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Thursday, June13th, 2002
Passage from Montserrat to Guadeloupe

After some discussion, we've decided to skip some islands so we can stay longer at those we visit and not feel so rushed to power through them all. The next island to the south of Montserrat would be Guadeloupe, a rather large French island. Curt isn't a big fan of the French in the first place, and being such a big island- it would take more time than we have to see much of it anyway. We agreed to get an early start from Montserrat to try to make landfall as far south as we can before dark the next day… ideally in a little group of islands called, Iles de Saints, or "the Saints".

We wake at 4am to a torrential downpour and it's still jet black outside. Curt feels we should still pick up anchor and move-on. I wouldn't have minded either the dark or the rain separately, but together I felt we should just wait bit and see how things shape up. In my mind there was no need to put ourselves in an unsafe (or even just un-fun) situation for absolutely no reason at all. He relented and we waited until the first sign of light before heading out. The rain had let up by then as well.

The harbor was filled with a dense fog and the water was as smooth as a plate glass window. We donned our wet weather gear, poured ourselves a couple of cups of coffee and motored out. My eyes were still puffy with sleep and my bed-head hair wouldn't stay put under my ball cap. As the lush green northern side of the island slipped past the port side of Force Five and we moved closer to the gray ash covered south side, we could see a wall of weather ahead. It was a bit surreal really. Like foreshadowing in a scary movie, the island's landscape faded from emerald to gray as the air grew dense with fog. The wind picked up and the fog turned to rain.

I've settled into a perch on Force Five where I spend most of our hours at sea. Like a cat with a favorite windowsill, I always find myself sitting where the deck slopes to meet the cockpit, just under the bimini (or sunshade) on the windwardside of the boat. From here, I can see the ocean ahead, as well as trim the sheets (ropes that control the sails). If the weather's fair, I lose myself in a book and the soft rhythm of the ocean- unconsciously swaying back and forth with the surge of the swells. If it's rough, I cling to the handrail around the bimini being doused with ocean spray. Like a wet cat, I can feel my eyes grow as big as saucers while I search the horizon for signs of what's ahead.

We've learned that the winds always seem to scream as we pass the southern part side of any island, and Montserrat was no different. The further we slipped away from land, the higher the swells grew and the winds began to surge. I know I have a way of looking at Curt that pleads for insight when I start to get worried, though I try as hard as I can not to let the words actually come out of my mouth. Today, I sat on my perch, and with a contrived nonchalance asked him, "So, these swells sure seem kinda big, huh?" As the words came out, I knew they sounded like badly written dialogue in a "B" grade movie. I don't know if Curt could see it, but he responded with a similarly contrived seeming response of, "Eh, I guess kinda," followed by a light whistling of some unknown tune that I'm sure was intended to placate me. It worked only mildly.

Nonetheless, I remained at my perch, painfully assessing each and every approaching swell to see if it's the one that will do us in. If it appears it could be, I shoot my glance over to Curt to look for signs of worry in his face. But he always seems to be whistling while staring off at the horizon or down at his GPS… all of which rouse an urge in me to strangle him. But then the killer wave and therefore, the moment, passes and the team of Curt and Force Five just keeps chugging along- climbing and falling off hundreds of swells along our voyage. And eventually, the hours pass and without me even noticing when it changes, we're back in idyllic, charter boat ad conditions.

Dusk was approaching when we decided to call it a day. I had done my homework on potential anchorages, and was pleased to find us at the southern end of Guadeloupe outside an anchorage that had caught my eye… Anse a la Barque. It's a small and quaint little cove used by a fishing fleet and it has a white lighthouse at the northern headland. We had the whole thing to ourselves. The rocky passage had brought water into the boat, so I hung our sheets out on the bow to dry. No sooner had we settled in for dinner and the sun began to set, than another boat showed up. They were flying a Canadian flag. As if unannounced guest had stopped by, I scrambled up to the deck to take down our dirty laundry and make our little Force Five look presentable for our new neighbors.

Friday June 14th, 2002
Guadeloupe to the Saints

I've regressed to junior high school. We woke up to find that our neighbors had moved several hundred yards away from us sometime during the night. Strangely, I felt slightly wounded and wondered if perhaps it was something we'd unknowingly done to offend them.

