23 May 2022: Time To Think
23 May 2022
Brewers Bay, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Deshaies Bay, Guadeloupe
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
From 12 knots up to roughly 20 knots
One super sunny day and two cloudy, overcast rainy days
One hot day and two muggy, wet days
I debated the planning of this route a lot. Last time, the route was via the British Virgin Islands, St Martin and Saba. However, the British Virgin Islands is expensive and annoying to check into. St Martin is really an upwind beat and you do not avoid an overnight sail by going there. Saba has to be in settled weather and you have to pay for a mooring (and you need a really reliable dinghy to get to the harbor from the mooring field as it feels like near open ocean on the way there). Plus I had heard Saba still had somewhat strict Covid-19 rules.
I was keen to get south as fast as I could so that I could stay put and relax while doing some boat jobs instead of worrying about the seasons and plans and making miles. So I was eying a direct two day jump to Guadeloupe.
I thought the best thing to avoid exhaustion was to get as far as I could before the jump. Thinking I would go to St Croix and then leaving from there. But the anchorages at St Croix look difficult or poorly protected and they are not super convenient to things like grocery stores. That plus the fact that I was enjoying my time with Beau and Brandy so much, meant that I was considering leaving straight from St Thomas to Guadeloupe.
There were considerations of whether I would go East or West of the Saba Bank (shallows on the west side of Saba that you cannot go through). But given I was doing a repeat of my longest sail – 2 days – I preferred to be near other islands like St Kitts and Nevis in case I was too tired and wanted to stop. If I went West of the Saba Bank, there would be no land until Guadeloupe.
So I set my weather routing with a waypoint to ensure I was routed East of Saba. I have no idea why in my head I thought this was a two day sail, I guess because the distance said around 236 nautical miles (I do roughly 110 nautical miles in a 24-hour period). However, the software was even trying to tell me it would be more than two days. It just did not register with me.
I debated if I should go fill my diesel and water the day before, a quick few miles around to Crown Bay Marina. However, I was told the marina was very busy on weekends and there were no ideal anchorages nearby the marina to wait for departure. So the decision was made to leave in the morning and try and arrive to the marina at opening time.
If was there and ready to go when they opened at 8am then it would not be too late of start on my voyage and hopefully I would not have to wait to fuel up.
I hauled anchor slightly later than I wanted but the dash to the marina was quicker than I expected, so it worked out pretty well. I did not have to wait at all. I had a perfect, slow approach and tie up to the dock. I filled my dinghy petrol, the boat diesel ($250 USD later, these gas prices!) and my water tanks. Plus while my water filled, I managed to dash to the little coffee shop at the marina that I had been to a few days earlier as I knew they had iced coffee. A treat to start a long and tiring sail seemed appropriate. When all was topped up, I pulled out of the marina and was grateful I had arrived early as there were already a few boats circling waiting!
And so I was off. It felt like a normal sail to start, it did not feel like I had a couple days in front of me. But you just get started and bit the bullet, so I raised my mainsail right out of the marina. I decided on a full mainsail as the first day forecast was quite light. I hoped to make it east as much as possible while it was light winds.
My goal was to be very diligent on napping and sleeping on night one so that night number two was not torture and exhausting. My autopilot was 100% not working, it not only could not hold a heading at all but it would actively steer off course (i.e. if it needs to turn right, the belt could not grip the helm to do it but the computer thinks it turned to the right and so it corrects back left. The belt grips this time so the boat goes left when it needed to go right).
And it only seemed to get worse every day – I really need to get the new autopilot installed soon.
But the wind was very consistent and Coach Jamie’s sail balancing tips have been very useful, so I balanced the sails before the sun went down. I decided not to reef the mainsail overnight, I rarely fly full mainsail at night because if you did decide you wanted to reef you would be doing it in the dark. But winds were so light and not forecast differently overnight so I carried on. I did have a partial – maybe 2/3 – jib out though. I set the sails with the main out quite far to spill a little wind and not overpower the main with only a partial jib out (in retrospect I could have reefed the main and then just kept it closer to the wind and it would have had the same effect with the comfort of having a reef in should I need it). Then I locked off the wheel to hold course.
