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 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Via Riviere Salee on Guadaloupe: Antigua to St. Lucia
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.
April 6, 2005: Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
    Pitching is the movement a rocking horse makes. Rolling is motion of a body swinging in a hammock. Yawing is the motion of an enthusiastic dog wagging its tail in one direction while the head goes in the other. I don't know that there is a word for the purely vertical motion when water drops from under the boat.. Ask an elevator repair man. When the wind and seas are up, Eaux Vives makes all these motions at once, much like a demented version of a bucking machine from a cowboy bar. The soundtrack is supplied mostly by the wind howling in the rigging and the splash of spray, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the flag trying to flap its stars off. You can hear the wind in the bimini and the merry tinkling of the ships bell from the salon. Occasionally, you hear a crash from below as when a kitchen device hurls itself across the room or the books fly from their shelves to the floor. We are having some great sailing.

From Antigua, we have been moving purposefully (for us) south to meet our new water heater-to-be in St. Lucia. While at rest in Antigua, we discovered that the water in the bilge is largely fresh. More inspection shed the light of suspicion on our somewhat suspiciously rusty water heater. We did a serious search of Antigua for a replacement. Our hero, Ian Cowan of Island Waterworld in St. Lucia (who is in serious competition for the nicest person in the island chain) responded promptly to our email query with the welcome news that he had an exact replacement sitting in his duty free shop in Rodney Bay Marina. We had seen all there was to see of Antigua and our friends on Kia Orana were getting itchy feet and so we began moving purposely south with all due aimlessness. Kia Orana is a fast cat. Not big, but with a lot of sail and a good size keel. They don't like the crashing and banging of a heavy cat in seas and so deliberately use up their excess water and fuel to lighten the boat for passages. Not wanting to come in second in a two boat race (combined with natural lack of desire to belly up to the fuel dock) led us out of Falmouth early in the morning and out to sea with little tank water (but plenty of drinking water). We came in DFL to the northern side of Guadeloupe after a rollicking sail (see above). Kia Orana was insouciantly snorkeling the reef while we came picking our way in through the reefs at the northern end about a half hour late. Our ego was somewhat salvaged by the admission that they had been motor sailing while we beat to windward but we were again humbled when we had to yield leadership through the shoals to their <2 foot draft.

Guadeloupe is butterfly shaped. I told you this before. We sailed and motored down the lee, western side with Hansrudi last year. Remember: Deshais, botanical garden, big winds? We sailed up the eastern, windward side on our way north earlier this year. Marie Galante, spectacular blow hole, big winds? (There will be a quiz at the end and it counts for 1/2 your grade). There remained only one unexplored route past Guadaloupe: through the narrow and shallow waist. Kia Orana has its depth sounder mounted on the starboard hull, so the watchword was: follow the hull on the right! Snaking in through the reefs and shoals, we hugged the right side of their wake clearing the thinnest water by mear 6" under the keel. Our goal: take a mooring at the first bridge on the Riviere Salee before dark to be ready for the 4:30am bridge opening. Just before dusk we arrived at the impressive draw bridge linking the east and west wings of the butterfly. The Riviere Salee is not so much a Riviere as it is a mangrove swamp with a strong tidal current. We reconnoitered by dinghy. Mangroves. Egrets. Water. No-see-ums. I hope I will not be betraying a French state secret to the terrorists when I mention that the jets landing overhead could be brought down by a good fast ball (or , failing that, a sling shot). Not the nicest place to spend the night, but better than trying to avoid going aground in the dark while approaching from nicer anchorages. Snaking in among the mangroves in the early morning dark reminded me strongly of the first computer game I ever played. "you are in a maze of twisty passages". Mangrove shadows look like shore and visa versa. In some weird optical illusion, I read the brightly lit passage through the second bridge in reverse. Like the Escher drawings of stairs, I saw a zig when it was a zag. Nearly blinded by the contrast between the moonless, dark mangrove swamp and the flood lit bridge - a quick second jog to the right - and we were out on the Pointe a Pitre side of Guadeloupe, unable to see a thing. Fortunately, Kia Orana had marked the location of the southern moorings on their GPS and we were able to hook up to one to await sunrise. The large awkward buoys were nearly invisible in the dark. Captain and Admirable were too jangled to sleep and enjoyed a lovely sunrise over the unlovely town of Pointe a Pitre
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We found a lovely anchorage behind the reef at the Click for a journal entry listentrance where we discovered a regular community of cruisers and met Dennis and Arlene on Tiger Lily II. In a former life, Dennis was a meteorologist. He is also the inventor of the "Happy Whale" (see picture) which we hope to recreate. It is a less back breaking way of getting water aboard from the dinghy than lugging 5 gal jerry cans. Of more immediate interest, he arranged private weather lessons for us and Kia Orana. We get a variety of weather forecasts but have had a great deal of trouble understanding them, let alone relating them to actual wind and waves around us. Now, with the help of Tiger Lily II, the topic seems a little less dim. The weather is of great interest to those of us who basically live in it.. A typical weather report will say: "south of 15 north and west of 65 west winds will be 20-25 knots in 4-6ft seas, elsewhere 10-15 knots from the east with seas of 3-4 ft seas". We are elsewhere. You then go out and discover it is blowing 25+ knots and the seas give new meaning to the words "rock and roll". We now know the all purpose reasonr: "local affects". The winds and waves whip around islands accelerating as they go. The islands make their own weather and typically have clouds over their peaks and streaming off to leeward. These same peaks can cause Katabatic winds where cold air comes rushing down the mountain as the mountains cool faster than the sea. Currents heap seas in short steep waves which further mound up as they reach the shoals surrounding the islands or as they squeezed through a passage between islands. "Local effects" are sort of like "macro economic effects". You are broke but the economy is doing great.

