A Brisk Passage

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Megan and I enjoy some sweet sailing.

Just before sunset on March 2nd we hoisted anchor and set sail from Prickly Bay, Grenada. St. Martin lay 380 nautical miles north, or two-and-half days sailing on a close reach. While the kids and I slept,  Blaire took the first night watch, and at 2330 she was treated to a squall with 32 knots and heavy rain.  She called me on deck, and together we took a third reef. I assumed watch, spending the first two hours of my birthday soaking wet and huddled behind the dodger as the rain continued and the wind blew 25-30 knots. I actually relished the novelty of shivering, as I hadn’t felt cold in many months. Blaire and continued with two-hour, watches, and by sunrise we were 30nm west of Bequia. Owen and Megan slept peacefully. The seas were steep and lumpy because the northwest-bound equatorial current was cutting across the wind and waves, but Strider moved at 6.5 – 7.5 knots while Owen and Megan slept peacefully in their bunks.

For the next two days we sailed straight for St. Martin on a close reach.  We used a triple-reefed main with full jib during the day, when winds ranged from 22-28 knots, and we swapped the jib for the staysail during the nights and early mornings, when the breeze blew in the high 20s with squalls of 30-34 knots. As the squalls approached we raised the centerboard, allowing Strider to slide to leeward during the stronger gusts. With seas running ten feet we met an occasional set of fifteen footers, and passing the Statia-Saba channel Strider leapt over a set 20 foot walls. Ironically, it was not the primary swell that was uncomfortable but the secondary, current-driven chop that made the ride uneven.

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Megan and Owen found that the center berth, directly over the centerboard, offered a comfortable motion in lumpy seas.

They say a good boat can handle the elements better than the crew, and we did grow tired of the unrelenting heel and lumpy seas. Still, it was a “good tired.”  By the third day Blaire and I were able to sleep long and deeply in our births, and we switched to longer watches. Meanwhile, Owen and Megan handled the passage like true “Salty Dogs.”  The took care of themselves, eating and drinking fluids, and they moved carefully about the boat, clipping into their tethers before climbing the companionway to visit Blaire or me in the cockpit. I won’t pretend the passage was fun for them, but they never complained, and they finished with a real sense of accomplishment. I was proud of them both.

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The porpoises seemed animated by the brisk conditions, leaping clear of the water (but eluding our camera).

We will keep a few memories from this passage. On the second day we were visited by a pod of fifteen, leaping Atlantic porpoises. We celebrated my birthday in the cockpit, opening presents and guessing the flavors of jelly bellies, a pleasure which somehow proclaimed our defiance of the elements. During the second night Blaire was startled by the strong smell of diesel exhaust, and she strained to see into the darkness, thinking that a container ship was about to smite us.  Instead, she was able to discern a cutter-like vessel, lights out, circling Strider at less than a hundred meters. She could see the silhouettes of gun mounts, and red night lights inside the bridge, but they neither showed navigation lights nor hailed us before moving away.  The next morning we were visited by a Dauphin helicopter from the French Navy. They made a low pass down the port side then pitched around to hover 100 feet off our stern, taking photographs. I was not concerned, having made plenty of low passes in my own Navy days, and I gave them a friendly wave. No doubt our position 80nm west of Martinique fit the profile of a drug runner more than a typical cruising boat.

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Alchemy and crew: Barrie, Sarah, Peter, Simon, and Andrew North.

Sailing into Marigot Bay at 1000 on March 5th, we achieved our goal for this passage: reuniting with the Norths, friends whom we had not seen since Dominica. We anchored directly to windward of Alchemy, and Owen and Megan joyfully reunited with Peter, Simon, and Andrew. Blaire and I stowed our gear, took showers, and enjoyed a cold beer, not necessarily in that order, and then we enjoyed some quality time with Barrie and Sarah. Strider and Alchemy have sailed in company since then, making our way from St. Martin to Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and St. John.

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