Monday, January 2, 2012

Swimming upstream like a Salmon!


Many people imagine the Caribbean to be a collection of sun drenched, palm tree lined, golden beach islands, lapped by crystal clear waters, and gentle cooling breezes. It can be all the above …….sometimes!!! It’s very rarely like that when passage making!!

During the November to Feb winter months, the temperature might be a degree or so cooler, but the prevailing Easterly trade winds pick up to between 18 and 25 knots, and clock back to NE. During the summer months, by comparison, the winds are usually in the 12 to 17knot range, from the SE. (Excluding hurricanes of course!) These gradient winds are generated by the position of the North Atlantic High, which resides closer to the equator during the winter months, and further north in summer.

On top of these gradient winds, one has to allow for the various island effects, the Cape effects, katabatic winds, inter island funnels, coastal acceleration zones etc. All too often, the seemingly manageable 18-25 knot beat can end up as a 35-40 knot thrash in wild seas, and ripping currents, on certain passages.

The point of this digression, is to explain the importance of picking the right windows! While some of these passages might just be possible, its definitely not fun!! People and boats get broken and wrecked. More to the point, I have no desire to become yet another lonely old male single hander! Cruising is supposed to be FUN, and therefore Mary must enjoy it and not just tolerate the lifestyle!

About 3 or 4 times a month, a brief window of opportunity presents itself, with winds dropping to the 14-20kn range from the East or ENE. These windows are often triggered by the cold fronts that move eastwards from Nova Scotia towards Europe, causing a hiccough in the steady clockwise circulation of the north Atlantic high. Some windows are better than others, but the message is… If you see the window..…use it or lose it!! Assess how’ usable’ it is, get your timing right, prepare the boat, and GO!

Tuesday 28th was “GO” day. It was also a public holiday, and the single official on duty had to deal with plenty of yachties, all with urgent clearance needs! We escaped by 11.30am and headed for Bequia, some 35miles north. The weather was spot on, and we enjoyed a fast romp to Bequia, arriving at 17.30 with a Barracuda in the fridge.

We left Bequia at 6.00am the next morning, and got into the lee of St Vincent, after a good fast sail. We had to motor up the lee, up to the infamous St Vincent /St Lucia channel, where once again we found ourselves beating into a 27knot headwind . The sea was a short sharp 2/3mtr swell, which made for a wet and tiring passage. All the way up, we were forced to watch and wave to 30 or 40 yachts, all going the other way, enjoying a fabulous broad reach, sipping their beverages in relative comfort, as we slogged our way north, hard on the wind. We felt like Salmon, but without their urge to procreate!

We were happy to reach the Pitons at 15.30, in good time, only to find that all the mooring buoys were taken. As anchoring is not permitted there, we had no option but to push on for the next 20 miles up to Rodney Bay. Fortunately, the wind picked back up to 20-25knots, and in the flatter lee of the island, we made good time. At Castries, we passed in front of the Queen Mary 2, at anchor, making it the third time we have seen her since we left RSA.

As we passed her bow, still hard on the wind (on a starboard tack), we were again confronted by yet another Clueless Bareboat Charter Cat, bearing down on us, sailing with full genoa, and nobody on watch to see around it, instead, all eyes ogling the QM 2! At 200m, we were still on a collision course. We had our crash tack plan in reserve, but this time I decided to give them a full blast of the air horn. Heads popped up like meerkats, but they still did not know what to do! In the process of Horn blowing, I kicked my big toe a “hellse skoot” on a block, and was busy screaming about Blue Frogs!! Thank goodness for Mary’s Very Expressive Bitch Wings and her life long urge to be a Traffic Controller….. She indicated in no uncertain manner, exactly where they should go!

Like good little meerkats , they listened!!

1 comment:

  1. Seeing U all a true SA gathering...hope to see all of U up here soon.