The “Thorny Path”

The route due east from Florida to the leeward islands of the Caribbean has long been known to sailors as the “Thorny Path.” The reason is that it is mostly straight into the tradewinds that (more or less) blow straight out of the east. They blow steady and they blow hard. Sailing east in these conditions is NOT fun.

Over the years we have sailed here, we have always tried hard to avoid beating directly into the wind. It might mean waiting a week, or two, (or three!) for favorable winds to appear. But sometimes, the best strategy is to take the beating today, with the hope that you will have a break tomorrow. Yesterday, we took the beating, and stepped up onto to the thorny path.

We left Ragged Island early yesterday morning. The winds were from the southeast (as expected) at 16 to 18 knots. We were close hauled on starboard tack. As expected. The ride was fast, and bouncy, but pretty much as expected. By the middle of the day the winds had increased to a steady 25 knots (NOT as expected!) Now we were sailing fast, and flying off the tops of the large waves. It was… uncomfortable. We managed. The boat managed. The only problem encountered was we tore the top of our mizzen sail. It is old and getting a bit tired, so this wasn’t entirely unexpected. We bundled the sail up, and put it below, and sailed on with just the genoa and main.

We managed to round the southern edge of Long Island on one tack. Now we can at last bear off a bit, and point directly at San Salvador. On a reach like this we are now sailing REALLY fast. Consistently over 10 knots. Since we are not punching straight into the waves anymore, the ride is smoother (mostly). Except… that one wave we sail off the top of, and there is no bottom… we fall into a hole in the water. 18 tons of boat falling down comes to a really fast stop when it finally hits the water. As unpleasant as it is to the humans along for the ride, this isn’t something that is dangerous for the boat, but sometimes some of the parts haven’t gotten that message. When the boat shakes off the salt water and gets moving again, the data from our anemometer is no longer on our display. It is after dark, so we really don’t have any idea what has gone wrong. Not a crisis. We, and generations of sailors before us, have sailed without electronic wind instruments.

We arrived at San Salvador hours earlier than we expected. Rather than trying to find our way into the marina at 2AM we anchored off the beach and waited for sunrise.

Once daylight arrives, we can see the issue. The anemometer at the top of the mast is gone, just completely missing… I am not at all sure exactly how this could have happened…

We pulled into the marina, and it wasn’t long before we had the mizzen sail patched up. I hauled Karen on a quick trip to the top of the mizzen mast to retrieve bits stranded up there when the sail came down. After that success, we got all everything on the mizzen mast put back together.

We have gotten the best look we can from ground level at the top of the mainmast to see what’s going on up there with the anemometer. We have a spare, and it LOOKS like all the connections are just waiting up there for a replacement. Tomorrow will tell, when it is my turn to be hauled up the mast and have a look.

Sooo… why did we beat our brains out getting here? Because there is a cold front dipping down and will be passing here in the next couple of days. We are going to grab the winds from the north, south and west from that weather system and race east as fast as we can. If our weather routing predictions can be believed, we have to opportunity to sail from San Salvador to Puerto Rico without beating at all. I’ll believe it when I see it, but it sure looks good…

The possible alternative routes that our program has predicted for the next leg.
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