30 November 2018

A Slow Boat To Antigua


Another name for this blog post could be "Chasing the Trades (but never catching them)". Not only our pre-departure forecast, but also our daily weather updates continually assured us that our winds were just a bit further ahead. But alas, the easterly trade winds were like a tempestuous debutante who decided not to show up for her party (until the last 50nm - sigh).

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Despite tremendous anxiety about our fuel and a frequent feeling of vulnerability, there were abundant joys including fascinating sunsets to starboard with simultaneous moon rises to port every evening, each one spectacular but different. And with a full moon mid passage and scant cloud cover, we were blessed with illuminated nights and could even sometimes see our moon shadows in the cockpit. In addition, there were calm seas for most of the passage and we were able to relax for long spells (definitely not the norm for our off shore experience). The indescribable deep blue encircling as far as one can see is mesmerizing.

Moonrise to port, and sunset to starboard every evening.

Ultimately, what we thought would be a six (or seven) day passage with some motoring during the first half and good sailing during the remainder, was nine days of continual evaluation of how best to make southerly progress in contrary winds with limited fuel and electricity. A veil of anxiety lay over us knowing we did not have diesel to fall back on and also rationing the electricity. I think we are better sailors for this experience, certainly more humble.

The Journey

​"Sunday is a good possibility" said Ken McKinley. That sentence in an email from our weather router got us in full-on preparation mode.

Capt. Bob Damiano

We had been sitting in Bermuda for a couple weeks getting repairs done, and waiting for a weather window.  And now we had one.

Argon in a prime location on the seawall in Bermuda before departing for Antigua.

This was going to be the longest double-handed sail we had ever done (950nm). And after a not-so-great experience coming over to Bermuda from Newport, we were a little bit nervous. The word among the cruisers in Bermuda was that most everyone was going to go Sunday 18Nov with some people leaving Saturday evening prior. Indeed, there was quite a line at the customs dock first thing Sunday morning.​​

A to-do list taped to our nav table had all of the check boxes checked. We had done a lot to get ready to leave from Bermuda not even considering all the repair work we had to do because of the damage we sustained coming over from Newport. Apparently, we were ready to go.

A flurry of activity kept us busy the two days before setting sail for Antigua.

We knew this was not an ideal window given the predicted amount of light and southerly winds which would require substantial motoring. But we liked that there were no "rigorous" winds or seas expected. We calculated and re-calculated the likely amount of diesel that would be needed and ultimately determined that we had enough with about 30% margin. An over-arching message in the forecast was "just get to latitude 24 asap and you will begin to catch some easterlies". As we would later learn, we should have over-planned for fuel. On a down-wind passage, if the forecast wind direction is off by 10 or 20 degrees either way, it's not a big deal. But on a passage where you know things will be upwind a lot of the time, 10 degrees is huge - and this is well within the expected accuracy of any forecast!

Passage Notes

Following are some day-to-day notes made during the Passage from Bermuda to Antigua in November 2018. I also include some of the daily "letters home" to our friends and family.

Sunday 18 Nov: Day 1

This morning I woke up at 3 a.m. and had the butterflies. This was really happening today! Linda said she was appropriately nervous - enough to keep her alert and on her toes, but I was pretty much a bundle of nerves. Why am I not in my lovely home in Newport soaking in the frickin hot tub!!?

Linda posing with Her Majesty's Customs Officer after checking out of customs.

Fresh from lessons learned on our previous passage, we really wanted to be careful and cautious, do things right and avoid mistakes. But, as we were pulling out of St. George Harbor we realized we had forgotten to lower the Bermudian courtesy flag and didn't want that flailing around during the passage. I went on deck (just as things were starting to get a bit bouncy as we were leaving the Town Cut) and lowered the flag. I let the flag halyard slip out of my hands and watched it get nicely fouled in the lazy jack lines. Ugh... To be sure, this wasn't really a big problem, but this small thing psyched me out because we made our first goof before we even got out of the cut! I was later able to unfoul that line in calmer seas.

