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
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).