21 January 2016

Upwind Passage to Barbados

Leaving Clark's Court Bay, Grenada at sunrise
Ever since returning to Milly, the fellow cruisers we met from Trinidad to Grenada implied with a disbelieving expression or told us outright that we were crazy to sail to Barbados for Christmas.  It’s an upwind passage that most sailors avoid.  The vast majority of cruisers who arrive at the island have come from the west - that is, Barbados is the first port of call after crossing the Atlantic hailing from the Canaries or Cape Verde.  Compared to these trans-ocean sailors and relative to our months upwind travelling the coast of Brazil, Peter and I were determined to believe that a 36 hour sail to Barbados would be within our capabilities but perhaps, depending on wind and swell, not all that comfortable.  As the day of departure crept toward us and the number of cruisers questioning our sanity multiplied - to the point of suggesting that we should pay for the kids flights to Grenada instead of making the passage - my trepidation increased.  But our kids had chosen this island as our Christmas meeting point and come hell or high water - hopefully neither - we were going to get there.

The 144 NM (as the crow flies) with a 15 knot trade wind on the beam - perfect - would normally take about 15-16 hours.  We figured this upwind course in the forecast light winds would take 36 hours.  We planned to head south toward Tobago on the first tack to get a better angle to Barbados, perhaps only one more long tack if all went well.  The wind was forecast as light (8-12knots) and so we hoped the swell and waves would be smaller and more comfortable, or as comfortable as an upwind passage across open ocean can be.

We left at 6:00 a.m. thinking that we would make Port St Charles harbour before dark the following day.

Remarkably, the forecast was accurate, the wind was light, the swells manageable.  The sail was unremarkable.  We made Port St Charles in 32 hours.  No sweat, no problem - although Milly was still salt-coated with a total of 198 NM actually sailed.  But compared to the southern coast of Brazil, this was a snap.
At our generous friends' private dock in the lagoon at Port St Charles.
And Barbados was well worth the upwind jog.  So to all sailors who are reluctant to sail the upwind trip, pick your time and go - it’s great.  Or, if you must sail downwind, arrive via an Atlantic circuit or, better yet, a circumnavigation.  You’ll be happy with the visit.  More on Barbados to come.
Port St Charles Yacht Club - Our Christmas port of call

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