16 May 2022: Upwind Optimism
16 May 2022
Sun Bay Beach, Vieques, Spanish Virgin Islands
Brewers Bay, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
17 knots, upwind as per usual.
Wishing for a bit of cloud cover (or a sunshade behind the helm on my transom)
Balmy for this time of year
Dry, thank goodness!
When I look at the weather and the distance when I am planning a route, you try and visualise the wind angle you see on your screen in real life. Mentally you attempt to factor in your boat speed and how it will affect wind angle for the apparent wind. You try and picture how far off the shoreline you would want to be to avoid choppy shallow water. If you do have to tack you are trying to plot your tacks out (though I always underestimate just how much I have to turn on each tack). Its like trying to piece together a puzzle when you are just looking at a box full of pieces without touching them.
So I waited for a day when the trade winds would be a little lighter and from a good angle, hoping for it to swing south of the typical east so that my northbound track would be doable. And today was the day.
Next, I look at the mileage, in this case a little over 35 nautical miles. And I always factor in a slow speed (Tala can do 7 knots in perfect conditions but I never plan anywhere near that because it is rare) because I would rather arrive early than late (you can always slow down to arrive later but you cannot speed up to arrive earlier if conditions prevent you from doing so). So I think to myself – okay, 3.5 knots speed would mean ten hours. That to me seemed like a reasonable estimate. Given I was so tired from the last few days and still did not feel caught up on sleep, I did not leave in a rush in the morning. Even with an 8 o’clock start I would still arrive by 6pm at the latest and it was still like enough at 7pm to arrive anyways, I would know as my arrival to Puerto Patillas was just after 7pm and it was totally fine! Lastly add in the fact that I was totally happy to up my speed by motorsailing the entire way if I had to because I wanted to keep putting the engine through its paces – I was hoping to go offshore to Guadeloupe from St Croix in the next weeks so wanted to feel good about the engine. I had so many backup plans an 8am departure seemed totally suitable.
I was even so optimistic to think if I had time I would go out of my way to the marina and get fuel and water before heading to Brewers Bay.
Immediately upon poking my nose out of the bay and I was not achieving my 3.5 knots planned. However, friends on Freida Kai who left the day before said the sea state south of Vieques sucked and then it got better. So I motorsailed through 6 to 8 foot waves.
I had also hoped to be able to go due east but of course, the forecast was much more E than SE (typical bloody trade winds!) so I had to head nearly south. And there was current and waves working against me so progress to the East was slow, even though I was motorsailing. It helped me to point a little closer to the wind but it still took me two big tacks to get around the corner of Vieques. And even then I barely squeaked by, I reallllllllly did not want to do another tack and I hoped once I was around the corner I would be able to point directly at my destination.
And I was close, nearly pointing exactly at Brewers Bay (at this point I had given up on the marina as those two tacks had added some mileage to my day). And the sea state did let up a bit so I was actually getting 4.5 knots to 5.5 knots at times. However, the current had not subsided whatsoever. It was like the weather gods were saying “go to Culebra” and were not so subtle in the literal push to the West that Tala and I were battling against. So despite the fact that I was pointing at my destination, I was not travelling that in that direction. The result being I would have to tack a couple more times at some point, adding miles that I did not factor in to the plan to arrive in daylight.
If I was in tourist mode and not dying to get East and get to Martinique to stop and relax in one place to complete some boat projects, I would have succumbed to the current and turned towards Culebra. But at the moment, if I did that now it just meant that I would have to make progress East to St Thomas (or wherever) the next day or the day after. Plus, I had been really looking forward to running into friends Beau and Brandy on SV Saoirse (we met in Georgetown in 2019 and they had been cheering me on as I tackled this solo sailing thing; as Brandy says about the idea of her solo sailing she is “No Beau, No Go!”) and I did not want to delay seeing them any longer by going to Culebra either!
But I was pushing arriving in the dark. I messaged Brandy and asked about the fish pot situation if I was to arrive in the dark and she said that there was not much to worry about except for the two buoys that mark the airport. Those two markers have lights on them and were both on my charts, easy. So where I normally would go for my Plan B (Culebra) if it meant arriving after dark, I was happy with a little local reassurance to arrive in the dark this time – even though I did not know the port.
It was mostly a handsteering kind of day (my shoulders and back DEFINITELY did not love this) because autopilot and balancing the sails do not help you to pinch as close to the wind as possible. I wanted/needed every millimeter I could squeeze out of each tack. Slacking off for a bit could mean the difference between arrival and one more long tack. So all day I only had my granola bar for breakfast and a coffee. I did go down below to turn on the navigation lights just before sunset but otherwise was at the helm all day. How did 35 nautical miles turn into this!? In my head I see 35 nautical miles and think “half day”. I need to stop doing that.
But once I passed the airport markers I messaged Brandy and her and Beau came out in the dinghy with a flashlight to help make sure I had a clear path and pick out a spot to anchor. Something I can do alone, especially with the light of the full moon, but it was SO nice to have help, especially unsolicited help. I was happy to accept it but too proud to ask for it (their reassurance on fish pots was enough). This solo sailor always has to do everything alone and often I am running on adrenaline to push through to the last bits. Now I had friends relieving the burden, even if only for one anchor drop, it was appreciated!
They showed me the spot (it really was a perfect choice, total pros) and I dropped the anchor. While I went back to the helm to check the depth and finish anchoring, I told them to just tie up to the side and climb aboard! They were so patient – of course, they were sailors too – while I let out the rest of my chain, snubbed it and backdown. And then we had hugs and went below to visit!
A darn good catch up and so comforting to see their beautiful smiling faces!
There was something about the familiar amidst all this change and voyaging I was doing that just gives you the little bit of reinvigoration to keep you plodding along.
They gave me the low down on the area and given I needed some fresh food, fuel and water it sounded like I would have to stay a couple of days (Thursday was supposed to the be the best day for fresh fruit and veggies). But what was a little more rest, at least it means I had time to write this Captain’s Log this morning over coffee.
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future because unless you believe that the future can be better you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”
– Noam Chomsky