Day one was mostly sailing very fast with a nice northeast wind behind us and a sea state that was quite manageable, although a bit uncomfortable.  We had four to six foot seas with an occasional eight for fun.

Out in the open water with Bermuda visible a few miles to the north. This would be the most wind we would have for the next 9 days.

After a fast start, sailing would become quite slow for the next many days.

Mostly calm seas made for nice conditions for sleeping in the cockpit many nights.

Energy Management

A complication with leaving from Bermuda on a passage that's going to require a lot of motoring is that there is no shore power in Bermuda to keep batteries topped up. And you can't sit there and run your engine for hours (wasting fuel) before you leave. Things were overcast on the day of our departure as well as several days prior, so the solar panels did not do a lot for us. Thus we were starting out with an energy deficit. We figured that once we got more south with sunny days, the panels would do their thing, but another lesson learned later is that the panels don't work so great when sailing due south because the panels are shaded by the sails for a good part of the day!

The charge in our batteries became an important detail in our lives. On top of our usual consumption, the Fleet One satellite system was also running which can suck a bit of power (depending on how bouncy things are). The result of all this was it we were running a little lean on voltage the first night and we did have to run the engine on idle for a bit just make some electrons - this was engine time, we had not planned on.

Wind was in the high teens and low twenties and just at, or slightly forward of, the beam. We erred on the side of caution and kept the main reefed most of the time and because of that, we gave up a bit of speed. This may have been a small mistake as getting south fast was the mantra for this window.

I didn't feel very well for most of the first day and night. I think it was probably nerves and a little bit of sea sickness. Linda, as usual, was rock solid. After midnight, the winds dropped more than expected and we got into quite a dead spot for a lot of the next day. So this meant we had to fire up the engine a bit sooner than we had planned. We immediately began tracking our engine hours.

We were beginning to have a bit of anxiety about fuel capacity. We resumed our (re)calculations and thinking about how we were going to use the fuel we have.  On this trip, we carried one extra 5 gallon jerry jug in to supplement our 77 gallon main tank (in hindsight, this is embarrassing). We made a satellite phone call (cha-ching!) to Ken to discuss the situation. He advised that if we could just get to latitude 29N, we should find some Southwest wind and sail a decent angle in for a while. But as we approached 29N, it was still really dead and we were resigning ourselves to motoring overnight (which we really had not planned on doing).

Jethro commenced to cypherin'.

I was down below resting and trying not to think about diesel, when I heard Linda shut off the engine and roll out the jib. That was a great sound to hear! I came up, looked at the wind gauge and saw a nice 12.6 knots of wind at a decent angle. We sailed beautifully all night and our spirits were buoyed. Winds were mostly constant 10 to 12 kt.  As Ken predicted, this SW wind started exactly at 29N and not a second of latitude before! (This would be about the last time we caught the wind as predicted.)

first of our daily sat messages to family/friends:
Good morning.
Pos 30:6.6n. 64:11.68w

Winds currently very light ne. Resisting motoring but sailing very slowly (<5kts). Until 0300, was making very good speed.

Trying to reserve fuel for the coming headwinds.
Seas very flat, partly cloudy.

Yesterday was fast. The boat feels great with the new rig. Seas weren't very high, but uncomfortable. I didn't feel well most of yesterday and overnight. Linda was fine and a great skipper as usual.

Was very cloudy and rainy until about 1am which made things a little less fun. Then we got some nice moonlight and we should have some sun today. 

We're doing fine.  Love to all

Tuesday 21 Nov: Day 3

Early Tuesday morning it became clear we were not going to be able to to continue sailing much longer.

First Light, Tuesday.
Eventually, the winds faltered and backed a little bit to the south so we decided to do some motor-sailing just to try to maintain a reasonable angle south.
Good morning.
Pos 28:23.7n. 63:29.0w

We had a slow day yesterday with more motoring than we would have liked. We were getting a bit concerned about fuel capacity. We called Ken on the satphone to discuss. He thought we'd have a decent sw wind once we hit 29n.