We upped anchor early and headed south to clear-in to the country at Basseterre before heading on to the Saints- a group of islands owned by the island of Guadeloupe. As expected, when we past the southern tip of the island, a gust of wind hit our sail, pushing Force Five over on her side and the wind generator started screaming. From my perch I tried and tried to keep quiet and not bother Curt for answers and reassurances. I recalled that the other day he had said that while the swells had been big, they weren't breaking, so we were okay. So that'd become my barometer: Swells not breaking= we're okay. Swells breaking= we're not so good. Today the swells seemed hella bigger, closer together, and… were breaking. Wind was vacillating between fast and blazing. Gusts would surge, the wind generator would scream, and Force Five would strain over on her side, mast swooping closer and closer toward the ocean. At the same time, her bow would climb, and climb (and climb!) forever it seemed before it began to fall off the other side. I drew in more breath as she climbed, holding it until she fell off the other side. My chest would anticipate the plummet and bang in the trough of the swell, but sometimes she'd just gracefully slide down. Trying not to freak, in my best faux-fearless/contrived voice, I took a breath and asked, "Curt? Is there something we should be doing?" He wasn't whistling, but he wasn't pacing the decks either. "Well, I guess we could put a second reef in." By putting a reef in, you make the sail smaller and therefore have less mass up to be pushed around by the wind.

While Curt manned the helm, I got to work trimming the sails, glad to be doing something to keep busy as well as make the insanity stop. I popped the main sail halyard and began to crank in on the second reef, pulling the sail down into a smaller triangle. When it was almost all in, I clamped down the main halyard again and strained to put a few final cranks in on the reef to tighten the luff of the sail. Even with the wind, I was sweating like crazy and swells were tossing me around. I thought of the bruises I'd find tomorrow morning. I then had to move the block forward on the tracks along the deck before we could pull in some of the jib, which meant crawling forward toward the bow. On all fours, I made my way up the side of the boat and grappled with the block while the wind battered the front sail and the sheets whipped all about, making my task just that much harder. A big swell knocked me on my derriere, but not off the boat: another bruise as well as a reminder that I should probably have been wearing a harness.

The pain of anticipation that came with the oncoming seas only mildly subsided. The seas were still big. The wind was still gusting. I surveyed the horizon to find other signs that we really weren't in any danger… perhaps for other boats that were just taking it all-in in stride. At first all I could find was a catamaran behind us with all his sails fully reefed, motoring along: UP and down. UP and down. They fall into the path behind us, so it seems they're looking to follow our lead. Oy. Then, incredulously, I see a windsurfer. Clearly, it couldn't be that bad out if there's a human being on a little fiberglass board in the middle of these seas!

It wasn't long before we arrived, Curt deemed these islands a pirate's dream. I must agree. A group of four tiny islands (more or less anyway), the Saints are charming and whimsical with an idyllic Gallic charm. They feel a bit like they should be explored by paddleboat, with cotton candy in one hand- as if you're on a ride at Disneyland. I blinked to make sure it was not my imagination that drew dozens of flying fish darting across our bow or white butterflies flickering across the coastline. As the seas subsided, we assessed the lay of the land and found a cove on one of the smaller land masses, Ilet a Cabrit, and tucked Force Five safely away. A handful of old fishing boats lay in front of us seemingly forgotten… but they also seemed to deserving of the rest. A small dock poked out from a sliver of rocky beach. And peeking out from atop the lush forest were the ruins of Fort Josephine (as in Josephine Bonaparte- Napolean's wife). Two other boats lay at starboard, quietly rocking in the wake of passing fishing and ferry boats.

As Force Five came to lie quietly at anchor while the sun set, I had a long and deep sigh. The small silhouettes of some fishing boats swayed a hundred yards away in front of the horizon. A snorkel bobbed along the surface in front of our boat. I didn't know there were crickets in the Caribbean, but I heard them that late afternoon. I duly noted that my mind could so easily slip into the trance of their music, having completely forgotten about the scary seas we'd just left behind.

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