Monday, March 6, 2017

A Tense Night

As much as we are learning about waves and wind and swells, and as much as we try to avoid rolly anchorages,  sometimes they are inevitable. The Caribbean is known for its trade winds, winds that consistently blow from the east to the west. Towns and cities have grown up on the western sides to take advantage of the protection that the islands provide. Everyone knows the wind blows from east to west, until it doesn't.

Yesterday was one of the days when the wind switched,  turning from the east all the way around until it was blowing from the west. Now all of the anchorages that were in the lee of the island are now on the windward side, and all of the boats are now pulling the opposite direction on their anchors and chain.
While we were at the Botanical Gardens we tied our dinghy up the river a ways from the harbor.  A nice quiet, flat river. When we returned to the dinghy and motored back to the harbor we encountered a very different scene. All of the boats were facing out to sea, and every boat had someone out on deck keeping watch. Usually if we look around an anchorage we can see one or two boats with someone on deck. If every boat has someone on deck, something is going on.

The wind was not very strong, but the swell was large, 4-6 feet, which doesn't seem like a lot, but when maneuvering a small dinghy it is enough to get your attention. Getting off the dinghy and onto Rhapsody was another challenge. One moment we were above  the transom of the boat, and the next moment the transom was looming over us. Normally we enter and exit the dinghy from the stern of the boat, the swim platform makes a very good step. This time we when we had the dinghy at the back of Rhapsody we felt as if we might get pushed under Rhapsody when she was on the crest of a wave, only to have her crash down on us as the next wave passed. Bob managed to scramble on to Rhapsody at the stern, but I felt more comfortable entering from the side. It was still a challenge, and a leap to be timed at just the right moment, but I made it aboard safely.  

Once on board it was time to assess the situation. How was our anchor holding? Which way are we pointing, and how are the anchors of all the boats upwind of us? Fortunately we were out at the end of the harbor, only one boat was upwind of us and they seemed secure. Unlike the windy day at the lagoon I did not witness anyone dragging. Possibly the holding in this harbor is better, perhaps all the boats here have better anchors and more chain out, perhaps it is just luck.

View from the Botanical Gardens. Rhapsody is upper right, closest to the cliffs.

We are out at the edge of the harbor, fairly close to a cliff. High up on the cliff are dozens of pelicans roosting in a tree, a bird's eye view of the harbor. The boats that are rolling the most are in the center of the harbor. Those of us that are ringing the outside are rolling less, apparently being provided some shelter by the cliffs, although it is these very cliffs, the sheltering cliffs, that are worrying us the most. 

As the wind continues to shift around we are swinging closer to the cliffs. We knew this was a possibility when we set our anchor, and we were confident that our chain and anchor were placed so that even in a strong blow we would not swing into the rocks, but this knowledge does not stop the imagining of possibilities. What if the wind picks up? We read on the internet that Martinique (100 miles south of us) just had a 50 knot squall pass through. Would our anchor hold? Would our neighbor's anchor hold? Throughout the sleepless night we took turns shining a flashlight on the shore and watching our position. We never did get any closer to the rocks.  We have a great appreciation of our anchor.

All night long we could see the anchor lights at the tops of the masts swinging wildly, the boats in the center of the harbor swinging the most. It was an attractive light show, as if large fireflies were flitting to and fro, although we knew that each swing was causing discomfort to the occupants of those boats.
Some of the boats escaping the harbor
Morning is here, and boats are fleeing the harbor. Perhaps a third of the boats in the harbor have left by the time we pull up anchor. We are heading south, where specifically, we don't know. Down the normally lee shore of Guadeloupe where all the harbors will be rolly. Past the Jacques Cousteau Dive Park where we had hoped to spend some time, past the normally placid beaches that now have waves crashing over them. Heading south in search of protection. 
Light house on the southern tip of Guadeloupe 

The sun is out and a gentle breeze is blowing, we are not suffering as we are searching. We may have to bypass most of Guadeloupe for now, but we will be back.

One of the boats that we passed while heading south

To quote one of our favorite poems:

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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