As soon as we hit 29n, we got the wind we expected and we sailed all night after that.  We got headed off a bit and were able to do only 140-144 degrees so we have crossed east of the rhumb line a bit. At 0400, we hit some good squalls that brought a nice westerly component and we were able to go 180 with really fast speeds for a while. We're going to want to be east of rhumb anyway when we hit the trade winds around 22n later in the week.

Wind is such that we are able to continue sailing at 145-ish. With every hour we're sailing, fuel becomes less of a concern.

Winds are generally light (although I'm pretty sideways at this moment). We're sailing as high as we can and will eventually switch back to motor sailing as the wind backs more.  Seas very flat. beautiful sunrise. Air is 80-ish (87 inside the boat)

All is well. Boat is still performing like the beast she is.

At about 1300 on Tuesday, after evaluating the latest weather update email and becoming sad, we decided to stop the engine again and sail as high as we could. I did a spacewalk to adjust the jib clewboard for the light air. We expected winds to back a little bit to the south or maybe east of south later and then we'll evaluate if we want to put in a tack. It felt great to be sailing again - even if it was only 4kts. Linda took a nap down below and I sat in the cockpit enjoyed the beautiful sky and water.

Every morning and evening provided a different flavor of a reminder of why we do this.

We sailed nicely again until about 1900 when the wind just got around in front of us too much and it wasn't worth being off to the east anymore. At this point we picked a waypoint on 24 north latitude and decided to just make a beeline for it with the engine focusing on the "just get to latitude 24N" part of the forecast. We calculated it would be approximately 40 to 45 hours of motoring. And we are pretty confident we had about 65 hours of capacity at the moment. This was the part we actually planned on motoring over.
One of the indicators that would rule our lives for the next week.

According to Ken's latest email, 24N is where we should expect to see some Easterly component winds with the winds backing more and more to the east the further south we go. At about 2300, I relieved Linda from her watch and I'm sitting in the cockpit under a moonlit sky listening to the engine whir along at 1900 RPM, looking at our speed over ground in the mid to high fives and a COG of 162 degrees. Status quo for a while. And for a change the sound of the diesel didn't cause me anxiety because I know we have enough fuel now since those easterlies will kick in at 24N. At least they should...


Linda was determined to catch a fish along the way. We bought three lures in Hamilton, Bermuda and I rigged the smallest one on the handline and let it out. As soon as I sat down, we had a hit and as I started reeling it in, we could see that it was a Mahi. As I was getting ready to lift him into the cockpit, the swivel on the new lure failed and away he went. Two lures left... Over the rest of the passage, we tried both other lures - sometimes at the same time and with a teaser line. Only one of them was effective as we got a hit with another small Mahi. This time, he shook the hook out himself during one of his jumps. Thus no fresh Mahi for this passage.

Linda deploying a trolling lure on the handline (yoyo).

Wednesday 21-Nov:  Morning Day 4

Linda finished up the overnight watch and I came up about 0700 to yet another beautiful sunrise. Winds picked up last night to the mid teens we were motoring straight into them which slowed us down considerably. We considered falling off and sailing a little bit but decided to just keep plowing forward on our straight line to 24N.  At this point we had run the motor exactly 30 hours total since filling the tank. The boat got a nice power washing the prior night in a strong but short rainstorm.
Good morning.

0845. Pos26:30.6n. 62:17.7w

Winds are 9-12 due south now and a little oncoming chop is developing. We're doing low 5s now.

Plan is still to make it to 24n at about the Antigua longitude and hopefully sail from there as the wind develops an easterly component.

We feel good about fuel now but will certainly switch to motor sailing if and when the wind gets off our nose.

In fishing news, I put one of our new lures on the hand line and before I could sit down, we had a mahi on. As I got him near the boat, the swivel on the brand new lure failed. Linda is determined to catch a fish, so she has both remaining lures out - one on the hand line and the other on a pole.  I think she's just slowing the boat down for nothing.

