Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A sailing lesson from Cap'n Kat

This is a shot of a bit of a tidal race near Cruz Bay, on St. John, USVI. There are some pretty considerable currents around here & on this day, those currents & a quite strong east wind conspired to change our plans. We'd started out the day with the intention of sailing around St. John; Capt. Sarah had wintered there a couple of years ago & she wanted to show us around. I'd ended up at the wheel - everything was fine until we came around to the windward side of the island & things started to kick up. There was a 2 - 3 foot swell, with some bigger ones around 4 feet, and the wind was coming from exactly the direction we wanted to go. The windspeeds weren't terribly fierce, 15-20 knots, but frequently gusting to higher levels. At first I was a little spooked - those conditions may not sound too awful but frankly most of my driving experience is in lighter air. I love it when I get to drive the schooner Adirondack & never turn down a chance to do so, but that's almost always in calmer conditions (not to mention that she's twice the length & a whole lot heavier - the Carina was suddenly feeling awfully small!) - when the sailing really starts to get fun is generally also the time when the crew needs to be the crew, the captain needs to drive - making sure that all our passengers are comfortable & enjoying themselves becomes our main focus. If they are all happy, we'll let her rip & put the rail in the water. However nobody more experienced was jumping up to take over, and then Kat actually started giving me some pointers on how to kinda swoop the boat over the bigger swells - and in pretty short order, what started as a bit spooky had turned into a total blast - in the quieter conditions in which I've steered the Adirondack, it's all about responding to the wind - adding the waves as a new component to respond to was really exciting. Whee!

Only problem was that with the tacking we had to do, and a pretty solid current running against us - we kinda weren't getting anywhere (there was this point that we were passing for an AWFULLY long time) so after a while we decided to scratch the circumnavigation & head back over to the leeward side. We decided to stop for a lunch & swim break in placid, sea-turtle filled Hawksnest Bay - the adrenaline on the windward side had been great but somehow once we got back around the bend we all found that we were ready for a little rest! I started to say, this is a nice little bit of a race between St. John & these little rocky islets - looked like it could've been fun in a kayak with the one drawback of being TOTALLY in the middle of where ALL the sailboats and ferries and stuff were going.

Looking back, I think is says something about the mindset we got into on this trip that we never even considered dropping the sails & motoring (in fact that just hit me as I was writing this!). That just wasn't what we were there for. I think that's part of why this trip was so sucessful - none of us got caught up in destinations, it was just about being there!

(lifted wholesale from my Sailing the Virgin Islands gallery - added a few more last night, having a lovely time revisiting & writing 'em up - thought this would make an OK standalone blog post)

btw - I was having way too much fun to hand over the helm & go get my camera when we were over on the south side of the island - but here's a photo taken back in the more sheltered side later in the day. This was fun but it was even more exciting on the south side!

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