Sailing NW in the Caribbean Sea is a real dream sailing course. The tradewinds are always from the east, maybe 10 degrees north or 10 degrees south but always generally from the east. So, if you turn west and head from Antigua, the eastern-most island, and sail west or northwest, then you are sailing a broad reach. Next, imagine sailing a broad reach in 20 knots winds and in 5 to 7-foot seas surfing down waves in the middle of the night. What a wild and very fun ride we had. We saw many 7 knot surfs, 8 knot surfs and one out of control 9.6 knots of SOG. I saw it but could not snap a photo as I was holding on and standing with bent legs like I was running a stair-stepper side to side. The boat was rolling from midship cleat to midship cleat as she surfed down waves. What a great sail! Here is the overview first.
Sadly Leaving French Marigot
It was very sad to sail out of French Marigot, as the harbor is great, and the French bakeries are amazing and the fine wine is delicious. We made ourselves leave, never an easy thing to move on as a cruiser. It is far far easier to simply stay put in one harbor one island and not push on. We are happy we are learning all these great places and now plan on returning to these places knowing exactly what to expect and where all the key services are located. We will sail back next season as these Caribbean Islands are just too wonderful to bid goodbye.
The sunsets, nighttime sailing, full speed into the darkness
We departed at 1700 and sunset was around 1830, so we were well on our way when the sun rapidly hit the horizon on our bow. We set the sail plan with a double-reefed main and a full 110 jib. We placed the autopilot to hold a wind angle of 145 degrees off the starboard bow for a broad reach. We can sail this down to 155 and up to 135 degrees easily. Any higher in these 20-knot winds gusting 22-25 and this full jib would need to be furled, especially at night. The seas were rolling under us from the starboard stern so the boat had that difficult roll where the stb stern first lifts, then the boat rolls to port, then the wave rolls under toward the port bow, and the boat rolls hard to starboard as the stern dips down in the trough. It is very difficult to move around the boat, let alone sleep. But, we let her roll and roll she did. Island Spirit LOVES to sail like this. She hit 7 knots easily and some 8+ knots as well. YIKES!
B&G Instruments and Wind Steering via Autopilot
I have talked about this many many times before, but it is so critical to nighttime sailing that I want to try to show it and explain it again. Whenever our sails are hoisted and we set sail, we always run the autopilot on wind vane steering. That means we set the boat on the heading we want towards our destination. Then we trim the sails to this heading. NOW, we turn on the autopilot and tell it to hold this given wind angle, whatever that may be. We are pointed the right way and the sails are set for this current wind. POOF, the pilot grabs the wheel and steers and the masthead anemometer sends data of wind angle to the pilot. The two will work together holding this angle. In this run, that angle was 145 degrees off our starboard bow.
The real beauty is that the ocean winds are never ever steady from one exact direction. They will clock and back 10, 20 30 degrees. In this situation, the pilot will head up in a clocking wind and fall off in a backing wind and it will maintain the same angle. Over time, you sit and watch the COG, course over the ground, and see if it is hitting the destination. If it is not, then you adjust your pilot wind angle to plus 5 to plus 10 or minus 5 or 10. Then re-trim the sails for this and stand watch. Here are some screens to show this setup.
Safe Arrival in BVI
As planned, the sun came up as we approached the British Virgin Islands. We along with our buddy boat, IP40 SUNKISSED, Nina and John surfed past Salt Island and then into Sir Francis Drake Passage. From there, we motor sailed downwind to West End where we jumped through all the hoops to check into the many offices of the BVI. Two hours later, we were cleared in.
First stop, Of course, the BEYC!
After check-in at 11 am, we had decided to motor up to our #1 happy place, The Bitter End Yacht Club to celebrate my (Hayden’s) birthday. We have spent many vacations here. The weather report was to be windier the next day, so we powered up to BEYC and took mooring ball #2 and spent a week. What a joy. Our next blog post will a full report on the BEYC rebuild and Saba Rock.