As I’m sure some of you have gathered from Facebook, the trip from Puerto Rico to Guadeloupe was more eventful than we usually prefer. Things started out just fine, with fair weather and relatively calm seas. We planned to motor overnight to St. Croix as it was dead upwind. There is supposed to be a mooring field near Buck Island on the northeast side of St. Croix, but we couldn’t find it in the dark so we decided to press on.
At around 2 AM, a USCG Defender-Class Response Boat popped up out of the darkness east of St. Croix. It was well after moonset, so they really surprised us! They hung out off our port quarter for about 15 minutes and did the standard interview. Thankfully no boarding this time as it was a bit bouncy east of St. Croix, and I’d hate for one of them to get injured trying to leap onto our deck in the dark. Really nice chaps, very professional. They were the last vessel we saw until we reached Guadeloupe.
We got a little closer to the Saba Bank than we’d intended around midday, and the seas picked up pretty mightily, so we turned south for a bit and motor-sailed until the waves quieted down. The good news was that we had the jib up, the bad news was that just before dinner time the engine sputtered and then died. Not good news for a long upwind passage. Captain Crunch stood an extra watch while I tried to suss out what was going on down below. The primary fuel filter was clogged, and we were concerned that we may have had less diesel than we thought so we also topped off the tank with our jerry cans. We’d forgotten, but the diesel we’ve bought in Puerto Rico has been exceedingly frothy in the past, so much so that we’d end up with a lot less fuel than we thought in the tank. We keep pretty close track of how long we run the engine, so we’ve only ever run out of diesel once before.
We were unable to get the engine restarted. When a diesel engine like ours is run dry, you have to loosen various bits and bobs and pump diesel through the system until you get all of the air out. I’d followed this procedure with a mechanic the last time we ran out of diesel, but it just wouldn’t start for us. After a while, we decided to call it quits on the engine and contacted our family to let them know what our situation was and that it would probably take an extra day to get to Guadeloupe given the prevailing winds. I managed to break the bracket on the secondary fuel filter while bleeding the diesel, which fortunately only set us back about $30. We’d come well over halfway to our destination in less than 36 hours, but we were in for a long haul ahead sailing into the wind.
We sailed overnight with just the jib. The winds were due east, between 20 and 25 knots. We made a lot of progress to the south, and a little to the east. At around dinner time, there was a loud crunch and the autopilot went offline. As we discovered when we arrived in port, the fiberglass mounting the autopilot to the hull had separated. Fortunately we got plenty of practice hand steering when we sailed form Florida to Texas, so we just dusted off those skills and kept on trucking. We made a game of trying to figure out the fastest way to make eastward progress. At about 1 minute of longitude per 20 minutes, it was painfully slow.
We got a lucky break around 6 AM when the winds shifted into the south. By the time I woke up from my off watch, Captain Crunch had made more progress in 3 hours than we had in the previous 12. I missed the excitement as a fast powerboat came roaring by followed by a French coast guard helicopter. We’re guessing they made friends as the powerboat didn’t get away.
We finally got some whale photos as we were approaching Guadeloupe. It is hard to get a clear shot of anything in the water while the boat is underway, but this guy gave us plenty of opportunities. He was just hanging out on the surface blowing mist for the several minutes it took us to pass him by.
The wind died completely when we were about 10 miles west of Guadeloupe, so we decided to go back to work on the engine. I performed the exact same steps I’d done two days prior, and the engine fired right up. Go figure.
We had one last mishap. As we rounded the southwestern tip of Guadeloupe, we managed to blow out our mainsail. The patch job only set us back about $300, so it isn’t the end of the world. It would have been ugly if that had happened the day before when we were still so far from land, but with the engine running it was just one more kick in the pants before we got into port safe and sound.