My friend Wade called from Georgia and asked if I wanted to deliver a 43’ Slocum cutter named Surprise from Trinidad to Savannah, GA. The timing was perfect. One of the things I’ve done to cut back on flying is to give my Carib and east coast deliveries to east coast skippers. The exception being, when I’m already passing through because of a rare Lats & Atts excursion. This was one of those times.
Crew is always an issue. The voyage would be 2000nm, which is a good sail at 2-3 weeks. It’s hard to find someone that can get that kind of time off. I put together my wish list and started at the top. My girlfriend Dena wasn’t hard to convince that a nice warm sail through the Caribbean might be fun. She provisions, she cooks, she does her watches and stays cheery no matter how badly the weather behaves. We didn’t need one but we took a third crewmember to lengthen our off watch time from 3-on, 3-off to 3-on, 6-off. Jondavid had sent me an email a while back. I hadn’t sailed with him before but he sounded like a good kid. I booked everyone’s flights and we met up in Trinidad.
The owners wanted to meet me before they left their boat. The husband wanted to be sure I knew something about boats. It was good to have him there showing me the boat he had refit mostly himself. He beamed with pride as he showed me her clever systems. Still, he didn’t seem very happy to be leaving. We found out that he and his wife were selling the boat. She had agreed to cruise for 5 years and the time was up. While she hopped about the boat, he seemed a little somber. I felt bad for him but at least he got his 5 years.
Trinidad was beautiful as usual. Chaguaramas, the big boater’s bay with all kinds of refit facilities, was more empty than I had ever seen it. Economy – eshnonomy; isn’t this the time that you head out and go cruising until things improve? There’s no place cheaper to live than out cruising – if done simply.
Keep in mind that when flying into Trinidad with a one-way ticket, you have to have a stamped letter saying you are leaving by boat. The Crew’s Inn marina had arranged our paperwork. Trinidad Customs and Immigration was unusually painless though the last official stressed the importance of leaving on time. We provisioned and left the dock at 1201 – a minute late, per my paperwork. No one chased us down.
We motored out through the last pass and into the deep blue Caribbean. We had a nice trade wind breeze on the beam. It was good for sailing, though the direction made for a rolly ride. When starting out on any sail, we stow everything and ‘batten all the hatches’. We can loosen up later after we’ve slain the boat gremlins and things are going smoothly. For both the crew and the vessel, I’ll often start out a little off the throttle. Usually, one extra reef will do it.
Surprise was cutter rigged with the headsail having most of its bulk down low. The stays’l was cut very high. The sails complimented each other well, filling the voids from the other. We found that the boat didn’t like sailing without the stays’l so we left it up and just furled the big headsail in stronger winds. Though she wouldn’t point high, the boat sailed great off the wind, loving the good Carib breeze.
It took a day or two for the residue of land to rinse away but it happened, as it always does. Soon we were all about the sea -- in tune with every sound, wave induced motion and cloud in the sky. We got the boat dialed in and then opened her up. Surprise was not a light boat but with the full trades she ran well averaging over 6 knots in comfort.
The crew was doing great. Sailing hard across the Caribbean, Dena was in her element, splitting her time between playing in the galley and catching rays. Like magic, amazing meals continued to appear from the seagoing galley. JD was a learning sponge. He had gained some experience skippering a friends sailboat up through the Bahamas and back across to the states. On Surprise, he added to his bag of tricks. He got some tips on dialing in a boat which keeps her safe and comfortable, while still sailing fast.
My plan was to cruise north, staying to leeward of the Caribbean island chain, using them for protection in case of a big storm. We didn’t see any big weather but we did get the mini squalls that filter through the islands. The pockets of weather gave me a chance to test out my new foul weather jacket. There’s a lot of boat gear out there and when a company gets it right I like my seven fans to hear about it. Back when we were circumnavigating people made fun of us. We assembled Low Key with simple gear (read bullet-proof). But then we had bought these high-end Gill foulies. We relied on simple, but never skimped on comfort. When the weather is bad and you have to spend some extra time out in the elements you do not want to be wet and you do not want to be cold. My old jacket was amazing but the miles were starting to take their toll. I saw the new black offshore Gill and had to have it. I wouldn’t have thought it possible but they’ve improved on the design (more on my website).
I got cell reception as we blew by St. Croix, so I left a message for Eric Stone who was living and playing on St. Thomas. We were thinking of stopping for fuel anyway and so I thought I’d find some evening entertainment for my hard working crew. But sometimes it’s not so good being fast. We chose to skip the fuel stop and had sailed out of range before Eric had a chance to call back to invite us to his gig that night.
After passing St. Thomas we broke out into open ocean -- no more little islands to dodge. We were free and had room to adjust course to take advantage of wind and current changes. It was beautiful out there with sunny days, good aft wind and moderate seas.
Before we knew it we were having our 1000nm-to-go party. Dena is a vegetarian and though she will cook meat she enjoys the challenge of making faux-meat dinners that omnivores will enjoy. We cranked up the Eric Stone and set the cockpit table while the the tasty smells from the galley distracted us. We three sipped red wine and ate veggie hamburgers laced with smuggled-in CA salsa as the sun glowed orange, then red, and set into the sea.
On many evenings, JD and I enjoyed appetizers while the rest of the meal was being created. It looked like pate’ to me but JD wasn’t fooled, “Is this cat food?”
Apparently Dena had opened a can without a label. It looked like meat so she put it on a plate and sent it up. I asked her if she had sampled it first before serving it to us. She told us, “I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat cat food.”
The Gulf Stream, a tricky entrance and some Savannah hospitality -- next month.