Beautiful sunsets. Inspiring sunrises that make you feel as one with nature. Water as far as the eye can see. Birds and flying fish the only signs of life. The night sky, from horizon to horizon unmarred by light pollution, making every star more brilliant than you’ve ever seen. The sea mirroring the beauty of the sky with swirling bioluminescence glittering in the boat’s wake. Being disconnected from life on land in every way possible and relying on nothing but the wind and your wits to propel you forward. Welcome to passage making.
About a week into our time in Grenada, we decided it was time to head back to St. Martin, where we would haul out on June 19th for the hurricane season. We had a good weather window, so we provisioned and prepared the boat to depart on Thursday, June 7. It was Election Day in Ontario, and we knew that once we left it would be three days before discovering the results, which would potentially have a significant impact on our future, specifically on David’s job in special education. But not knowing for three days wouldn’t change the results, so at 10:20 a.m. we weighed anchor and set off on our 370-nautical-mile journey.
Our first day was a mixed bag of wind. We motor-sailed for about an hour up the coast of Grenada, then cut the engine and enjoyed the beautiful silence that reigns in that moment. We had excellent wind from then on, averaging nearly 7 knots in boat speed until well into that night. Mel had had the foresight to prepare sandwiches for lunch and cut up a squash before heading out, not knowing what sea conditions would be like once we passed the protection of the island. By the time dinner rolled around, it was pretty hairy down below, with waves pounding against the hull and the boat rolling from side to side with the wind gusts. Mel threw some cubed pork, onion, the pre-cut squash, chicken broth and some apple sauce into the pressure cooker (an absolute godsend when cooking on a boat), set it on the gimbaled stove, and hoped it would stay put as the waves rolled the boat around. The pressure cooker thankfully stood firm, and the resulting dinner warmed our cockles as the sun went down on day one of our passage.
We had decided to do two-hour watches that first night. David did the after-dinner watch while Mel attempted to sleep, but with the boat going so fast, it was so loud down below that there was not much sleeping over the first few shifts. As it got later into the night, those two hours at the helm started to feel longer and longer as adrenaline wore off and sleepiness set in. Our autohelm is a bit capricious and only works in moderate winds, so it was no help to us that night, and hand steering was an exhausting fight against the strong winds. By the last watches of that first night, we were exhausted and managed to catch some z’s as the wind eased, and David was treated to a glorious sunrise.
In the first 24 hours we managed to cover 150 nautical miles, something we never thought possible for our heavy, 12-ton boat. But Ar Sgrail’s 30-foot water line makes her speedy in high winds, and we were thrilled with her performance that first day. At that rate we would arrive at our destination in two and a half days! We continued our alternating shifts throughout Day 2, with one person at the helm and the other generally passed out below. That day the winds were significantly lighter, so we covered less ground, which was somewhat disappointing after our speedy first day. Our fridge was full of leftovers so we thankfully didn’t need to cook, and we passed the day in a tired haze, really only seeing each other when we relieved each other at the helm. We also used our satellite phone to get the election results. Despite the depressing news, we both slept like babies while we were off duty that night thanks to David’s amazing mcgyvering skills to make the boat a bit quieter under way. We also managed to start doing longer watches after Mel discovered an audiobook on her phone, and we spent the rest of our watches engrossed in The Three Musketeers. It rained on and off that night, soaking us and making us feel cold for the first time in months and prompting us to dig out our foulies for the first time this entire trip.
On Day 3 we got into the coveted “passage groove”. We were finally getting used to the motion of the boat below and not constantly crashing into everything (Mel had accrued many bumps and bruises from the first few days). We also noticed that we were less exhausted and had more energy. That afternoon we had a good chat about the elections and their impact on our future, and realized it was probably the first time we had both been in the cockpit having a real conversation since we left Grenada. We were feeling human again, despite the fact that we hadn’t showered in three days. That night, thanks to Alexandre Dumas, we were able to extend our watches to 3-4 hours, and as the sun rose over St. Barts, we secured Ar Sgrail to a mooring ball in the Anse du Colombier marine park, a lovely spot we had fallen in love with last year when we first left St. Martin on our adventure. And here we are again, ending this amazing trip where it began, coming full circle. The mountains surrounding this protected anchorage are much greener than when we were here last. Like us, the vegetation has had the opportunity to grow over the past 7 months, and it’s only in coming back here that we are truly able to notice it.
This post was written in St. Barts, just a few days after our passage. It is probably our last post here in a while. We are now back in Ottawa, where Mel is working and David is continuing with renos on the house. But fear not! We have decided to head back to Ar Sgrail in the fall, for more Caribbean sailing adventures! Be sure to watch this space to see where the wind takes us next.