The marina at Pointe a Pitre is a zoo. Strong "local effect" winds blow across the docks. Stern ties, even at the fuel dock. Water not available- move the boat just a few slots down from the fuel dock for water. This requires a delicate cross wind maneuver around an expensive looking megayacht. Standing there for 1/2 hour, I witnessed two collisions as the big charter cats tried to maneuver around enormous yachts while, little weekend motor boat rentals scoot in to buy a few gallons. Much French at high volume. Much gesticulating. Being American, we do not share the gallic sense of appropriate distance between hulls and are not equipped with bow thrusters, line handlers and a French vocabulary sufficient to the purpose.Traveling light in Eaux Vives looked most attractive. We dinghied in and bought 20 gallons of water for 1 Euro and went on short water rations.

The trip to Isles des Saintes was marked by a spectacular breaching whale and brisk winds all the way. Kia Orana caught up with us and passed us, but not by much. We were both in at anchor at nearly the same time. When the time came to leave the Saintes, Eaux Vives decided to head out a little early. Wanting to uphold the dignity of the monohull and lulled by the quiet light winds in the lee of Isle a Cabrit, we set out a little before Kia Orana with full main. They had given us a waypoint for a narrow channel out of the Saintes which would save some distance in the trip to Dominica. A leisurely 5 knot promenade was suddenly a thrilling E-ticket ride as the local effect winds whipped around the corner. We shot the channel at 7 1/2 knots in strong gusts like a champagne cork out of the bottle. We had a thrilling time dodging the fish traps the locals have placed in the shoals around the little cays surrounding the cut. Reefing is the process of shortening sail so the boat doesn't lean on its ear and exhibit a strong desire to roll up into the wind uncontrollably. We reefed. Neck and neck, we raced across to Dominica under single reef bouncing and playing our music to mask the crashing sounds from below. Approaching Dominica, acceleration produced 37 knot winds true as measured by Kia Orana. We never saw less than 20 knots on the way down here except in the lee of Dominica. In the lee of Dominica, the winds were from the west during the day as a light sea breeze would flow from the relatively cool sea as the land heats up. At night, little or no wind. We left Dominica expecting a slow sail under these light sea breezes down to Roseau at the southern tip. We got our slow sail but didn't stop at Roseau. 20 knot winds from the _south east_ suddenly came careening around the corner of Dominica just north of Roseau and we were off like a scalded cat. Screaming down to Martinique, we pulled into St. Pierre just before dark having completed two legs of the 55 mile journey in 10 hours anchor up to anchor down. Martinique's lee shore didn't seem to work the same as Dominica's. The south east winds curled up along the coast and we were sailing into strong headwinds all the way to Forte de France.

Today was the final leg, from Fort de France, Martinique to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. Winds 20 knots, seas 6-8ft. Big, BIG fun. It is fully engaging,, threading through waves like a video game player while admiring the tropic bird struggling to raise its long tail from the water as it takes off. Gaggles of flying fish shining silver like sea spray as they fly away from our plunging bow. One eye is on the sparkling emerald of the sun through the curl at the top of the breaking seas, while the other searches for a path around and through the heaping seas. Crashing, splashing and surfing on a close reach touching 10 knots and averaging over 6 all the way. Elsewhere, where the weather service lives, it is 10-15 knots in seas of 3-4 ft. Local effects: Eaux Vives. And all the water we need to wash the salt off!

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