In typical George fashion, prior to our departure he described the passage as the best possible wind angle. He said it was going to be an enjoyable beam reach, the optimal sail angle for Nor’easter. All was well for the first hour, as we were in the lee of Grenada and enjoying a 1 knot current in our favor. Boat speed over ground was consistently 8 knots or better, surpassing our planned estimates. The further away from Grenada, the larger the swells became and the wind was a constant 15-20. I had put on an anti-seasickness patch and was feeling pretty good with George in charge. A few hours later, I managed to eat some dinner I had prepared the night before, but couldn’t imagine how I would go below to sleep with the boat rolling around. George insisted I go below to sleep (or rest) and I was surprised that it felt less rolly below. I still couldn’t sleep and after a few hours went on deck to relieve my spouse.
At about this time we started hearing a Channel 16 radio alarm indicating a boat in distress. George got on the radio and was able to make contact with a British couple who thought they had lost their rudder, as the boat would not respond to steering and was sailing in circles. George thought they had more likely just broken a steering cable, because had the rudder actually fallen out, they would have been sinking. We were 70 miles off Grenada and they were about 10 miles away from us in the wrong direction. After trying to communicate with them over the radio as the signal broke up repeatedly, we were happy to find out that they were not taking on water and did not want to leave their boat. Using our satellite phone, we were able to get a family contact number in the UK, and called them to have them coordinate a rescue. It was disconcerting to move out of radio range and not know what happened to them but we had been told they were in touch with the Grenadian Coast Guard and we had to continue onward.
My imagination began working overtime as the distressed boat was a sailing vessel like ours, with a couple aboard. I immediately started worrying about what we would do in their position. George assured me he would be able to rig a temporary rudder or make a repair, but I wasn’t convinced. This event preceded my first middle of the night watch duty, and as George went below, I had 5 hours to think of every possible boat disaster that could befall us. Luckily the wind stayed fairly constant, the boat sailed happily on auto pilot and we ticked off the miles toward the USVI with none of the imagined disasters coming to fruition.
George had put the boat on auto pilot and set a wind angle so I wouldn’t have to trim the sails with the loads we were experiencing. I tucked in under the dodger and emerged every 10 minutes to scan the horizon for ship lights and check the chart for boats. At one point I saw a ship on the radar and I tried to figure out if we were going to cross paths. George had showed me how to get all the data from our AIS system, but I wasn’t confidant. I watched as ithe ship moved closer and contemplated waking the Captain. Knowing he needed his sleep and pretty certain we were not on a collision course, I watched as the shape moved away from us, never coming close enough for me to see the lights. At 5:30, the sky began lightening, pink rays started appearing and I was rewarded with my first solo sunrise at sea. George came up and I went below to sleep.
From this point on, we tried to keep to 4 hour watches and I felt surprisingly rested after only a few hours’ sleep. I was still slightly nauseous and had little appetite. We made sure we drank plenty of water. The weather got a bit squally but we were making good time and George recalculated our arrival 12 hours earlier to 5 pm. This would get us through the surrounding reefs during daylight, and I was thrilled not to have to endure a third night on watch.
I had read many long distance cruisers’ accounts of night watches and kept waiting for the mystical, magical moments of being one with the universe. The stars were dazzling but I never felt the magic. By the time we arrived in St. Croix, I felt immense gratitude to be finished with the passage and a desire to sleep in a bunk that wasn’t rolling. After two nights in St. Croix, provisioning and filling our water tanks, I convinced George to head 34 miles north to St. John on a calm day. I knew we had two unusually calm days and I wanted to take advantage of that for the crossing. He would have enjoyed another day of rest, but after we arrived in the stunning beauty of St. John, he agreed we made the right decision. Sparkling azure waters, white sandy beaches and beautiful harbors surround us in this piece of paradise. Forty four feet is a small space for two people to inhabit long term, but long swims to the beach and short jaunts into town are providing enough of a respite.
We are staying informed about the Coronavirus through the internet and frequent updates from family and friends. Sheltering in place aboard a boat is an interesting concept, but George and Travis have been doing it for over a year so I guess I can manage a few months. We hope you and your families are staying healthy and we hope to be back in the US by June. We don’t know what we will face in the coming months but send our love and best wishes to everyone facing the current challenges.