Whales off Silver Bank

The last five weeks we’ve been cruising the remote islands of the southern Bahamas, and internet access has been scarcer than fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, anchored in the bustling harbor at Georgetown, Great Exuma, we have gorged on cabbage and cheeseburgers, restocked the freezer, and refilled the propane and scuba tanks. And, with free Wifi at the local sailors’ bar, we can finally update the blog.

First, we’ve compiled a video of our three-day sail from Culebrita, east of Puerto Rico, to Cockburn Town in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The trip was easy, relaxing, and entirely downwind – an absolute first for Strider! The highlight was sighting a pack of humpback whales just north off Silver Bank. We’ve seen whales at play in the Gulf of Maine, and it’s always majestic. But we felt something extra special about this encounter hundreds of miles to sea – just the humpbacks and us.


Some of you might be interested in how a short-handed cruising family handles downwind passages. First, let’s talk sail plan.  In the video you can see our preventer rigged to “prevent” accidental jibes. The mainsail is heavily reefed, not so much because of strong winds but because night watches are more relaxing when you’re already prepared for squalls. You can see the jib poled out to windward, with a topping lift, foreguy, and afterguy, in addition to the sheets. These are so the pole remains secure – whatever the sea state – if we furl the jib partially or completely.

For pure downwind sailing we can drop the main and use twin headsails – for example, the gennaker and the jib on the pole to windward, like this:

Light Air Downwind

Light Air Downwind

More commonly, we broad reach with the jib sheet on a barber hauler. In this video we’re making 8.5 knots in 23-25 knots breeze on the Caicos Banks, using only the jib:


In short, our downwind sail configuration is driven by the sea state as the much as the winds. Think you can use an asymmetrical spinnaker without a pole while running downwind in 12 knots of breeze? Not if there’s an 8-foot swell on your stern quarter. You’ll want to choose the cloth, and a point of sail, that keep your sails from flogging themselves to death, with an allowance for the occasional rain squall that brings an extra 5-10 knots of breeze followed by 10-20 minutes of light air.

The goal is a balance between performance and comfort, allowing the crew to rest while Strider keeps on trucking, kind of like this:


Coming soon: exploring the remote islands of the southern Bahamas…


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