About fifteen years ago we went on our first overnight passage, and our first sail out of sight of land. We were heading up the coast of New Jersey from Cape May to New England and I remember watching the horizon excitedly waiting for all traces of land to disappear. But we weren’t used to traveling as slow as you go in a sailboat and for hours and hours, all through the night, the lights of Atlantic City remained visible, with the tallest of them, Trump Tower, still a bright red presence long after everything else had faded. We couldn’t sink it.
We are right now — and I still get goosebumps when I think of it — sailing southeast in the Caribbean with St. Martin behind us, Saba and St. Eustatius to the west, St. Bart to the east, and St. Kitts up ahead. The day started out beautifully, with the wind 14-15 kts, the seas a little higher than we like but not too uncomfortable, sailing close to the wind. We were only making about 3 kts but we didn’t care. We have three days to get somewhere and tucked in before any bad weather moves in, and only 130 or so miles to Guadeloupe, our intended destination.
But then we got headed, meaning the wind changed to right on our nose and nearly stopped the boat in her track. We looked at the chart to see our options. We’re sailing about ten miles off the coast of Eustatius, so we can’t go west, and the other tack we could take given the wind angle will not help us in the end. We reluctantly started an engine and we’re now motorsailing on our original course, hoping the wind backs again to where it’s supposed to be, from the east.
With the engine and the slight advantage of the sails, we’re now making 5.5 kts and rolling with the swells coming off the Atlantic. I look up from my comfortable spot in the cockpit where I’ve been alternately reading and napping.
“I can still see Trump Tower,” I say to Jack, and we both look around us and identify the islands. St. Martin is just a smear on the horizon. Saba, the tallest will be visible until nightfall.
It’s ten minutes later, and this is how quickly things can change out here. We’ve run into a squall and suddenly the wind is 20-25 kts with a little rain. We turned off the engine and we’re making 6 kts under sail alone. We can see blue sky on the other side of it but in the meantime we’re charging through the waves and working to hold our course.
After this, we’ll have one more upwind passage; then it’s downwind all the way. I can’t wait.