Radar Love

otc-mos_rock900X600The skipper (Crazy Bruce of Vieques) had what anyone would refer to as “radar love”.  Bruce had to bite down hard on the bullet when he forked over about 10% of the total value of his sloop to purchase and install one of the new Broadband radar systems on his 36 foot sailboat.  Lord knows Bruce did most of his sailing in CAVU (clear) weather and moonlit nights.  This one trip we took with Bruce was the memorable exception.  I switched boats (as crew) up in Anegada when Bruce’s first mate  had to be evacuated by speedboat to a hospital in Tortola.  The poor woman (a great diver and water woman) was stung badly in the face and neck by a swarm of jelly fish that the current had pushed down on her.  After getting her out of the water she went into shock and was having a difficult time breathing or even speaking.

The locals at one of the hotels on the beach arranged to have this sailor transported by a beautiful mega-buck cigarette speedboat (a typical Tortola boat these days) to the dock at Beef Island.  From there she was received by an ambulance and transported to the local hospital in Road Town.  After all of that Bruce was in a hurry to sail his boat to Tortola; his Lady was in distress and he wanted to be there for her.  It was decided (by Bruce) to sail and anchor the boat near Biras Creek in Gorda Sound.  From there Bruce planned to commute by ferry to Tortola.  It was late afternoon by the time we snaked our way out through the reef .  We picked up the marine weather report via VHF and except for an overcast sky and scattered showers, the wind would be from the usual direction at normal Trade Wind strength.

The sail down was a bumpy beam reach with water flying over our port beam.  When we were four miles out from the Gorda Sound entrance buoys  the Simrad radar was painting a picture that was impressive to look at on the fancy screen at the chart table.  Bruce patiently explained that what we were observing was a “strong wall” (as he put it) of rain and convective activity that was almost on us.  Luckily we did not have far to go to be tucked in safely in the mooring field with flat water and hills all around us.  At less than one mile out the rain, a fresh breeze (as Bruce put it) and lightening converged on our little corner of the universe.  It was dark, windy and raining.  We had long ago reduced sail and were scraping as fast as possible for those buoys which we could not see in the distance.  The old C&C 36 had her ass in the breeze, but was rock steady in all respects. The occasional lightening was a great light show, but did little to improve our situational awareness.  I agreed to let Bruce spend as much time as he needed piloting by radar.  At about the time I felt we should be right on top of those buoys Bruce jumped into the cockpit to announce that we were too close to a large ship or yacht that might have anchored outside the bay to wait on better weather. We could see very little at this point so we hardened-up closer to the wind in an attempt to create some separation.

Caribbean Sailin, Ocean Trader 72

Five minutes later Bruce felt he had the entrance buoys painted clearly enough on his multi-function screen.  We continued on starboard tack for a bit then tacked back to a port reach. Following Bruce’s headings worked well.  It was interesting to see that the Skipper was putting more faith into his radar outputs than the GPS info he was getting from two different units. We could now light up the red and green buoys with a halogen spot light as we sailed into  Gorda Sound; Colquhoun Reef  and the red buoys to starboard.  The wind had pushed us to the west, but having Bruce’s new radar made it possible to forge ahead into Gorda Sound.  Without that fancy radar onboard we would have been foolish to attempt sailing towards those reefs.  In the morning Bruce was able to contact his Lady by mobile; she was doing well and her hospital stay was uneventful.  Bruce decided that we should continue down to Trellis Bay.  By 09:00 AM we were sailing down wind passing what we had mistaken the night before for an anchored yacht.  This was no yacht.  It was Mosquito Rock in all of its jagged  glory.  We should have known better.

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