Maybe it was because I was in the trade winds, but the sails were balanced perfectly. If a wave pushed the bow off a bit the sails pulled me back on course. I do not actually know how I did it, but it was ideal. I only occasionally had to steer up into the wind by moving the helm a fraction of an inch. And because the adjustments I needed to make were so consistent and predictable, I was able to lie down in my cockpit bed. Snuggled up on the leeward side, with pillow, blankets, my tablet charts and my phone alarm set to go off over the bluetooth speakers. I napped my normal 20 minutes and though occassionally I would get up to check the radar (maybe once an hour) all the other times I would check my charts from my ‘bed’ and poke my head up to look for lights of other vessels and then lie back down.
When the bow would fall off a little bit, I could feel it and hear it in the sails even if I was resting. Your body and mind really are on high alert even if you are ‘resting’. I would just poke my foot out of the blankets and bump the helm a tiny bit and it would be back on course.
Due to fuel prices – and the environment, of course – I was avoiding turning on the engine. I wanted to get as far East as I could in these early light winds, but having the engine one would not have gotten me there any sooner. Tala does not seem to like going into any sort of waves whatsoever so even if I turned on the old gas guzzler I would be tacking to get to my destination anyways. So though I was not heading directly to Guadeloupe, I was moving SSE pretty efficiently and hoped to only need one tack to get around the East side of Saba.
At some point in the night I got as south as I could go (between Saba Bank and St Croix) and had to tack northeast again. Though let’s be honest, it was essentially dead north. It was always annoying setting the sails after a tack to be perfectly balanced again in the dark. So despite being sleepy, I finally got it back to the perfect balance I had achieved on the other tack before sundown.
I feel a slight dread as I lose the sun each night because the nights are long and I get exhausted. Like a tightening in my chest that loosens a little bit with a little time taken to appreciate the bright stars at sea, the rising of the moon or any bioluminescence. So when I get those first rays of light in the morning and realise the night shift is over, it is a huge relief. Done for another day. Though that is not much comfort when you have planned a double overnight sail as there is still one more coming.
Today was the day to get around the Saba Bank, but on my charts when zoomed out you cannot see the ‘do not pass’ area. So I marked the edges of the Saba bank with a lot of marks dropped on my charts so that even if I was zoomed out I would not miss it.
As Coach Jamie would say “people have died because they did not zoom in”. So I refuse to be that person!
When you see the map of my tracks, you can see that my next tack – which I managed to pinch a little closer to Northeast than North – I was able to skim along the Saba bank. I basically went as far north as my patience could tolerate in the hopes of getting around Saba’s east side on the next tack. It was mentally taxing to think about having to do ANOTHER TACK to just get past.
And at the same time realizing that even if I did make this tack, I likely would not be arriving to Guadeloupe in daylight. At least not daylight of day two. Psychologically, I needed to make this tack work so just to keep spirits high. So I only achieved the Northeast angle by motor sailing in order to pinch closer to the wind. I do not love motoring at night because you cannot see fish pots and the temperature is one more thing to check in my night shifts (I have to take my blanket off to look at temperature even with some gymnastic-like acrobatics).
Over the course of the day the wind was slowly increasing, so I went to put a reef in the mainsail. However, I had been doing some maintenance on the sail slides in port and obviously did not put it back together correctly because the first reefing point no longer reached. I ended up having to take my heavy duty carabineer to bridge the gap between reefing point and hook. But it worked pretty well. I hoped it would hold up and not cause any dramas.
Luckily I still had really balanced sails even though I was motor sailing, since I had no autopilot I was staying pretty on course to make it around Saba.
I was pretty bloody tired as it was the second night, but unfortunately a cargo ship came up on my AIS. Though we were not on a collision course, our closet point of approach (CPA) was estimated at 1.93 nautical miles. Though that may sound far, if he was not watching his AIS and did not see me then he could alter course and be on top of me before I knew it. So I stayed awake.
I tried to get ahold of him on the radio (what a silly boat name “Mutty’s Pride”) but to no avail. And I felt certain, if they were not monitoring Channel 16 – something that is required by law – then they likely were not closely watching their AIS. I played it conservatively on the idea that they had no idea I was there.
To top it all off I had been having trouble with my navigation lights so I often only had one or none. At this time, my green one was working but that is not the one I needed for them to see as it was on the side away from them. So I kept my steaming light on which casts a bright white light on the jib and hoped they would see my bright white lit up sail.
