Saturday, April 13, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

Yesterday we made a passage from St. Lucia to the island of Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  This is one of our longer passages, more than 50 miles.

In planning the passage, one important question is "On which side of St. Vincent do we travel?"  St. Vincent is a large island with many tall mountains.  We knew from experience that traveling on the leeward (western) side of the island would mean little or no wind and extensive motoring.  We don't like to motor -- it is noisy and diesel is expensive.

The alternative is the windward (eastern) side of the island.  You have to be careful to stay well off-shore, since the wind would push you into trouble if you had an unexpected problem.  This adds a couple of miles to the journey, but worth it to avoid extended motoring.

The trouble is that, usually, the wind doesn't cooperate.  In order to take this more-easterly route, we would need to tack.  This means, not a couple of extra miles, but many extra miles.

Yesterday, though, we were in luck.  The wind was from the due east, and since our course was basically due south, we could travel without tacking.  Seemed like an ideal time to try the windward option.

Unfortunately, there is another factor to be considered.  When we started on our southward course from St. Lucia, we discovered that we were facing a very strong, adverse current.  The current had both east-to-west and south-to-north components.  We face east-to-west currents almost continuously in the Caribbean, but the south-to-north component isn't all that common.  And it was flowing at more than 3 knots!  We rarely see currents that strong.  Perhaps it was due to the new moon.

Well, time to reconsider our plan.  If we kept going down the windward side, we would be traveling at only 4 knots or so -- not fast enough to make our anchorage by dark.  We changed gears and headed for the leeward side.

On this course, the current was basically pushing us sideways.  We could compensate for that by changing our sailing angle, and maintain good average speeds.  Plus, while we were behind the island, we would be protected from the east-to-west current.  As it turned out, we even experienced a favorable north-to-south current for a few miles along the southern coast.

So, a couple of hours of motoring.  Not the end of the world and we have done it many times before.  Still, it was a relief to get around the southern end of St. Vincent, set the sails, and turn that noisy machine OFF.

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