Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Shipping Out (9 to 14 May 2013)

We sailed in company with Troskala to Road Town, Tortola - an easy downwind run, with a swimming stop.

Troskala approaching Road Town

We anchored in the inner harbour, where space was tight and holding dodgy.  Emma and Stuart on Amorosa were there, after a long and mainly windless sail from the Grenadines, a long way to the south.  They had rushed to get to the BVIs in time, and their Sadler 26 would be shipping back with Limbo in a few days.  Fantastic to be reunited.

A rare photo of Amorosa and Troskala together!

Before we could get our boats over to St Thomas, in the USVIs, we had to perform a convoluted exercise to legally enter the islands.  A visa waiver scheme operates for mass transit passengers.  With two of us on board, we hardly qualified for this.  Longer-term cruising in the States requires a proper visa which can be obtained, following an interrogation, from a couple of inconveniently-located embassies (Trinidad, Puerto Rico).   (The answer is to get one in London, before you go, just in case you want to go to the States, USVIs or Puerto Rico - which by all accounts is well worth seeing).

Fortunately for us, there was a perfectly legal way round this for short stays: (i) travel to the USVIs by ferry; (ii) get your passport stamped with your tourist/mass transit visa; (iii) return to the BVIs by ferry; (iv) enter by yacht, using your pre-stamped passport.

Getting the magic passport stamp was our mission for the following day, and we joined Emma and Stuart on the fast hydrofoil ferry for a day-trip to St Thomas.  On the top deck, it's an exhilarating ride and a great view of the islands we'd soon be travelling through at a much reduced pace.  It all went to plan, and we were back on board Limbo that evening.

We sailed to St Thomas over the next couple of days (distances are short in the islands), with a calm overnight stop at an anchorage north of Cruz Bay on St John's.  We gave the Amorosas supper and rum on Limbo.  It was hard to believe this was coming to an end.

USVI anchorage. Amorosa on the right.

Cruz Bay is a port of entry, and we anchored off for a quick trip ashore for customs and immigration.  In the process we were, apparently, too close to someone's mooring buoy - and encountered the most aggressive, unpleasant individual we'd seen in months of cruising, who circled us in his dinghy yelling 'haul off!'  Welcome to the States...

On the 12th we arrived at Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas - a large but green harbour with several islands and anchorages.  Amorosa arrived and moored near us.

Disaster struck the next morning.  We had a call from our shipping agent just to tell us that, in fact, they'd made a slight mistake and there was no space for Limbo.  Our reaction was one of disbelief - how could this possibly happen, and how could a huge ship not find room, somehow, for our little Samphire 26? And what the hell were we going to do now?

We spoke to both the shipping agents and the load master on the vessel - they were definite that the load plan was final, without room for both boats.  We shared our predicament with Emma and Stuart, who - incredibly kindly - said, actually, we could have their place; their plans were more fluid and they'd originally been thinking of staying in the Caribbean for longer.  Stunned to discover that we had a solution, we accepted.

Easy does it..Limbo's mast comes down.

The day before shipping.  We went alongside in the marina and the Amorosas helped us to dismast.  Stuart is a professional boat builder and rigger, and showed us how to lower the mast using a couple of spinnaker poles in a triangle as a pivot (made easier by having a tabernacle).  Hot work.

 With de-masted Limbo rolling more than usual, we joined Amorosa in the anchorage opposite the marina - for our last night on board. 

In another unexpected twist, the following morning the Amorosas heard that there was now room for both boats.  Cue a quick mast drop by Steward and Emma, with five hours to go. Null points - again - to the shipping company Sevenstar.

Amorosa's mast comes down

We were deeply unimpressed by the procedure on the day.  Our instructions amounted to 'wait until your load time, then circle around until we give you a signal'.  They didn't use VHF.  We ended up circling around near the ship for 2 hours, on a hot day with no shade.  A mobile call to the loadmaster yielded no information.  Finally someone called down from the ship and said there was a delay of at least an hour.  We went to pick up a buoy with Amorosa.


The call came to go alongside..alongside what?  We had expected a specialist yacht shipping company to provide a pontoon of some kind, or at least decent fenders.  Instead, we had to use our own fenders to alongside a ship of some 450 feet, and hang on to near-vertical mooring strops.  The snatching loads on our cleats, even in the light chop, were severe.  Our furlex, protruding from the bow, threatened to swing against the side of the ship. I had to give the bow strop a hefty pull to stop it from being damaged.  Our position felt extremely vulnerable, and it seemed left to chance that no damage resulted.. The load crew barely spoke to us directly, and we were left feeling like helpless onlookers with no briefing or instructions.  The only thing we were clear on, based on our emailed instructions, was that under no circumstances would we be lifted with the boat.  Loading strops were dropped into the water and a diver swum round making sure they were in position.   The crew trampled all over Limbo's decks wearing heavy and dirty boots, one even smoking.  The crane took their weight, and Limbo was hauled up the side of the ship - with us still on board.  We disembarked via a dodgy-looking rope ladder.

In spite of these issues, there was definitely a sense of relief as we watched Limbo swung up and down into the hold, where Amorosa joined her shortly afterwards.

There was nothing left but for the four of us to walk ashore with our bags and find our hotel to regroup around the pool.  Tomorrow, Natalie and I would speed back to Tortola on the ferry for a few days on Troskala.

St Thomas rooftops


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