Yesterday was quite honestly one of those days where I say to myself, What the hell am I doing? Much like my return to sailing as retold in Second Shakedown Shenanigans. I’m sure other cruisers will agree that they’ve said the same more than once.
Cruising isn’t all lush green mountains, sandy beaches, and pina coladas. I really want to dispel that myth, but I also don’t want to discourage anyone from buying a sailboat and setting out! There’s that saying that sailing is 23 hours of terror followed by one hour of pure bliss. Pretty accurate yesterday.
It’s not that I’m ill-prepared, but is the juice worth the squeeze?
I was all set for an early departure from St. George’s, Grenada, to sail up to Carriacou for Carnival. The trip can be anywhere between 30-60 miles depending on how much tacking is required once north of Grenada to get a good line on Carriacou. The previous few days had little wind but yesterday was forecast for some southeasterly winds at 10-15 knots. Perfect for sailing up to Carriacou!
I started pulling up my anchor at 0700 only to find that the chain had wrapped itself around a rock. I couldn’t force it free from the boat, so I jumped in with my snorkel gear to check it out. As soon as I got down to the 20-foot depth I only had a few seconds to work on it before having to return to the surface, and it became hopeless. It was wedged in there!
I was left with only one option, and one I hate doing – asking for help. I got on the radio and asked for assistance and thankfully got an answer from David on Mistral. He came over with his snorkel gear and gave me some hand signals while I maneuvered the boat around the rock and we finally freed it! The anchor came up and I was on my way.
The next couple of hours were more or less perfect. I was flying the jib and mainsail making well over six knots, which is impressive in a 27-foot heavy-displacement cruiser. I knew rain showers were a possibility, especially given the weather the past few days, but that’s just one of those things you have to deal with down here.
The thing about squalls is that you don’t really know what they’ll bring. I’ve been in squalls where the wind speed more than doubled and have also been hit by squalls that have left me becalmed until they passed. There’s really no way of knowing until it happens.
Well, the showers that hit once I was on the north side of Grenada were the strong kind. The 10-15 knot forecast turned into 30 knots gusting to 40. And they kicked up one hell of a “Caribbean Chop”. This passage can be notorious for it.
Caribbean Chop is that wave pattern that I really hate. Six-foot breaking waves really aren’t much of a problem but when they’re all within 1-2 seconds of the previous one, it makes for prime white-knuckle conditions. The bow will get knocked over by the first wave, and before you can get it back upwind, the next wave comes and breaks over the side of the boat, dunking the leeward side of the cabintop under water. At that point you’re well past 45 degrees on your side, grabbing on to things to hold on to in the slick conditions. And all that time crawling back and forth tending to sails. But it also overwhelmed my self-steering gear and so I was left to tend the helm by hand. And where did all these blood stains on the bulkheads come from? This went on for almost four hours…
So much for a nice leisurely sail up to Carriacou, forgoing lunch and bathroom breaks. Sorry I was too preoccupied to set up the GoPro!
Fortunately I was just barely able to make it up to Carriacou on one tack. Life would have sucked immensely more if I had to make a few tacks through this.
Just when you’re feeling at your worst, you finally arrive in the lee of the island and the chop subsides. The sun burns a hole through the clouds and illuminates nothing but the anchorage you’re heading to a few miles away with a nice warm yellow glow, beckoning you to continue on. You set the anchor, tidy up the boat, and take a shower to scrub away all the salt implanted in your skin from the force of the spray. This all just in time to grab a glass of rum and sit in the cockpit to watch this.
And all is good in the world again.
Have you ever felt this way too?
Post script: it saddens me to report that one girl is confirmed dead and six are still missing, lost to the same storm when their vessel was swamped. They were locals on their way to Carriacou to enjoy Carnival as well.