Well, that passage sucked. Nothing like estimating a trip will take 14 to 18 hours at the very most, and then dropping the hook a completely battered and oh-my-god-someone-get-me-a-pillow exhausted 24 hours later. Yes, it appears we had indeed been spoiled and disillusioned by the calm and lovely waters of the British Virgin Islands—we forgot all about what cruising can really be like. In all fairness, 24 hours is not long at all. And, to be honest, it wasn't even that bad. Furthermore, we chose this and sailed directly into the wind (or attempted to at least). But regardless of these things, when expectations don't match with reality, well, things always seem a little worse. Or, is that just me?
It was our first overnight sail with just the three of us, and after the forecast—winds 15-20 knots on the nose with waves 6-8 feet—we knew we'd be in for a bit of a ride. Prior to weighing anchor Scott and I talked about our watch schedule and how we'd manage so that I would be able to get some sleep while still being able to help out with the boat and care for Isla during her "wake times." Considering she goes to bed around 6pm and wakes up around 6am, we decided I would take the 9p-12a watch, and then 3-6a watch, so that when I came off watch at sunrise, I could feed her, hand her over to Scott and get some shuteye. This, we learned, was a mistake.
We weighed anchor at 5pm and headed out to sea. We ate the veggie casserole dinner I pre-made, and I tucked Isla into her bunk in the v-berth which was rising and falling anywhere from ten to twelve feet as our boat charged forth into a building ocean swell. "Do you think she'll be okay up there?" Scott asked incredulously. "We'll see," I replied as I gave her a quarter tablet of children's dramamine. This child and her ability to sleep in the most uncomfortable circumstances never ceases to amaze us. I kissed her goodnight and she drifted off into a very bouncy and at times, probably weightless, slumber. I cleaned up from dinner and hit my bunk for the next three hours.
When I awoke, the seas were approximately 10-12 feet, and wind 18-20 knots on the nose. We were motorsailing with our main and stays'l, chugging along at 6 knots which sounds lovely, except for the little fact that we were going in the wrong direction. Our velocity made good, or "VMG" as it's known to sailors, was a mere 2 knots. Meaning the forward momentum to our actual destination - St. Maarten - was a snail's pace. Literally, a snail's pace. I kid you not, a one-legged man can walk faster than that. I made myself some coffee, gazed up at the beautiful blanket of stars above me, noting immediately the Southern Cross to starboard, and settled in. I stared down to the water where the phosphorescence danced in our wake like tiny fireflies before petering out like embers from a fire. Our boat powered forward into an endless battle line of angry waves, her bow rising up and crashing down again and again with a huge SPLASH! which would not only thoroughly soak the boat (and sometimes the cockpit) but also create a spectacular show of phosphorescence where the individual wave splashes landed in the water. It was as if a million glow sticks were exploding in our wake before dissipating back into the darkness. (This here is the silver lining, FYI).
By morning, we were not even half-way there. Morale was not good. We were tacking almost perpendicular to St. Maarten and by 6am, our ETA was still twenty agonizing hours away. Isla had woken up at her predicted time and conditions were rough. There was no way I could leave Scott to tend to both her and the boat. Isla, of course, was totally oblivious to anything amiss and was fully charged and eager to play having (incredibly) just slept soundly for twelve hours. Totally deprived of sleep and burdened with the kind of physical exhaustion usually reserved for the mothers of newborns, I strapped her into her carseat with a few toys and played “footsie” with her in a vain attempt to get myself horizontal while still keeping her entertained. This worked for all of five minutes. It was going to be a loooong day.
Finally, I suggested we stop trying to sail and just motor directly into the wind toward St. Maarten. "I mean, it’s not like it’s going to be any worse than what it is now…” I trailed off deliriously. Scott shrugged and began furling the stays'l, leaving the main up for stability. The boat pitched and rolled wildly and, as he pointed our bow much closer to the wind, and therefore more directly towards our destination, we slowly watched our ETA go down…16 hours, 10 hours, 7 hours!! Hooray! We’d be there by nightfall after all! Morale was going up, but only slightly so. Both of us were still completely exhausted and the motion of the ocean was incredibly unpleasant.
We dropped anchor at 5:01pm in Simpson Bay exactly twenty-four hours from the time we raised it. That is nine hours longer than we calculated, ten hours longer than our last trip from the BVI’s to St. Maarten, and a solid eleven hours of complete and utter exhaustion. We were grouchy, tired and caked in a veritable crust of salt spray. We rinsed our salty boat and bodies with blessed fresh water, stuffed our faces with some leftover pasta salad and crashed with a whole new appreciation of exactly why “gentleman don’t sail to windward” and dreamt of the day when we actually follow the world cruising routes and sail downwind. Sigh...one day.
When two people, with the same life long dream of sailing around the world find each other, there's only one thing to do... make it happen!
Scott and Brittany departed in 2010 with big plans to "see the world" from the deck of their sailboat. After sailing from Chicago to Trinidad via the "thorny path", they are now back at it with their first baby and second boat. Check out all the juice at .