Often, at this time of year, the Caribbean experiences a few weeks of unusually strong winds and waves. Because of the timing, many people refer to these as the “Christmas Winds.” They don’t always happen exactly at Christmas-time, but usually pretty close.
Sure enough, the forecast for next week is for 20-25 knot sustained winds, and gusts approaching 30 knots. This much wind creates big waves. Out in the open ocean near St. Lucia, the forecast is for waves as big as 4 meters (13 feet). That’s the average of the wave heights, there will be some waves that are much bigger. One forecaster described the expected sea state as a “washing machine.”
We don’t mind sailing in 25-knot winds, we just reef our sails. But sailing in 4-meter waves is another story. We experienced waves that large, and even bigger, when we sailed from Virginia to the Virgin Islands in 2010. But they were out in the blue water, which means far apart and not very steep, and Callisto simply rode over them. In the Islands, they are close together and steep. No fun.
Of course, when you’re cruising you can choose what weather to sail in. We work very hard to avoid sailing in conditions like this. Frankly, even riding at anchor in many harbors isn’t comfortable.
As it turns out, we are currently in one of the most protected harbors in the southern Caribbean, Marigot Bay in St. Lucia. We had guests earlier this week who aren’t experienced on boats, and chose to tie up in the marina here to make it easier for them. We had originally planned to sail north today, stopping in Rodney Bay for a few days before going to Martinique. With the weather forecast, we’ve decided to stay here for several more days and then go straight to Martinique.
Keeping a flexible schedule is important in dealing with the weather. This can be difficult, though, when we have visitors on the boat. People’s flight arrangements are not very flexible. We deal with that problem by planning to arrive at the meeting point several days in advance, giving us the needed flexibility.
For example, our daughter and her husband are flying into Martinique on 26-December. Our working float plan had us arriving on Martinique on 21- or 22-December, with the option of arriving even sooner if need be. That way, we have at least a week of flex in choosing our sailing date. While they are with us, we hope to make the passage to Dominica with them, and then return to Martinique. But if the weather fails to cooperate, we’ll just stay in the protected waters to the lee of Martinique. Flexibility is the key.
Generally, by the middle of January the Christmas Winds are gone, and we settle into the typical tradewinds, with windspeeds in the teens. Much more relaxing!