Last Sail

The winter trades finally appear, in time for a lovely sail from St. Martin back to the British Virgins, where BEOWULF will be hauled out for the winter.

Caribbean rainbow

Our time aboard BEOWULF is drawing to a close and we’ve been waiting for a “weather window” for a sail back from St. Martin to the British Virgins where we’ll haul out and store BEOWULF until we return in the spring. The remnants of “Olga” are now out of the picture and high pressure is building-the first taste of the winter tradewinds are blowing through the Caribbean.

Sailing in the Caribbean

The trip between the islands is short-90-miles anchor-to-anchor and with the wind in the Northeast blowing 15 to 18-we can carry our code zero free-flying roller-furling headsails in front of each spar.

We’ve got a couple of cruising friends aboard for the sail. Rachel and Andrew from GONE AWAY want a taste of BEOWULF’s performance (they’ll fly back to St. Martin).

A quick trip ashore to sign Rachel and Andrew onto our crew list, and obtain clearance from the French Gendarmes, and we’re away at 1000 sailing out of the anchorage at Marigot. We glide past the mighty MARI CHA III, anchored offshore. She looks like she’s flying just sitting there. And we know from first-hand experience just how fast she is!

As we clear the corner of the bay the code zero on the bowsprit is unrolled, and then Andrew helps me set the mizzen code zero. With both sails sheeted home, speed jumps from a sedate eleven knots under just main and mizzen to a better rating on the fun meter-a steady 14.

There’s a big squall ahead and we try to position ourselves under the leading edge, on the south (equator) side for maximum pressure. BEOWULF is rewarded with a jump in wind strength to 20/22 knots and boat speed climbs another notch.

We play the squall for an hour, and then it passes us by, leaving what we hope is a temporary lull in its wake. Just as we’re about to reach for the starter button the breeze fills back in and BEOWULF is off again.

Sailing in the Caribbean

The seas are too small for good surfing-they are not much bigger than small chop. But we still manage to get locked in occasionally for good rides. Using the WH autopilot remote, we are sailing an “S” curve-heating BEOWULF up (heading up) in the lulls and after a wave has passed-and then pulling the bow down to leeward as she accelerates. It is great fun and we’re rewarded with an occasional 20-plus-knot burst of momentary speed.

Rachel and Andrew are enjoying the combination of comfort and speed to which the two of us have become accustomed-jaded is probably a better word. These are wonderful conditions for a last sail-but the concept that BEOWULF will be on her own for the next four months is more than a little depressing to us.

The best (hottest) wind angle has us approaching the north end of Virgin Gorda. The breeze picks up into the high teens/low 20s and we’re rewarded with a top speed of 23.2 knots on one short.

It is 1600, and the sun is now well in the south and when we turn to port to head south we’ll have limited visibility. So, we decide to sail around Necker Island, rather than between it and Gorda where there are lots of reefs to avoid. We harden up a few degrees and BEOWULF maintains a steady 15 knots in one last continuous burst of pleasure. Then it is helm down, and we’re sailing almost dead downwind while we furl and drop the mizzen code zero, and then roll up the main code zero.

Sailing in the Caribbean

The bowsprit is rotated to port and the anchor is pushed over the bow roller, so it is ready to drop, and we charge into North Sound under main and mizzen. We tack back and forth through the yachts anchored off the Bitter End Yacht Club while our sea-water ballast is dumping, and then head up into the wind and drop the hook on the west side of the anchorage. BEOWULF settles back on her chain, and you can feel she is well satisfied with herself-on this last sail she has left us with a something to think about for the winter…

Posted by Steve Dashew  (December 7, 2001)

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