The Windward Passage and Jamaica
The Windward Passage is a strait of wild and wily water situated between the west tip of Haiti and the east coast of Cuba. Not unlike the dreaded cuts in the Bahamas (see past blog post) the prevailing easterly winds funnel masses of water from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea resulting in high, chaotic waves and a 5-10 knot increase in the prevailing wind speeds.
One of the blog posts I read reported their boat being approached by Haitian fishing vessels. They never stopped to find out what they wanted, but it sounded potentially worrisome. The Windward Passage made me nervous even back there in the couch, sipping my tea and looking out through the window.
Last week the forecast finally showed a good weather window and we did the final preparations for our four-day, 480 mile passage from Black Point, Exuma, to Port Antonio, Jamaica. I cooked all our meals and put them in Tupperware in the fridge, Bill filled up our jerry jugs with diesel and water and made sure our safety equipment was in order.
We followed the weather obsessively on Windy and talked to weather Guru Chris Parker about how best to approach the passage. A strong cold front off the east coast of the US slowed down the trade winds in central and southern Bahamas enough for us to make it south east through the Southern Bahamas. By the time we approached the Windward Passage the winds should be light southerlies and the pass passable, at least in theory.
We set off at dawn Tuesday February 27 and were able to reach in light winds the next 48 hours. The moon was almost full and the ocean awash in light as Miraj rushed through the calm waters. It was magic.
As expected the wind decreased and as we turned south, but our asymmetrical spinnaker kept our average speed up to 4.7 knots and we reached the Windward passage Thursday evening as planned.
Cuba’s coastline towered to our right as the sun set and the full moon rose, and we entered the pass supported by good omens. We were approaching unknown territories and waters in our small sailboat; it was both exciting and anxiety-producing, so typical for sailing.
Cruising is an exploration of both inner and outer landscapes. Anxieties arise, cloaked as fear of bad weather and unknown cultures. During a passage I have time to spend uninterrupted time with my thoughts and feeling as the boat glides forward toward a new destination. In light winds and gentle rolling it is soothing and when the winds and waves grow larger I brace myself and pay full attention.
We hugged Cuba’s eastern tip in calm conditions and sailed to our first waypoint. At 9 PM we turned east, and headed downwind under a full genoa. The seas grew larger as we rolled our way through the tightest part of the passage.
As I went off my watch at 1 AM and laid down to rest in my berth, Miraj came alive. She careened down 6 foot waves, lost the wind in the trough, received slaps from random waves, swayed back and forth, rushing and sloshing onward. Amazed by her nimble, stable movement I fell asleep held in place by the lee cloth.
By the time I rose 3 hours later we were through the pass and followed the west coast of Cuba toward Guantanamo Bay. The wind died and we motored the next 24 hours until we reached Port Antonio, Jamaica.
It is a special feeling to approach a new harbor in a foreign country by boat. The 7000 feet peaks of the Blue Mountains emerged at dawn, extracting themselves from the cloud cover hanging over the island. By 9 AM we were docked at Errol Flynn Marina waiting to be checked in.
This first week in Jamaica has been full of new impressions. Jamaica is, crowded, hot, loud, colorful, spicy, and lush. There are steep hills, curried goat, scents of reefer and booming music. The Jamaicans are poor and hardworking, finding ways to make a living in the most unexpected ways.
Along the North coast, the seas are high and the protected anchorages far between. We are adjusting our plans to our new surroundings and to our guests visiting us the next few weeks. Every day is new and we savor this special time with good friends in a new place.