Grenada to Culebra passage
Grenada St George St Georges
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The engine was on at 0710, and by 0825 we were sailing on a close reach with full main and genoa on a course of 352. Half an hour later, we put a reef in the main for an apparent wind of 25 knots. Barry put out a fishing line on the hand reel, and we dragged the lure behind us, occasionally checking the bungee cord or looking back to see if we had a fish. At noon, I reefed the genoa for an apparent wind of 30 knots and noticed that the fishing line was a matted snarl of loops around the lifeline. It must have been a pretty big fish to break our 80-pound test line, and probably one that we didn't want in our boat anyway! By 1400 we started to see rain clouds to the east, and soon we were in foul weather gear, harnesses and tethers. The flexible solar panel on the bimini was trying to take off like a kite in 30 knots of wind, and I was worried about chafe, so Barry took it down by untying the leeward lines and pulling it into the cockpit from the windward side. We decided to run the generator every 6 hours to keep up with the demands from the autopilot and the refrigeration, and the Link Lite told us we were really only using the top 75% of our battery capacity.
The rain finally caught up with us just after 1600, and by then we were grateful for a freshwater rinse. There is a two-foot gap between Gaiamar's wind screen and the bimini, which allowed saltwater spray to douse us in the cockpit every few minutes. With the rain came a 30 degree wind shift, in the wrong direction, so we were only able to make a course of 325. I put the autopilot on wind vane mode, which would follow the wind shifts. The wind dropped to less than 20 knots, and with the full genoa and a reef in the main, Gaiamar was sailing happily along at 8 knots. Barry cooked a one-pot meal in the pressure cooker, held in place on the stove with pot-holders. There was enough chicken paprika left over for several meals later in the passage, which we heated up in the microwave when we were running the generator to charge the batteries. Since we decided to run it every 6 hours or so, it was easy to schedule the battery charging sessions to coincide with meal times.
After dinner the wind shifted and we were now able to sail above our course. We continued on wind vane mode, but increased the wind angle slightly. I thought it would be a good idea to be a little east of our rhumb line to our waypoint on the east side of St. Croix in case we experienced a wind shift as we got closer, and at one point our cross track error was over 5 nm. We took 2 hour watches through the night and tried to sleep during the off-watch time. I was unable to sleep at first due to the squeak-squeak-squeak of the autopilot behind the bulkhead at the head of the bed, the motion of the boat sloshing the organs around inside my body and threatening to roll me out of bed. Then, during my second off-watch of the night I wedged myself into the settee on the leeward side of the centerline bed in the aft cabin, and now I was one with the boat. I slept soundly for nearly two hours until Barry woke me for my watch. By 0800 on the second day of our passage we had covered 150 nautical miles, and the wind was now a pleasant 18-22 knots from the east. The sun was shining with not a cloud in the sky. We were visited by dolphins dancing in our bow wake. Now THIS is what I imagine when I think of a Caribbean passage. My entry into the logbook for the first day of our passage reads, “Day 1=miserable, cold, rainy, windy up to 37k.” That about sums it up! I was grateful to the wind gods for flattening out the seas and reducing the wind velocity, and the pleasant conditions persisted through the rest of the passage.
When I took over the watch from Barry at 2200 he reported the wind was east at 15-20, but with an occasional gust to 22. I watched the wind increase so it was now consistently over 20 knots. I put a reef in the main sail, very easy to do from the cockpit with the single line reefing system. I like to keep the autopilot happy and try to keep the weather helm to a minimum. Venus was very bright in the western sky and there was no moon. I was mesmerized by the bioluminescence off the beam as we sliced through the water. The Southern Cross was low on the horizon off our stern, and as the night progressed I was certain of my identification as Alpha and Beta Centuri, the “pointer stars,” rose above the horizon. I was feeling good after a nearly five hour nap in the afternoon, so I let Barry sleep for 4 hours. Just before I went off watch at 0200, I reefed the genoa for apparent wind up to 27 knots, and Barry didn't even wake up when the sail was luffing.
Our 24-hour run on day two was a very respectable 140 nm. We had already covered nearly two-thirds of the distance from Grenada to our destination of Culebra. The wind was a very pleasant E to ENE at 10-18 knots, and there were just a few white puffy fair weather clouds in the sky. Barry had the afternoon watch while I was sleeping and when I took over just before 1800 he reported that we had lost all of our easting and now our course was going to put us in the middle of St. Croix, just 40 miles ahead. I set a new waypoint to the west side of St. Croix which allowed us to sail off the wind and increased our speed slightly. Just before sunset I was startled by a small shore bird, apparently exhausted, that flew over the cockpit and landed on the aft deck. His feathers were ruffled by the wind, and he looked like he was going to topple over any minute. He flew up to the foredeck and perched on the bow pulpit for a moment before he disappeared under the dinghy. I had just read an article about shore birds who get disoriented and blown out to see. Most of them don't survive and the best thing you can do for them is offer them some fresh water. We put a bowl of water at the base of the mast, and hoped the bird would survive the night.
The next morning the bird emerged from underneath the dinghy, apparently revived after his night of rest and fresh water. He flew into the cabin and three times he flew into the overhead hatch, which was closed. I thought he probably had never seen glass before, so I opened the hatch and he flew out. When I took over the watch from Barry at 0700, he gave me a handful of Cheerios to feed to the bird, which by now Barry had named “Popeye the Sailing Bird.” Popeye was flying all over the boat, chirping happily and when he discovered the Cheerios, he promptly ate five of them! It was amusing to watch him spear the oat circle with his beak, toss is around, and finally break off a chunk that he devoured eagerly. When we were abeam of Vieques, Popeye took off toward shore, nearly 5 miles downwind. We bade him farewell, and were glad that he could find respite on our moving island in the sea. A short time later, Popeye flew back to Gaiamar! This time he stayed with us until we were in the entrance channel to Culebra, and then he flew off when shore was just ¼ mile away. I guess he wanted to go to Culebra and not Vieques after all. That bird has good taste in islands!
The wind died as we approached Culebra and with 10 miles to go we were making less than 3 knots. We had covered 137 miles in 24 hours on the third day of our passage, and had logged a total of 440 miles all under sail. Now that we could see our destination, we came down with a case of “get-there-itis” and turned on the engine for the last two hours. By 1330 we had set the anchor off the Town Dock in Ensenada Honda, and just turned the engine off when we saw an approaching dinghy. It was the crew of Borealis coming to welcome us to Culebra as they had just arrived the previous day after spending some time in St Croix on the way from Grenada. That's what cruising is all about, and we were glad to be back in Culebra.