Captain's Log, Stardate:

12/20/2001Arrive in the New World

After 15 days, 9 hours and 18 minutes, we crossed into Rodney Bay on the island of St. Lucia. We all agreed it truly was, as advertised, the "trip of a lifetime." The ocean and sky were absolutely beautiful, the fishing superb and last but not least, the four of us got along really well together.

Out of 240 boats, we were 50th to cross the finish line and, as we did so, the "committee boat" blew horns and yelled congratulations. Plus, Catana sent a photo crew out to greet us several miles before the finish with the resulting photo you see on the www.catana-live.com web site. Instead of going into the marina like everyone else, we dropped anchor in Rodney Bay so that we could examine the damage, if any, caused by the whale hit. (Recall that we hit a whale while doing 11 kts the second morning out!) Plus, since we had been underway constantly, it was impossible for any of us to snorkel and we were all looking forward to jumping in the 84 degree water the next day. We thought our arrival was complete after getting the "hook" down but learned there was more to a "transat" than that. The crews of two other Catanas dinghied all the way out to us from the marina to complete the "welcome." Don and Debbie on "Double Trouble" and Tom and Bob on the fastest Catana, "Cakrawalla", together with Catana's agents Laurent and Marion, all came out, bearing champagne, rum, and a nice fruit basket. And boy did we need it! The numerous tacks, bobs, and weaves required to round the island and cross the finish line in the dark under sail power alone (without hitting any anchored boats) was quite taxing on all of us so it was really great to relax amongst friends, especially friends we had last seen on the "other side of the pond."

Although refreshing, my dive the next morning revealed some serious damage done to our starboard hull. We didn't think it had been damaged because there was only a very small leak after the hit (and for the rest of the crossing) and our knot log quit working (which depends on a little paddle wheel forward on the starboard hull) but the knot log began working again the next day. However, I found that the hull was delaminated for about four feet with a big "flap" bending in the breeze for about two feet. In short, we had to get the boat out of the water ASAP to prevent the water from continuing to do damage to the foam core, etc.

Sad that we would be missing much of the partying in St. Lucia, we obtained a clearance from Customs for Trinidad and headed out the afternoon of December 14. As we headed across the St. Lucia channel toward St. Vincent, I thought I saw a faint puff off our starboard quarter. A glance through our binoculars revealed the somewhat disappointing silhouette of a dolphin breaking water and so I attributed the puff to the dolphin . . . even though it looked very much like the characteristic "blow" of a whale. After a couple more of these "dolphin puffs," we turned the boat around and started heading mostly in the wrong direction but toward this unusual surface "activity." Although we were motoring, it was a beautiful day and so, what the hay?

As we got closer, we could see that these were no dolphins, not even pilot whales. These were two mammals as long or longer than our boat which is 47 feet. We were probably coming on too fast because they sounded 100 yds in front of us at which time I started timing the dive. I know they can easily stay down for a half hour but also know that they don't go to the max all the time. We assigned quadrants of the ocean to visually cover so we might see them immediately and maneuver even closer. I continued on a course that would intercept them after about 10 minutes of motoring IF they continued in the same direction as they had been going on the surface. Ten minutes went by, then 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 but still nothing anywhere. Each minute seemed to take longer than the last.

It was only then that, for some reason, I started looking right down below the boat thinking that, for all we knew, they could surface right underneath us! Pretty scary. In fact, what the heck were we thinking? Here we were, heading toward Trinidad on a sort of emergency delivery passage to have the boat hauled out of the water in order to repair some serious damage caused by the very animal we were now seeking to get close to! But that momentary lapse into logic was quickly replaced by our original mission when someone yelled, "thar she blows!" I quickly reeled the helm and we sped off in the hopes of another, closer glimpse of these magnificent creatures. Only this time, we slowed much sooner and crept closer moving only slightly faster than they. We got to 30 yds and savored the view for a minute or two when they both sounded again only this time, giving us all a beautiful view of a fluke gracefully waving "goodbye" before disappearing below the nearly nonexistent waves. Wow! What a rush! Not as close as last time but with much less damage to the boat!

