Sunday, March 13, 2011

Welcome to the Windward Islands

A couple days on Virgin Gorda refreshed and revitalized us.  Two and a half months, constantly on the go, packed into our little boat in the steadily rising heat, had left all four of us feeling a bit weary and burnt out.  With our enthusiasm for exploration recharged, we were ready to move on.  Becca, by now feeling the keenest pangs of financial stress, had bought a plane ticket home from St. Lucia, 350 miles away.  We had six days.

From Virgin Gorda, we turned southeast, cutting down towards Guadalupe, and said goodbye to bashing out way into the Trade Winds.  No more darting between safe harbors during a weather window.  No more playing the night lees, land breezes, and katabatic winds to crawl our way east without one.  Now, we could sail whenever we wanted.  A steady east wind was the best thing for us.  It was as if a great weight had been lifted from our shoulders.  Sailing was no longer like the weary trudge up a sand dune it had become, sliding one step back for every two forward.  It was now the wild, reckless, and carefree romp down the other side with all sails set, bronzed hands light on the helm.  

We were chocking up the fastest speeds of the trip.  From Virgin Gorda we raced through the Anegada Passage and on into the night.  We approached the Dutch island of Saba at dawn.   It was a towering, cliff edged volcano of an island, dark, vibrant green except where the bare, brown, rock broke through.  A tiny cluster of white houses perched halfway up its east face, the only settlement.  There was no safe anchorage.  We admired it from afar as we flew onward.  

The next mountain of green to break the horizon was St. Eustatius, another Dutch island.  Here, we were joined by a pod of dolphins, jumping and playing, zigzagging with speed and grace, back and forth beneath our boat.  The mercury was rising with the sun and Mark determined it was time to take a dip with the dolphins.  We were about twenty miles from land.  No other boats in sight.  The water was a very dark blue and very deep.   We hove to, Mark grabbed his snorkel mask and dove in.  

Ever since, Mark finds ways to bring up his swim with those wise and playful sea mammals.  The truth is, the dolphins disappeared as soon as we stopped moving, and were long gone before Mark's foot ever broke the water's surface.  Perhaps, they decided simply to move on as suddenly as they'd appeared.  Perhaps, when we stopped sailing we stopped being fun to swim with.  Perhaps, they smelled Mark coming and fled in fear.  But, if Mark has swum with dolphins, then so has everyone who's ever swum in the ocean.  

St. Kitts was the next to slide by at sunset, then Nevis in the night, and then Montserrat just after dawn.  This last one is still an active volcano and we'd been warned to pass on its windward side lest we be caught in the fallout of one of its eruptions.   As we neared , we were about ten miles downwind of it.  I was the only one awake.  I flexed my captain's authority and chose the easiest of the two options.  As we passed, I could smell the sulfur and brimstone.

We finally made landfall Guadalupe, in the port of Deshaies.    It was like a tropical France.  Our first contact with the indigenous people was a young man with long ,blond hair pulled back in a ponytail who motored out to us in a dinghy.  With a heavy French accent, he explained that he was going boat to boat in the harbor, taking orders for fresh baguettes and croissants to be delivered at 0630 the next morning.  How could we resist?  They arrived on time, as promised, just as we were ready to weigh anchor.  They were delicious.

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