From Bermuda to St. Martin
The crew of Tioga makes a fast passage through tradewinds and storms from Bermuda to St. Martin. Part II of "Caribbean Bound on a Budget" from our September 2011 issue.
At noon, we’d just finished sandwiches and a beer when the wind picked up with some authority. We deemed it prudent to put a reef in the main; then, minutes later, we tucked in the second. Then it was off to the races. For the next four days, we were on one wild, relentless ride. Our day’s run at 1530 Sunday was 136 nautical miles. In the next 24 hours, we cracked off 183 miles, followed on Tuesday by 162. Clearly, we were getting ahead of schedule.
Day and night the northeasterly trades blew 25 knots and better; we never so much as touched the sheets. Honestly, this all took some getting used to. When I was on watch and in the cockpit, the sailing was absolutely thrilling. Days were sun splashed and warm; evenings, we watched the moon rise and Orion march across the sky.
Belowdecks, it was a bit of a different story. The water coursing over the deck above found its way down in the most annoying places. The berth I favored, when it wasn’t already occupied, was the windward settee, where I could wedge in against the table, mast, and lee cloth. It quickly became a rock and a hard place, however. With my head at one end, my pillow was directly below a small drip and snoring Ulf. Turned the other way, I found (relative) quiet, but a seeming torrent hit me squarely on the ear.
Everything was wet. With hatches closed, the air was quite stuffy. Clothes—underwear, T-shirts, shoes, foulies—were strewn everywhere. Apparently, some aboard had missed out on learning the saw, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
By Tuesday, the captain intervened. All hands were mustered and a general cleanup ensued, making life more tidy, if not dry. Meantime, our frozen meals were proving their worth in terms of morale at dinnertime. We had stew, goulash, pulled pork, gumbo, and chili and rice. Each meal required just a bowl and spoon, keeping dishes to a minimum. We each settled into our routines: watches, sleep, navigation, communications, cooking, cleaning. The miles flew by, and life was easy.
After dinner on Tuesday, we watched the moon rise and then disappear into a cloudbank to the east. Soon those clouds took on ominous shapes as they billowed upward, and we could see rain falling beneath them. As I headed below for a nap, I sensed everyone becoming nervous.
Bob and Peter were on deck when hell broke loose. Strong gusts—perhaps 40 knots—hit at the outset along with white-out rain. That’s when the guys on deck, who now included the captain, discovered that the furler had jammed and the jib wouldn’t reef. Thankfully, both storm and fire drill were short-lived. When our watch came up at midnight, the trades were once again steady, and we enjoyed the lightning show well off to the west. All was good until I was smacked in the face by a flying fish.
Wednesday turned out to be our last night offshore. The waning moon rose later in the evening, so after dinner we sat on deck stargazing and spotting satellites. In the darkness, clouds on the horizon to either side created the illusion that we were passing between tree-lined headlands. Nighttime, I found, had ways of playing tricks on the eyes.
At 0730 Thursday, we spotted the peaks of St. Martin and St. Barts off to the southwest. We still had hours to sail, but I found our impending landfall to be oddly disappointing. I’d miss the rhythm we’d found and the empty ocean.
By noon, we could clearly see the islands—Anguilla off to starboard, St. Martin dead ahead, St. Barts just to port. Snacks were passed topside, and I was at the wheel when suddenly we were surrounded by a pod of dolphins; what a welcome wagon they rolled out!