17 April 2009
On a Mooring
Admiralty Bay Bequia
St Vincent and the Grenadines
13 00.6'N 061 14 4'
I left Soufriere St Lucia 3am yesterday morning for the 60 nm sail to Bequia. The sailing life is so full of contractions, just like regular life, but it's just each experience seems to be much more intense. Be it the upside or downside. I always have a level of anxiety prior to a trip, I mentally fight it tooth and nail but I still can't shake it. It can be a bit frightening slipping the mooring line on a pitch black night and simply launching out to sea, especially alone. In a place like Soufriere your pretty much on your own if things go wrong. I think my prior life in the Coast Guard has made me slightly paranoid. Over the 20 year span I had heard/witnessed so many maritime emergencies that sometimes, just as I depart on a trip an old SAR (search and Rescue) case will pop into my head. I'll think, "remember when that guy picked up a net in his prop, was becalmed and then pounded on the reef." It is not rational thought as intellectually I am aware that the ratio to successful trips to ones that end up in true grief is heavily weighted toward success. So this was the state when I slipped the mooring line and started to motor south. Because Soufriere sits under the mountains of southern St Lucia it pretty much blocks any easterly trade wind. But then a 3 quarter moon came into view between the massive Pitons, sweeping away any anxiety. It was breath takingly beautiful. Really amazing, but I could see the clouds streaming over the peaks by the light of the moon and knew I was about to get slammed. I reefed down early and never did shake out the reef. The dirty little secret of cruising, it seems, is a good sailing day is but a rarity. Anybody who says that sailing in the Caribbean is the best in the world, likely are folks who spent two weeks on a charter boat bee bopping between Martinique and Dominica. I have not met one cruiser who have not acknowledged the fact that you spend the majority of your time close reaching or hard on the wind. That is the way it is. Every now and again you get a lovely sailing day such as the 3 day passage Sandpiper just had.
Here is what I mean. It can be tough to look at a chart, see the alignment of the Windward Island Chain and not think I'm going to be beam reaching the whole way down the island chain. So here is what I experienced on my trip to Bequia. The wind has been 19 to 22 knots for several days and I knew the seas were going to be large. I don't know the scientific term for wind that wraps or follows the curvature of an island or point of land, but it happens everywhere on the planet. It happens as wind wraps itself around a house in suburbia and the south coast St Lucia. So as I motored passed the Pitons and neared the south coast of St Lucia, the easterly trade wind wraps itself around the south coast to where the wind is square on the nose. I shut down the engine and was hard on the wind under double reefed main and staysail only. Winds SSE 25 knots and gusting higher. So of course I ease off in the hopes that once I clear the south coast and the wind comes back around to the east I can point toward St Vincent, the next island 30 miles to the south. This is what I did, however, because the trades are constant from the easterly quadrant and the seas get compressed between the island, this sets up a westerly setting current compounding the hard on the wind issue. So by the time I cleared the south coast the wind was cranking and seas were pretty large, maybe 8 to 10 feet on the beam. The good news is that Christa is a very sea worthy blue water boat and takes these condition in stride. The sailing really is no fun under these conditions and all I did was tweak the boat and hang on. There is no laying down or reading a book, it is just to rough for that. I can tell it was a rough passage as I am really sore today. My whole body aches. Although just because the sailing was no fun, I do enjoy watching the advancing sea and seeing the boat manage as designed. That contradiction thing again.
As I approached the north coast of St Vincent the bending of the wind developed, but this time in my favor. Now I was beam reaching while on a heading of SE as I was working to make up for the westerly set of the current. Christa hit the highest speed I have ever seen. I averaged 6.2 knots, which is just about hull speed for a Westsail and I hit 7.8 knots twice while running in front of a large swell. I am always amazed at "Big Daddy's" performance. A technical note here. I replaced the blocks in the Monitor Windvane set up while in Rodney Bay. The new blocks cut way down on the friction within the system and improved the functionality. The gizmo is really really cool once you learn how it works. Anyway, once I got behind St Vincent the wind shadow exerted and the wind shut off like on a switch. I motored for the next 15 miles and then a repeat of what I experienced on the south coast of St Lucia happened on the south coast of St Vincent but worse. Bequia was only about 10 miles away though by this time, but is situated slightly to windward. This time I was hard on the wind the whole time, rail down with sea water gushing over the boat. I was met at the entrance to Admiralty Bay by one of the locals who offered a mooring. I took it. I was very tired and simply didn't feel like motoring around the harbor in 25 knots searching for a good spot to anchor.
I was asleep by 7pm and slepted soundly all night. I was able to get an internet connection while on the boat. So this morning, I pump up the dingy, one of my least favorite things to do and check in with Customs and Immigration. Everyone I know who comes to Bequia just love it. It is supposed be a really cool friendly isle. Looking forward to giving you all a full report!