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Doing That Thing We Needed to Do: Twenty-four Hours to Bequia

It was something we wanted to do, something we knew we would have to eventually tackle. All of our other sailing friends did it, and for many of them, it was simply a tool in their sailor’s toolbox. But after enjoying Martinique for almost three months, we felt rusty. We debated our sail plan south: Should we stop in St. Lucia, then St. Vincent, on the way to Bequia? Or should we do that thing that we needed to do: an overnight, nonstop passage.

When we set out sailing almost a year ago, our mantra was simple: Day sails between islands, with land always in sight. It was a good mantra. The Windward Islands offered shadowing in their lees, sporty sails in their inter-island channels. We would have our hands full just negotiating that.

But as happens, we got to know more sailors, and as we began to sail, we got to know more sailing. Many people said to us, “We just went. Pointed the boat, held course for three days, and we were there.” Grenada to Curacao. St. Martin to Grenada. The Virgin Islands to Martinique. They were talking about passages, multi-day sails in open water to get from A to E without stopping at B, C, and D. We listened and learned.

When it was time to leave Martinique, we debated stopping in St. Lucia. But the cost and hassle of Covid testing put us off. Why not just sail directly to Bequia, 92 nautical miles away? If we knew we could average 6 knots, we could do it in a 15-hour day, but that would mean departing at 0300 and arriving at 1800. And in sailing, there are no guaranteed speeds. The Wind Gods and your own sailing acumen dictate your speed.

Then what about an overnight? It was possible for us now because we knew our strengths and the boat’s limitations. Winds would be behind us, or just up on the beam, and seas were forecast to be manageable, especially when following. So we said goodbye to our beloved Ste. Anne at 0700 on a fine Wednesday morning and started sailing south.

The sail began with excellent weather and seas pushing us along a little faster than we wanted. If we were going to arrive in Bequia in 24 hours (which would give us a 4-knot average speed), we had to back off the 7+ knots we were seeing. But we also knew that the Wind Gods were fickle creatures, taking away as much as they gave, and we had a sporty sail down St. Lucia, keeping well offshore, in good winds. In the late afternoon we were visited by a pod of dolphins and treated to a lovely sunset. We snacked and stayed hydrated, and generally enjoyed the sail. We had tentatively given ourselves permission to bail out of the sail once we reached the Pitons at the southern end of St. Lucia. But with the sun setting and St. Vincent clearly visible, we thought nothing of committing to the full sail.

And then…BOOM. That is the only way to describe the winds in the channel between St. Lucia and St. Vincent: BOOM. We were suddenly on a beam reach in 20+ knots of wind with much bigger seas slapping our portside. We scrambled to reef the sails and held on. We were flying, making…2.9 knots of SOG (speed over ground). How could that be? The answer was the current. We found ourselves fighting 3 knots of current, pushing us eastward, into the wind, cutting us down. The 7-8 knots we saw earlier now seemed a dream.

Before dark, the current, heading, winds, and SOG resolved themselves and we settled into 5+ knots. But the seas came at us like cold grinding grizzly bear jaws, hurtling themselves against our tiny cabin door: KA-thump, KA-thump, KA-thump in the dark against the port hull. “Let them in!” screamed the wind, still showing us over 20 knots, occasionally insulting us with facefulls of salt spray. We were happy for the darkness so that we could not see the wave height, but Camino held the course.

Then: silence. As soon as we slipped into the lee of St. Vincent, we were becalmed. The lights from the villages reflected off a glassy pond, and the seas lapped gently around the waterline, little puppies looking for attention. The sails flogged. We should have made for more offshore sailing, but now there was nothing to do but light up the motor and putt along at 4.5 knots for the next few hours. It gave us chance to rest, for it was now close to midnight. We took turns napping, knowing that another channel crossing awaited us.

The Bequia channel did not disappoint, and soon we were back in the company of howling winds churning smokestack lighting into malevolent roosters. Back to KA-thump, KA-thump, KA-thump. Back to holding on. Back to salty faces. But the tenor of this racket was different; there was a lightening in the eastern sky, and though we were still taking salt chops abeam, the cadence of the waves diminished. And then there it was: the flashing white light marking Devil’s Table Reef at the the channel into Admiralty Bay.

As we headed in under power, the weather wasn’t finished with us, dousing us with a cleansing downpour that desalinated much of Camino. We glided into a familiar anchorage at 0600, 23 hours after leaving Martinique. The hook went down and splashed in deep sand underwater, the flukes digging in, burying the spine. The chain paid out, came taught, held fast, and we were arrived.

We looked around. We were here and happy and a little tired but smiling. The boat was in good shape. The clouds cleared. And we had completed our first overnight passage.

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