We left Bequia yesterday in a strong breeze, but soon found ourselves in the wind shadow of neighbouring St. Vincent. For three hours we bobbed along under a bright sun, our sails sagging and our progress almost indecipherable. We bemoaned the lack of wind to our first mate, Fliss.
“What do you mean?” she said. “We’re going 1.1 knots.”
“Forward or backwards?” we replied.
But as St. Vincent receded into the distance light airs turned into a near gale. The sea swelled. Wind whipped over our starboard beam, gusting above 30 knots. We braced our yards sharp to port. Soon we were making nearly 10 knots over ground.
We’ve sailed in stronger wind, in the Atlantic, but not square across the beam. We’ve gone faster, but not while heeling 20 degrees. Crew gripped onto the rails. We struggled to make the uphill climb from port to starboard, and to control the downhill sprint back to port again. Our bow wake crashed against the swell, sending waves of spray over the deck.
The strong wind and big sea and strong heel made for a great evening of sailing, some of the best of our voyage.
The sun went down. The wind gusted higher. We went forward to take in the fore upper topsail, hauling the line hard against the wind’s strength. The sail didn’t furl evenly; the starboard foot flapped against the yard. Next we furled the main upper topsail; this time, the port foot didn’t come all the way in.
Bosun’s mates Godfrey and Ted made the tricky nighttime climb up the masts as wind howled in the rigging. They attached makeshift gaskets to both upper topsail yards to secure the sails.
Below, we tightened the foremast braces and the tack on the fore course. Eight of us stood in a line, heaving in unison, fighting the gusts and the canvas and the heel of the ship. The safety rail, normally waist high, barely reached our knees. The ship rolled further and we lurched toward the sea. We collected ourselves and prepared to heave again, to squeeze a few more inches out of the line.
The wind has come and gone since then, but we’re currently making 8 knots and closing in on Dominica. We’ve collected a stowaway in the process: A tiny yellow bananaquit that got blown out to sea has decided to join us. We fed it sugar water from a yellow plastic cup to make sure it has the energy for its onward journey. If we keep making good progress we should arrive in Dominica tonight. We hope the banaquit is as lucky.