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August 26, 2002
A Magical Passage from Grenada to Tobago

As we pulled away from Grenada under an overcast and drizzly sky, we had to dodge pallets and logs and all sorts of other refuse that the passing weather had stirred up last night. I was still slightly skeptical about our decision to leave so soon on the tails of a tropical depression, but Curt and I had reasoned that perhaps we'd have favorable winds to carry us over to the out of the way island. The last overnight passage we'd made hadn't gone so well (that fateful one from the Saints to Martinique), and so I had a lingering sense of foreboding about this one as well. But I also knew that while making our way this far south, I had actually learned to sail along the way- something I seem to overlook until Curt reminds me. When I think of what I knew when we started versus the overwhelming amount I've learned up until now… it surprises me as if I'm standing outside my own body and looking at someone I don't know. Somehow I started to become a sailor when I wasn't looking. Tonight, I would be expected to keep my own watches while Curt slept below. We had decided for three hours on and three hours off.

Curt had the first watch while I tried to sleep: from nine to twelve. I didn't really sleep much, but I did try to rest my eyes and brain. It was going to be a long night. When I came up, Curt had had an uneventful night and recapped it for me by describing the wind and seas as well as his sail trim and heading. He told me where the snacks were, as well as our cigarillos and the lighter (we don't smoke, but somehow these little mini-cigar things help the time pass faster when you're up there all alone in the middle of the night). Below, I took our position with the GPS and marked it on the chart. I grabbed a Coke and a Twix bar before Curt passed me the GPS and went below to catch some shut-eye.

So. Here I was all alone on my cat perch. I looked around and got my bearings. The wind indicator at the top of our mast tells us which direction the wind is coming from in relation to the way Force Five is pointed. We were pointed as high as we could into the wind. We were trying to go south, and as far east as possible, but that was the same direction the wind was coming from. I looked at our bearing on the GPS and noted how fast we were going on our knot meter. Around 5.5 knots or so. I scanned the horizon for other boats. None to be seen. I sat back down and cracked open my soda and my Twix bar.

No Curt. I could mess with the sails or point wherever I wanted without him here to correct me or tell me if I was right or wrong. I let some of the main sail out to see what would happen. I watched the knot meter. We slowed down a few tenths of knot. I took it back in again. I looked at the wind indicator to see if we could sail any closer to the wind. I tuned the autopilot to point just a few degrees higher. Force Five still handled fine. I tried a few degrees more. The sails started to flap and luff. I went back to the previous bearing. How cool!

And so my watch passed. Check our bearing. Assess the sails. Look for other boats. Have a bite of Twix bar. Look at the sky for weather. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous night. Water was pushing past our hull with a swish of each swell. The sky was lit up with a big bright silvery moon and I could start to see the outlines of Trinidad far off on the horizon. The only sound was the sound of Force Five cutting through the water and pushing the sea out of her way. I rested my head against the dodger. So many people have told me how much they love sailing at night because it's just such a stunning scene. On a night like tonight, I couldn't agree more. If our night passages could all be like this, I'd look forward to them all. It seems the hardest thing about night sailing would be staying awake.

Somewhere around 3:00 or so in the morning, we were looking at the charts and marking our position to find we were hardly making any headway at all. We could see each point we'd marked and the time we were there (we try to mark the chart every hour or so). It looks like a straight line making good time and then there are a bunch of tacks where we hadn't seemed to go anywhere at all. The wind was coming directly from where we wanted to go, and it seemed that now we had a four knot current against us as well. By about 4am, we'd lost almost all of our wind and we started to motorsail.

When the sun started to rise, we were still barely going anywhere, but we got to enjoy a gorgeous sight. The air was chilly and I actually had jeans and a jacket on. The sky was filled with big cumulous clouds the color of peach and sherbet ice cream everywhere. There wasn't a boat in sight, but the VHF would crack through the silence every once in awhile with the foreign voice of a freighter captain talking to another vessel. He sounded Italian. Force Five sailed herself along while I sat in my usual spot thinking about everything from when we'd get to Tobago (would we ever get to Tobago?), to how long we'd be doing this cruising thing anyway. And when we go back, what will we do? Where will we live? What about Force Five? And then I'd remember to check our heading, look at the wind, and see if we were on a collision course with the Italian freighter out there somewhere.

We had Pringles and beer for breakfast together before I went below to sleep for awhile. I woke to Curt saying, "Allie, Allie! Dolphins! Come check it out!" I scrambled outside to see three dolphins chasing the bow of our boat. Still half asleep, I went out to the deck and dangled my feet over the side clapping my hands. One was the show-off of the group and he was doing back flips and twists in the waves. I felt like such a little kid. I wanted to feed them something, but I'm sure Pringles and beer would not be good for a dolphin. They stayed with us off and on for about forty-five minutes before disappearing for good. It was a magical surprise to break the monotony of the passage.

We finally anchored at Pigeon Point, Tobago around three in the afternoon. There was a white sand beach, turquoise water, and a pier with a hut made from palm fronds. Even though we both had a chance to sleep on this overnight passage, we were still exhausted. Curt fell asleep in the cockpit for a solid two hours while I cooked a proper dinner for us (or at least it wasn't potato chips anyway).

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