After three weeks in Suriname we set sail again for our first Caribbean landfall - Tobago.  It was a 500 nautical mile north westerly voyage that started with very nice light northerly winds - we had flat seas, a favourable current and seven knots of boat speed.

That all changed in the middle of the first night watch, when we snagged an illegal fish net about 30nm offshore. We were motoring at the time, the wind having died out completely, and the net brought us to a standstill while also stalling our Cummins diesel.

With lights on deck we could see the net trailing aft, now twisted into a thick rope by the rotation of our propeller. Using the boat-hook we snagged the net and pulled it to the surface, then cut it free with a serrated blade knife. The top rope of the net was at least 14mm diameter, with floats directly attached, so there was no way we could ever pass over it.
Net With Top Floats
Now drifting free, we unfurled the genoa and slowly pulled away into the night, sailing on a very slight breeze at around 3.0 knots. Six hours later I came on watch again after sunrise and prepared to dive under the boat to clear the propeller and running gear and check for damage.

Preparing to enter the water I was startled by a large fish that appeared from under the boat - a Remora of course, only this one was much bigger than I had seen before.  Once under water I found myself out-numbered by eight large Remora, with another four visible hanging on the keel, plus a larger dark colored creature that I wasn't quite sure of, circling out beyond them. OK, I've chased remora around the boat before, but these guys were bigger and had a different attitude - they wanted to chase me...

As soon as I was underwater they were at me, and by the time I got to the propeller and net I was fending them off with a knife! After cutting away some of the net the fish did get the better of me and I came back to the stern - but then realised we were badly handicapped without an engine, and went back again to finish the job.  It wasn't fun ... for every few links of net that were cut I was fending off the damn fish again.  That larger dark one kept circling and coming in behind me, with just enough aggression to keep me distracted and dodging behind the rudder and skeg. I now believe it was a small Ocean White Tip shark, the rounded fin tips and white mottling being quite obvious. A rare creature, who fortunately backed off when I directly challenged it.

Eventually the remaining net was cut free from the propeller, and floated free off the stern where the image above was taken.  I then quickly checked the propeller blades and rudder and levitated out of the water pretty fast. This sort of behavior from Remora is unusual I think, though earlier this evening another Remora chased our friend Diane, of the yacht Ceilydh, as she was swimming off the boat here in Tobago. Her husband Evan was bitten by one just a week or so back. A Caribbean hazard perhaps?

The other notable feature of this passage was the large amount of Saragosso weed that was drifting on the ocean surface - we'd never experienced this before.  Sometimes very large rafts of weed were spotted, and it was constant enough that Ley wasn't able to troll a lure behind the boat without fouling the hooks with weed.
Saragosso Weed

The remainder of our voyage to Tobago was more relaxed, though we did manage to lose an impeller on the Cummins and had to change out the sea water pump the day before we arrived. Good winds and awkward arrival timing found us off the Tobago coast fully 16 hours before we could approach the land - Tobago Customs being fussy about arrival and reporting times, so we spent the final evening lazing around offshore in almost a flat calm.  Next morning we motored in and were welcomed into Tobago by a very friendly customs and immigration team in Charlotteville.

Tobago Appears At Sunset

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