Friday, March 17, 2017

1980 (6) - Passage to Martinique

Martinique is labeled in orange, half-way down the island chain.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Facing a 100-mile passage to Martinique, we decided to do an overnight sail.  We left the Saints on March 13th, at 4:00 p.m., and anchored at Fort de France, Martinique, at noon the following day.  Ed had said it would probably take us twenty hours and it did, exactly.  Our last overnight sail had been three months before, when we headed from St. Maarten to Antigua.  It had really been a trial for me.  But since even my own mother, who wouldn't go anywhere on a sailboat, for love or money, thought that I got unduly upset, I decided this overnight passage would be different.  I pictured myself relaxed, and enjoying the sail, watching Orion march his way across the sky.  Well, it wasn't quite like that. 

While we averaged 5 knots for the trip, that was a combination of flying along at 8-9 knots, with reefed mainsail and no mizzen, when we were between the coasts of the islands, feeling the full force of the Atlantic, contrasted with one dead calm we had to motor through, and 3-4 knot sailing while in the lee of Dominica.  We encountered rough waters between the islands.  A few times we were buried under walls of water, one of which knocked me to the full length of my safety harness.  The wave tried to wash the man-overboard pole, and a cockpit cushion, overboard.  Ed grabbed me, I grabbed the cushion, and the pole got tangled in the mizzen boom topping lift, so we were able to pull it back on board.

Fort de France, Martinique, taken from Tropic Moon

I suppose I got more sleep than Ed.  I didn't go below all night.  Instead I curled up on the cockpit cushions behind where Ed stood at the wheel, and napped there.  That way I didn't have to worry about his disappearing over the side, because I could open my eyes and see him.  I only got sick once on the trip, which was a vast improvement over the previous night passage.  I had made a supper before we left the Saints, so Ed could eat when he got hungry.  I just gave him a withering look when he asked me if I was going to eat too. 

I had been asleep, and woke up to find us in the lee of Dominica.  Ed pointed out the lights of the town of Roseau to me.  I had expected to be able to see the outlines of the island's mountains, even at night, but I couldn't make out anything.  That caused me to worry that we were heading straight into the island by mistake.  I kept imagining I saw mountains ahead of us.  (Note:  this was a decade before personal GPS.  Many sailboats had satellite navigation, and most boats had radar.  We had neither.)  I was relieved when we felt the tug of the Atlantic again, and knew we had passed the southern tip of Dominica. 

Another unnerving thing that night was a large ship that looked like a huge, lit-up parking lot.  It was sailing in our direction at something like a 90-degree angle to our path.  Ed could tell we wouldn't be out of its way before it reached us, so we fell off to starboard, and ran downwind to avoid it.  A couple mornings later, a similar-looking vessel sailed into the harbor at Fort de France.  The ship belonged to the U.S. Navy, and carried helicopters and beach landing craft on its decks.  It entered the harbor at 8:00 a.m., using its peashooters to give a 21-gun salute.  The local officialdom responded with their own 21-gun salute, from the cannons at the fort, which boomed and reverberated through the entire anchorage, and got everyone on deck in a hurry!

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