compass rose

 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Caribbean Winds and Seas - didactic news from the captain and crew of Eaux Vives
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.
March 6 , 2006: Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
As you sit to read this, you are spinning really, really fast to the east. How fast? Well, consider it is really, really a long way around the earth. The earth does a complete turn in 24 hours. A really, really long way divided by 24 is a lot of miles per hour. Ready for another bulletin from the front? At the equator (or hereabouts), the sun shines really, really hot. Not that pitiful weakling of a sun you get in Sweden which barely rouses itself above the horizon and casts long, Bergmanesque shadows through the birch trees and makes for pale, sun-starved locals. No mon, this sun beats directly down on your head where it can be felt like a physical pressure on exposed skin and leaves all the inhabitants who survive various shades of chocolate. Actually, this latter effect is kind of weird. You'd think Africans would be shiny, like tinfoil to reflect this intense sunlight and Swedes would be coal black to soak up what little sun they get; God works in mysterious ways.

So, it's hot at the equator. Hot air rises. Colder air comes down from the north to replace it. The rising hot air gives up its heat and falls again in a big loop. Air: up at the equator, north at high altitudes, down, south along the surface and then up at the equator again. Actually there are a series of three loops in northern hemisphere which move, like a little train of conveyor belts, some of that excessive heat from the equator to the north. The big heat movers are found in the huge rivers of hot water that move north and keep Norway habitable and corresponding south rivers of cold water that keep San Francisco foggy. Left over heat is moved north by hurricanes so be happy you are on the return side of the loop.

What does this have to do with your intrepid travelers (of whom you have long expected news?) We are on the surface of the earth at the delivery side of the loop where a river of cooler air moves south. The eastward movement of the earth bends that flow to the west (in the northern hemisphere) and voila! the Trade Winds: a perpetual breeze blowing from the North East. I know you are visualizing a light breeze moving the fronds of the palms but out on the water it's a little stronger than that: more like the wind you feel if you stick your head out the window while driving down Hillegass Ave. going the speed limit. What we have been experiencing are "enhanced" trade winds. More like sticking your head out the window crossing the Bay Bridge. The variance in the wind is due to the "pressure gradient". High pressure areas park themselves to the north of us and there is a nearly permanent "Columbian low" to the south of us. The basic flow is kicked up a notch by the pressure difference between 10 and 20 degrees north (a number I follow carefully). If that number is 6 millibars or higher, we will have "fresh" trade winds with "moderate to strong flow at the surface level" or, in the vernacular: "it blows like stink." Why stink? cf. God, mysterious ways.

When last we left you, we were hanging out in Grenada which is at the southern end of the island chain. We are running out of French provisions and the French Antilles are to the north east. Into the wind. Into the waves, the wind kicks up. The trick to "easting" is to wait for a "weather window". Such windows "open" when a low associated with storms in the southeastern US blows down from the north and pushes the high away. Or blocks it. Hereabouts a falling barometer is a good thing: it portends lighter winds bent more to the east (or if we are really lucky, a little south of east). There had been endless storms in the north Atlantic and no let up from the wind for quite a while. When the seas started to calm down a bit (but apparently a little before the winds died), we took a dash up to Bequia from the southern end of Grenada. We went around the corner into St. George's from Hog Island to anchor in front of Island Water World where we picked up a new Kobra anchor. It is a variant of the Delta anchor, basically a plough with a very heavily weighted tip and broadly spreading ends. We read about this anchor in a German yachting magazine given to us by Marou last year. 'Alles ueber Ankern' was a thoroughly Teutonic investigation of all the popular anchors with numbers and graphs showing that this one is the best. We measured and it fit the bow rollers. The captain sleeps better a night. When the fore mentioned winds are whistling in the rigging and the boat is bobbing and pulling at the chain like a pony saddled for the first time pulls at its bridles, that little bit of metal is all that lies between yourself and Honduras. To sleep at night, one must have faith.
click for next column>>

Things still went well as we moved up the west (lee) coast of Grenada a little to spend the night in and early the next day, set sail for Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou. Carriacou is still part of the country of Grenada but a smaller island to the northeast. Things went well in the lee of Grenada and the first leg was a lovely sail. The second day was marked by an increasingly strong south flowing current. When we got into the channel between the islands, we tried to do our easting and got pushed around by the currents pretty well. We ended up passing right through the small group of islands in the channel between Carriacou and Grenada and did a lot of motor sailing to make it into Tyrrel Bay before the sun went down. Average speed over ground 4.4 knots for over 38 miles. We would have slept with any anchor. We hung out in Tyrrel Bay while listening to the typical radio dramas of charter boats in windy days. We have our new hatches installed and so did not mind the regular rains as it no longer drips on my bunk nor in the forward head. We were ready to go and took the next somewhat marginal weather window up to Bequia however thinking we could get a nice leisurely start in the late morning, sail over to Chatham Bay on Union (about 10 miles) and leave from there early the next day. Passing Chatham Bay, we were sailing fast in fresh breezes and thought we'd just continue on. We should have stopped at Canouan but it is notoriously windy in any but the lightest trades and so we pressed on. The last two and one half hours were directly into the winds and chop with a wavelength not much longer than the boat. The boat would just drive right into the wave in front and green water would pour along the deck and spray all over us. With all the pounding, the captain is certain that something will break and with no dodger the captain is failing to find the humor in the joke comparing sailing to standing in the shower tearing up hundred dollar bills.

Sure enough, on arrival in Bequia, the alternator would not charge our batteries. There is also an interlock which insures that the compressor for the refrigerator will not work unless the alternator is working. We took the Bequia ferry to Kingstown on the "mainland" of St. Vincent and then the dollar bus out to an unmarked workshop in the country. Verrol of Nichols Marine seems to do all the starter motors and alternators for several islands and fixed it by tightening up some internal connectors "No charge." This was our first sign that our luck was changing. We took the 1:00pm ferry back to Bequia, installed the alternator and all was good at the nominal cost of a round trip ferry ride and wildly entertaining dollar bus. The next window opened wide and long and the sail up to St. Lucia was so nice we wanted to just keep going. The wind had backed slightly south of east and was blowing a very steady 15Kts. With the waves down, Eaux Vives was skating along smoothly averaging over 7.5 Kts for hour after hour. I wanted to keep on going to Martinique just because the sailing was so fun. 62 miles and we were in Marigot Bay before Customs closed. Such is the sailing life.

We are now at anchor at Pigeon Island in Rodney Bay. We went in to the St. Lucia Yacht club for their fabulous Sunday grilled fish lunch and found friends galore for dominos. We will pick up Betsy at the Vigie airport on Tuesday and wait for the next weather window to go north to Martinique. Why a window? They seem more like doors. Mysterious ways.

Back to top of entry Next journal entry
©2002-6 Accidental Cruiser Home Islands Photo Journal • Cruising LogSailing Info Viewer's Comments Comment