Uproar skips the Thorny Path to the Caribbean.....again. Back in Culebra.
30 March 2022 | Culebra, Puerto Rico
“This is the weather window to sail east we have been waiting two months for.” I had asked our weather router, Chris Parker, if other opportunities to sail from the Bahamas to the Caribbean were in the future. He confirmed my thoughts that this was a good one.
Sailing from the Bahamas to the Caribbean is a 700 mile passage that is notoriously difficult, often called the “thorny path.” Sailing is mostly against the strong, east trade winds. There are books written on strategies to island hop safely to get there. But the thorny path can often take over a month, waiting for just the right weather to make the next step.
Six years ago, we sailed this passage with the help of Rick Anderson. We skipped the thorny path and used the sledge hammer approach, we sailed upwind in one shot. We have the advantage that Uproar is a “cruising boat with a racing problem.” She has the performance of a race boat and can really claw to weather with our deep keel.
With Rick we sailed from Mayaguana, Bahamas to St. John. Chris Parker routed us for that one as well. He said, “You will get pushed pretty far north.” Little did he know Uproar's abilities. We are able to sail almost straight east in the SE wind. We called Chris every night for a weather update. “You will see the last squall to your north, wind will die, motor through the night and east wind will shoot you south to St. John.” I replied, “Chris, I see the rainbow from that last squall to my north!”
This year it was just Lisa and me. Plus, we sailed from George Town, Exuma, 150 miles further and further north. The approaching cold front caused trade winds to veer SE and possibly due south. As the front caught us, it would provide north and NW winds but accompanied with squalls. Still, better than slogging into the east trade winds.
Chris suggested starting out a day earlier, “You will have good sailing in 20 knots of wind from the SE and outrun the cold front.” Chris's idea of “good sailing” and ours are a bit different. Heavy cruising boats often need at least 15 knots of wind to sail at all. Uproar does just fine in 8 knots of wind. 10 to 12 is our sweet spot although she sails great in higher winds with sails reefed.
The wind blew and the sea flew for the first 36 hours. That conjures up images of brisk conditions with salty spray stinging one's cheeks. Makes you want to grit your teeth and utter a pirate epithet, “Aaaarrrgh!” Wind was 20 knots or more and seas were 6 to 8 feet from confused directions. Life was a bit more Old Testament than that. Solid, green waves were breaking over the top of Uproar! Not fun at all!
But she sailed on with us huddled in the cockpit or below. I ate only an apple that first day. Lisa ate nothing. I couldn't get the image of a cozy fireplace out of my mind. I'm just a little ashamed to admit, selling Uproar crossed my mind.
Day three dawned with smaller seas from the SE and wind in the upper teens. What a difference, this was sailing, not endurance. Uproar scooted along at over 7, often over 8 knots. Still a bit rough but manageable. We continued making great progress. As the approaching cold front died out, wind quit and seas became a sheet of gently rolling glass. Chris predicted this, “You will have to motor through the night and into the next day.”
Again, Chris didn't know of Uproar's light air sailing ability. We did have to motor for a day until light trade winds from the east began to establish. Uproar sailed with delight in 10 knots of breeze straight for Puerto Rico. That last night of light air beating to weather canceled out the rough start to our passage. Ahhhhh!
We weren't the only ones enjoying the last 100 miles into Culebra. Two or three Terns perched on the back of Uproar for the ride to shore. They would sometimes squawk at each other and fight for the best seat, on top of our lifesling bag. Lisa won the fishing contest. She was attacked by two flying fish, I had only one visit me while on watch.
We arrived in Culebra, 20 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico, just after dawn on the fifth day. We anchored with a group of other cruising boats in the main bay behind a tiny island. Our traditional anchor beer had to wait. I went to work scrubbing (actually acid etching) barnacles off the bottom of our dinghy and doing an oil and gear lube change on our 20 hp Mercury outboard. With dinghy launched we took full Hollywood showers and enjoyed an anchor beer, the perfect sleeping pill for our afternoon nap.
Lisa said, “Do you feel that?”
“Nothing, we aren't moving, isn't it great?”
Uproar once again skipped the thorny path and got us safely into the Caribbean, taking only five days to sail 760 miles with only a bit of discomfort.