Don't leave port on a Friday, it's bad luck. Don't have bananas on the boat, it's bad luck, and sailors long felt that having a woman on board was bad luck (their loss!). We left Grenada on a Friday, made it Friday the 13th just for good measure, a full weeks supply of bananas, and I decided that I would go along as well.
Anchor up at 10:15 AM on Friday the 13th.
This would be our longest passage yet, just over 400 nautical miles, and about three days at sea. We certainly felt ready for this, prepared and ready to go. Enough pre cooked food to feed us for a week (not intentionally, we just kept preparing dishes so that we would not have to cook while on passage) A large stir fry, pesto pasta, 2 pizzas, salad, sandwiches and snacks galore.
The wind was a steady 13 knots when we left, and we were getting 7-8 knots of speed. We were happy with that ratio.
Just a few hours in and Bob spots dolphins off our bow. We have only spotted them a few times on our travels and they always bring us joy to watch. We had Rhapsody on autopilot so we could both go forward (carefully ) to the bow to watch them. They are so graceful and move through the water so powerfully. We could hear them chattering. I wonder if they hear the creaks in the boat, and are trying to figure out what we are saying.
They run in front of the boat and turn suddenly across the bow, but never collide with either the boat or each other. Another activity for them is surfing the waves.
They swim up the face of the wave, make a sharp u-turn and swim back down the face of the wave, occasionally turning to follow another wave in the same pass.
They stayed with us for about 45 minutes.
Such a joy to watch them.
At 2 PM we get our first glimpse of our buddy boat, Windancer IV. We left from different anchorages, and we left an hour before they did. They are a 44' Catamaran owned by two very friendly Canadians (is that redundancy? ) John and Ziggy MacKenzie and a crew of 4 other friends who flew down to join them for the passage. It is nice to have contact with someone during a passage, just to know that someone is aware that you are there and close by in case something happens.
The winds died down a bit and at some point we had to decide whether or not to turn the engine on. At what point do we decide to opt for speed and noise vs beauty and silence? The wind dropped to 10 knots and our speed was 5 knots. When the boat speed dropped to 3 knots in 8-9 knot winds we fired up the engine, partly to stay in contact with our buddy boat who was already motoring.
We motored for 12 hours, wishing we had more wind, but as the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for". At about 7 PM the wind moved from directly behind Rhapsody to 40 degrees S, setting up an excellent opportunity for full sails on a port tack, however, the wind continued to build, and with it, the waves. By 10 PM we had reduced sails twice and were heeled over at 8 - 11 knots. Typically 5 - 7 knots is considered decent passage speed, so we were bucking right along. The wind stayed at 25 - 30 knots, with occasional gusts up to 35 knots, providing an excellent rock-n-roll evening. All movements were handhold to handhold to handhold to keep from being tossed about.
Our GPS has had a spotty history, choosing to go out on us a various times during passages. This passage was no exception. Early in the evening of the second day our chart plotter ceased to register where we were. Fortunately we had planned ahead for this eventually. Our handheld VHF radio also tells us our latitude and longitude. We took the information and entered it into our chart plotter as a way point. This would tell us if we were still on the track that we had laid out prior to departure.
Explanation of the marks on the plotter. The blue line is the line that we set up as our path, from blue X to blue X, our waypoints that we plotted. The green triangles are the points we plotted every approximately every 30 minutes. Where it says "Current track" with a black line is where the GPS turned back on. The red triangle with the exclamation point is a point that I put in, marking a reef. I knew that it was not in our path, but I had just finished reading a book entitled "We're on a reef!". When I began the book I assumed that the reef they were referring to was in the South Pacific. It turns out that they hit a reef going from Grenada to Bonaire. I wanted to make sure that we did not do the same! It made me feel better to have it marked in red so I could see that we were not in the vicinity.
Being far enough from any land so that we enjoyed total darkness was an experience I had been looking forward to. Being able to watch the moon rise and set completely through the night, and the constellations rotate while we are holding a fixed course was most interesting. We could, for example, see Orion first rising directly behind the boat and then rotating nearly overhead in a matter of 5 hours. The constant motion of the quartering waves, first lifting port aft and initiating a roll, finishing on the starboard side and falling away out if sight. Wave after wave, roll after roll, lit by the moon. On the last evening, as the wind was up, and the waves breaking, our speed and wake increased to reveal bioluminescence falling away on both sides of the boat.
I took the watch from 2 - 6 the first night and 2 - 5 the second night. I wasn't sleeping well on my off watch, so I told Bob that I would like to make a switch in times. The third night he took the 11 - 5 watch. That's 6 hours. Thank you Bob, I appreciate it. Trying to sleep while Bob was on watch with the winds up, and the boat heeling was quite an experience. At one point, half in and out of sleep, I was imagining hanging on to a cliff, legs dangling over the edge. The reality of the angle of my bed was not too different from the dream.
Small excitement / apprehension
When the GPS is out our AIS (Automatic Identification System ) also out. AIS is what we use to help us identify and avoid other boats out there. During my watch the last night I spotted the lights of a very large boat, much nearer than I would like to see. If the AIS was functioning I could get all sorts of information on the boat,
such as their length ,which way they are heading and the CPA (closest point of approach) and the TCPA (Time to closest point of approach ). Without the AIS all I could see were the lights of the ship. I had to figure out which way it was going, and how close was it really. Fairly quickly it became obvious that it was going in the opposite direction from us, and there would be no danger of being too close, but I certainly wished that our AIS was working at that point.
We had reefed our sails to slow ourselves down so that we would not arrive in an unfamiliar port in the dark. Bob was at the helm at the first glimpse of Bonaire, just a mere glow of lights at first, then gradually as we neared, and the skies grew lighter, the land became more distinct. Bonaire is a very flat island, so ships don't spot it from as far away as more mountainous islands. Bob passed the helm to me shortly after sighting land. It was 5 AM and I was expecting more light in the sky. It took me a while, but I figured out that we had sailed about 400 miles west, and therefore the sun would rise later than it did in Grenada. When it did rise, it was spectacular.
We rounded the southern tip of Bonaire,
spotted the mounds of salt at the salt processing plant, continued toward the harbor and heard on the radio: "Rhapsody, Rhapsody, Rhapsody, this is Windancer IV, come on in, there is a mooring ball just in front of us, we will help you pick it up". What a great buddy boat. What a nice welcome to a new country.
Arrival in Bonaire - 8:30 AM, Monday the 16th. Just shy of a three day passage.
We experienced the apprehension of being far from land on the open sea as we left Grenada, and yet as we made mile on mile felt more comfortable. Along the way we learned a bit about our own needs and routines, and overcame fatigue, spotty sleep, and some moderately rough weather. We successfully used a newly learned approach to downwind sailing by rigging our spinnaker pole to hold out the Genoa receiving added benefit from the following breezes. We added a bit more respect for our boat and her ability to handle bigger wind and sea state. Three days passed quite quickly, and we arrived both full of vibrant new experiences and a greater confidence for the next long passage.