“You know, most people don’t love ocean sailing anyway. It’s something you endure to get to where you’re going.”
Sometimes. But sometimes it’s the entire reason you go from A to B - to experience the highs and lows, the joy and anguish of sailing over the horizon and into that ocean wilderness. I actually do love it.
We left Virgin Gorda ahead of schedule, at 1000 on Monday, April 3. The day before, our new crew joined us in Trellis Bay - Nick & Sara, a young-ish couple from Maryland; Rob, a watch-face refinishing guru from Ohio; and Harold, a retired dude from Scranton who will also be joining us on the upcoming leg from the Azores to Scotland.
It was flat calm in Trellis that afternoon, so we decided to motor over to Virgin Gorda (in fact, Isbjorn, due to the light wind, was swinging funny on her anchor, much too close to a neighboring boat, so we had to move). En route we hoisted the small genoa. Once anchored, I dinghied ashore to clear us out from customs, and we suddenly had a twelve-hour head-start.
Once offshore at Round Rock Passage, we pointed the bows southeast and aimed for Bequia, some 380 or so miles distant. The wind was light from the east, Isbjorn gliding along a flat sea at 7 knots, the calmest conditions we’d had all winter in the Caribbean, and a big relief for her skipper and mate. Finally, some pleasant, light-air sailing.
The forecast was for the wind to increase slightly as we headed south, and by the second day we had put two reefs in the mainsail, but we’re still cruising along, the cockpit dry save for the occasional cooling spray. Incredibly, we could feel the lee of the big islands to our east as we sailed behind them. Behind Guadaloupe, even 70 miles off, the wind shut down entirely. We motored for an hour through a near-calm, with too much sea state left over to ghost through it under sail. Downwind of Martinique, the other big French island, I could smell the cow manure wafting on the breeze in the middle of the night. We’d go through this pattern of shaking the reefs behind the islands, then setting them back up once into the passages between them. We were far, far offshore, over 50 miles most of the time, and I was amazed at how much the lighter Trades are affected by the big high islands to the east.
We changed the watch schedule. Instead of 3-on, 6-off, with myself not taking a watch at all, we moved to 4-on, 8-off, a more traditional watch routine, inspired, in part, by the new Ship’s Bell clock we got from Weems & Plath. It chimes every half-hour to mark the passage of time through a watch - 8 bells means the watch is up and it’s time for a change. Also, I realized I missed not taking a watch. Those lonely midnight watches, by myself in the cockpit and running my own little ship - that’s why I do this stuff in the first place, and by taking myself out of it, I was missing the whole point. So Mia & I share our 4-hour shift - it lets her get some rest from her duties as chef, and me some rest since I’m always on call anyway. But importantly, it gives me that time in the middle of the night, alone and on watch and enjoying the philosophy of why I do this in the first place.
We sailed into Admiralty Bay in Bequia last night after sunset. The wind was steady from the east at 15 knots and we powered in under full sail, rounding the south cardinal mark off the point that marks the reef on the north side of the harbor entrance and hardening up to head into the harbor. One long board on port took us across the Bay and into the lower anchorage, the harbor lit up in the moonlight. Rob was on the helm with me close by over his shoulder barking orders. Sara & Mia navigated us in, while Harold and Nick stood ready on the sheets to check our speed if needed and tack us around.
We bowled along at 7 knots in the flat water inside the Bay, tacking just short of the anchored boats to the east. On starboard tack we had a perfect shot up the ferry channel. Mia stood watch on the bow looking out for unlit boats, but in the moonlight it was quite easy to dodge our way further into the Bay. We luffed up just short of the ferry dock at the head of Admiralty Bay and grabbed a mooring under power after putting the sails away. We ended up having to motor only about 200-feet; we sailed the whole way in.
And that’s what I live for. Moitessier used to write about how neat it was to sail into a harbor at night - you had the joy of making landfall under sail, and you could avoid, under cover of darkness, the prying eyes of the anchored boats who thought you were doing it just to show off. No. We did it to test our skills, we did it to make it a quiet landfall, we did it because we could, and boy was it beautiful.