Our CPA kept getting closer and closer so I put the engine in neutral so that they would pass in front of me well before I was close to them. The most disconcerting thing is, I could not find their lights in the dark. Something that I actually prefer about sailing at night is that it was easier to see other boats with their lights on. Did this boat have no lights on!?
I think the biggest emotion I felt was annoyance. Answer the radio, have your lights on (I did, even though my normal ones were not working). Arghhhhhh!
It was well past midnight before he was across my bow and safely headed away from me. It added to the annoyance that I had just gotten reception by Saba and had not yet done my daily Wordle, my family has a group chat competing and I had expected to miss a day but now I had cell coverage off Saba. But since I was so focused on the ship – obviously – that midnight passed and I missed the Wordle anyways. Mutty’s Pride was not in my good books.
Definitely not arriving in daylight. There was still so much to go. It was really eating away at my morale. I was feeling a little sorry for myself.
All feelings I only get when I am pretty burnt out. I was now passing the length of my longest ever sail (previously 49 hours from Bahamas to Turks and Caicos). I guess it is good to know your true limits and I guess two day passages were not my limit.
Plus I had been keeping myself motivated probably since Norfolk, Virginia, USA thinking about the cheese and coffee and croissants of the French Islands.
I just wanted to get there!
I was tired of popping my head out of the companionway if I needed to make food or coffee. I was tired of the chafing under my arm where my lifejacket rubs if I wear a tank top. I was tired of being responsible for everything on board while the boat is moving and rocking and creaking and crashing. I was tired of calculating and re-calculating what time of day I might arrive and constantly coming to the conclusion that it would not be before sundown. I was tired of considering bailing out only to soldier on. I was tired of changing winds and sea state and sail adjustments. I was just tired.
Yep, that feeling of dread again. Long nights. And maybe the illusion that the more tired you get and the more consecutive nights you do, the nights became longer and thus more tiring. Like a slippery slope.
The funny thing was, it did not take a toll on my decision making. I still felt rational and logical and like if something cropped up I could deal with it – incidents usually came with a little adrenaline to give you that focus back anyways. It more took a toll on my mental health.
I was feeling really lonely and sorry for myself sailing alone.
I was wishing i had someone to share these burdens with. Someone to take the helm while I got a few real hours of sleep. Someone to cook a meal when I did not feel up to it or motivated. Someone to even just talk to. I did have periodic reception sailing along the islands but it did not cure the loneliness.
Too much time to think on these night passages.
I had decided to slow down to avoid arriving at night. It was bad enough to arrive at night when you were feeling fresh and alert, still risky and tricky. But to arrive at night when I was feeling this exhausted, bad idea.
The sea state was the worst in the last 24 hours compared to the entire trip. Great for morale!
But I made it.
I went to drop the anchor – not looking forward to how deep the anchorage was, 30 to 35 feet according to SV Passat II and pretty crowded – but as I pulled up a boat near me dropped a mooring ball. We chatted as I passed by and they let me know the mooring balls were free and solid (I had read conflicting reports online about the cost).
I immediately grabbed some dock lines from the lazarette and bailed on the plans to anchor. This instantly helped to cheer me up.
I debated if I was going to put up my quarantine flag and immediately sleep, messing up my sleep schedule even more than it already was or to try and stay awake. I decided if I could stay awake I would get more done, feel better, sleep better that night and be glad in the long run. So I dropped the dinghy, put the engine on, tidied the boat, put up my quarantine flag and grabbed my wallet and important documents to go into town and check in.
The souvenir shop you check in to the country at was not yet open so I made a beeline for the boulangerie por un croissant jamon et fromage et un cafe au lait (bakery for a ham and cheese croissant and a coffee with milk).
Once checked in, I went to say hello to the neighbors – Vicki and Steve and two kids on SV Passat II, fellow Canadians – and they made sure I was fed and watered after my long journey. A welcome caretaking after a long few days. After returning to their boat later that night for peach nectar-prosecco sundowners (and them feeding me dinner, I cannot express the appreciation for their caretaking and wonderful company), I had managed to stay awake until 9pm and was ready to crash!
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”
– Oscar Wilde