Going For It!

 Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas to Mayaguez, PR

(posted from Playa Salinas, PR)

Up until now we have spent all our time on the east coast and in the Bahamas, but our goal is to get south of the hurricane zone before June 1.  That requires sailing a considerable distance eastward against the tradewinds to St. Martin or Anguilla and then south through the Leeward and Windward Islands to Grenada.  Because of its difficulty, the trip from the Bahamas to St. Martin is commonly referred to among cruisers as “The Thorny Path”.  There is even a book written about tactics for making this trip.

The typical trip comprises short hops that take advantage of small weather windows and breezes caused temperature differences between the sea and land at night near various islands that negate or reduce the trades.  Cruisers pick a jump off point in the SE Bahamas and sail to Mayaguana, Turks and Caicos, and down to the Dominican Republic.  Then along the north coast of the Dominican Republic, across the Mona Passage, and along the south coast of Puerto Rico.  The jumps through the Virgin Islands are still to weather, but they tend to be short. This whole process can easily take a month.

This year the weather has been different.  There have been frequent fronts that have passed down through the Bahamas and not dissipated until they have passed Puerto Rico.  These fronts replace the easterly trade winds with wind out of the West and North – just what one needs to sail to the Caribbean without any thorns. But even a favorable forecast does not garuntee a good passage. We recently met a couple who spent five days getting from Georgetown, Bahamas to Mayaguez because of weather that didn’t cooperate as expected.

Still, we realized this weather pattern was continuing, so we contacted my brother Dave and asked if he wanted to come down for a little sail.  He found some cheap airfare and flew to the Bahamas.  He arrived on Sunday, Feb. 14, just ahead of a front.

We had been watching the forecast and discussing the front with our weather router. This looked like a good one.  He had us wait until Tuesday morning, then off we went.  The sky was overcast and remained so for most of the rest of the trip, but that goes with the weather we needed. 

We left Thompson Bay, Long Island with the wind on the nose. We had to motor west through the Comer Channel to get around the shallows at the bottom end of Long Island, then we turned south to get around the island before we could turn southeast.  Once clear we set a course that would take us just north of the last of the Bahamas and north of Turks and Caicos.  We would stay on this course until we reached 21 degrees N, 86 degrees W, then we would turn south for Puerto Rico.

The winds were light once we cleared the Comer Channel, so we motored until the afternoon of Feb. 17.  After that they picked up and stayed in the mid- to upper-teens out of the northwest, which put them aft of the beam where they would push us along.  This lasted for a while, then we were able to adjust our course and play a wind shift that put the breeze more on the beam – Compass Rose’s favorite direction.  The seas varied through the trip and reached eleven feet at times.  Luckily, they were rollers and came mostly from behind the beam, so we rode with them rather than crashing into them.

We reached out turning point about the time the wind shifted from NW to NE and Compass Rose just kept rolling along.  Our weather router suggested this point because he expected the wind shift and also hoped to minimize the time we would spend passing through squalls to the south.  It also had the benefit of avoiding crossing the Mona Passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – a typically unsettled body of water.

Dave, Jackie, and I were so accustomed to the routine by now that I broke out the fishing gear and soon caught a 2 1/2 foot Wahoo.  We got him aboard despite the 10 ft swells, but cleaning him on the back deck took about 2 hours because the boat was bouncing around so much.

Big Wahoo - easier to catch than to filet on a pitching boat

We finally got the fish cleaned, the gear stowed, and settled in for the run for Mayaguez, PR.  Compass Rose rolled on like a train.  Jackie had the 3AM to 6AM watch.  She new the seas were big, but then the sun came up and she could actually see how big they were.  I think she liked it better when it was dark.

She had a bit of a surprise when she reached out of the cockpit one night to quiet a flapping line.  It turned out the “line” was a flying fish, probably a Ballyhoo, that landed on deck.

We were running about two hours behind Reach as we neared Puerto Rico.  They hit a little rain, but all we got were some sprinkles.  Evidently the squalls had dissipated.  We slid down the west coast of Puerto Rico as the sun went down. 
Reach was waiting in Mayaguez Harbor when we arrived.  We found the red and green channel markers, but the rest of the harbor was a random array of shore lights.  Looking out to sea, the only lights Mark and Michelle could see were the two channel lights and our tricolor, so they were able to guide us in their direction.

We anchored in Mayaguez Harbor having traveled over 600 miles about 4 1/2 days after leaving the Bahamas.  Except for a few hours at the beginning of the trip, we always had the wind on the beam or aft, and we never had any severe weather.  This passage was like hitting a grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to win the game.

Next: Cruising Puerto Rico

One Response to “Going For It!”

  1. Frank Dziuban Says:

    I hope you all are having a good time. David is getting married and Joe is coming in town today and we are going to get fitted for a tux. Me again ha ha ha ha Enjoyed you trip and you life together may God Bless you both.

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