As a consolation (besides the whale sightings) for missing all the parties in St. Lucia, I thought we could spend a night at the very beautiful Tobago Cays (pronounced "Toe bay' go Keys" ) just south of the island nation of St. Vincent and so we headed in that direction the next morning with a wonderful 20 kts of wind on the beam. Upon arriving, we dropped our sails and threaded our way through the many reefs under diesel power. By then it was raining and the wind had increased to 25 kts. We dropped anchor and waited for the rain to quit and for the wind to die down but it didn't seem like either was going to happen anytime soon. Twenty-five kts of wind can make the Tobago Cays especially interesting since there is no land to protect you from the waves, only this big reef. So we sat anchored with only the wind to contend with while the huge breakers wore themselves out hitting the submerged reef a mere 100 yds in front of our bow. It gave us the feeling we were out in the middle of the ocean in high winds yet we were safe from the waves.

With the water too churned up to snorkel, we decided we might as well be sailing. At least that way, we could get the boat to Trinidad and out of the water that much sooner. So as the invisible sun was setting, we tiptoed through the small openings in the reef and set sail for Trinidad some 110 miles to the SSE. A smart guy once said, "It's better to be in here wishing you were out there than to be out there wishing you were in here" and those words soon came to mind as the winds increased to 30 kts, then 35, and then nearly 40 kts on the beam! Of course that is much better than on the nose but, as the waves rose commensurately, we really began to "rock and roll" . . . in the more ancient sense of the words. Luckily, when we first raised the main in 25 kts, we brought it up only to the 2nd reef. Hence, with the increased winds, all we had to do was furl in the genoa to the 2nd reef as well. Good thing too because none of us really wanted to deal with the main in those conditions. The nice thing was that we were makin 10-11 kts, promising a landfall by early morning on December 15.

Our first priority after getting the hook down in Chaguaramas was to get our tickets changed. We had arrived on Saturday--nothing open after noon, nothing at all on Sunday and, we learned to our great disappointment that Monday was a National don't-ask-me-what holiday. Eric found someone who said she could get a ticket for him in one hour if he would just wait for her outside the main office for Crews Inn. As Eric and I were waiting for Jillian to arrive, a man walked around the corner whom I hadn't seen since 1997. I could understand if you don't have any interest in how we first met Bob and Phillis on OohLaLa so feel free to skip to the part that says, "Hope all is well with you."

We had just purchased Winterlude, our Jeanneau 41, and were cruising down the Florida keys. Derek, Donald, and their good friend Pete were my crew. We dropped anchor off Key Largo. I stayed aboard while "the boys" went into town to see what was shaking. Walking down the sidewalk, they came upon a man about their age and asked him where the hot spots were in Key Largo. Derek explained that he and his friends were cruising down the Keys in a sailboat and that the boat was anchored off the town. The guy couldn't believe his ears, apparently, because he said, "Let me get this straight: You have a sailboat out there, you're cruising down the Keys, and you're wanting to know where the hot spots are in Key Largo?"

One of the boys said, "Well, er, yes, that's right. Why?"

The guy yelled at them, "You dumb shits! You get back to your boat right now and get down to Key West just as fast as you possibly can! Fantasy Fest starts in two days. It's 100% party time. People come from all over the world to do Fantasy Fest! It's as big as Mardi Gras! I can't believe you're wandering around in Key Largo looking for some action two days before Fantasy Fest starts!" They came straight back to the boat and wanted to haul anchor right then at 10 p.m. to head for Key West.

Two days later, just after we got the hook down in Key West, we all heard a sexy woman's voice come on the VHF saying, "Perfection, Perfection, OohLaLa!" Derek immediately proclaimed, "That guy was RIGHT!" When she failed to make contact, Derek radioed, "OohLaLa, OohLaLa, Winterlude." When Phillis came back, Derek said, "Yeah, say, my brother and a friend just arrived at anchor out here and we were thinking, ah, maybe you might want to do Fantasy Fest with us tonight?" Phillis replied, "Yes, that would be very nice . . . if you don't mind if my husband and my dog come with!" She made a few inquiries and determined that I was more their age but invited all of us aboard for a cocktail before going ashore.

They had already been cruising for several years on their 38' Fountaine Pajot catamaran and taught us more than we could ever get out of books. They taught us, for example, that "Sailing is the most expensive way to go third class there is." Subsequently, we met a half dozen times in as many countries, most recently three days ago here, in Trinidad.

From Trinidad, hoping all is well with you and your family,

~~~~_/)Lee~~~~~~~~~~_/)_/)~_/)_/)~~_/)~~~~_/)