We and the boat are well.  We are about 130 nautical miles behind our estimate between all the dead air and slow motoring.  Hopefully we will have a fast finish starting late tomorrow.
At around noon, we started seeing some possibly encouraging signs that the wind is backing and getting a little bit of an easterly component. Will anticipated the update from Ken within the hour to confirm our next move and hoping the wind backs as predicted. And the sooner the better!

A lot of hours on the Autopilot on this passage.

This was to be the first of many more frustrating times where the wind just didn't follow instructions.

As Linda was coming off her afternoon watch and I was going on mine we decided to open up the fuel tank and have a look at exactly how much fuel was in it. Fuel gauges on boats are just about useless especially when the boat is rolling around in a seaway. The best fuel gauge is the engine hour meter, a calculator and intimate knowledge of your engine's burn rate at various RPMs. (We track and graph our burn rate each time we fill the tank with diesel.) To our pleasant surprise, the tank was at about 60%. While we had it open, we decided to pour in our 5.3gal Jerry jug of additional diesel.

At this point, there are 130 nautical miles left get to our waypoint at 24 North. Our present speed and pessimistic calculation showed we would need about 26 hours of motoring. Then, figuring a pessimistic burn rate of 1.2 gallons per hour and we should need about 31 gallons. We're going to make it! To 24N anyway...

The access port opened on the fuel tank for measuring (and filling). We used a measuring tape to assess the amount of diesel in the tank which is way more accurate than the fuel gauge.

I remained fixated on the wind dial as it's still stubbornly on the nose. Occasionally, I am seeing signs that it's going into the eastern quadrant a little bit, but then it doesn't...    Really looking forward to see the Dial at 11 or 10 instead of midnight or 1. Linda says that the vertical wind arrow on the chartplotter is like an extended middle finger. (We're north-up people.)

Thursday 22-Nov: Day 5 (Thanksgiving)

I woke up to yet another disappointing wind direction. The wind is stubbornly not backing yet to the southeast and continues to be on our nose. We are still 38 miles north of 24N and we continue to strain to see a favorable trending, but to no avail. We manually assess our fuel by opening up the tank again in case we need to motor even further south to catch some wind. But we realize that it may be time to start slowly beating our way south under sail which will put us further behind when we are supposed to catch those easterlies. At this point in the passage, we are a good 36 hours behind where we thought we would be by now and we still have a long way to go!

Thanksgiving Sunrise
As I lay down to try to take a nap after my watch in the port side bunk, I thought nothing would make me happier than to be thrown out of bed by a nicely healing boat! I thought of attaching the lee cloth, but then thought why bother?
0720. Pos 24:33n 5 61:34.2w

Happy Thanksgiving

We motored all night. Winds were light so we made good speed.   A few times the wind teased us by backing a bit to maybe 170, but overall still pretty much due south or very slightly east of south.

Still hoping wind fills in from a more favorable direction when we reach 24n around noon.  We opened the tank yesterday at 1700 to do an accurate measurement of remaining fuel.  At that time we had 45 gal remaining which for us is about 40hrs. We also dumped in our 5.3gal jug at that time. We're hoping to only need it for another 7hrs or so until much later when we pull into antigua.

Update... linda just reported a good trend in the wind.  We might switch to motorsailing now!

We're fine. Tired, but fine. Very flat calm seas. I keep dreaming I'm still at the dock in Bermuda

And linda is still fishing.

Still optimistic about landing a mahi!

When we got the latest weather update, the news wasn't great (again). The elusive backing to east was going to happen a little later in the day and it was going to be very light wind. So it sounds like we will be motoring throughout the rest of the day not stopping at 2 p.m. like we planned. On top of that, there were going to be a couple of dead spells still to the south of us that would require a little bit of motoring. Diesel anxiety is starting to set in again as 24N was no longer when we would meet up with the easterlies.

We considered several options and just decided to turn the engine off and sail as high as we could on a port tack for a minute while we collected our thoughts. We noticed that the course over ground projection line landed right on the British Virgin Islands and we thought well there's an option. Linda called Ken on the sat phone (cha ching!) had a little chat with him and we decided that we would still try to make as much southerly advance is we could today and put off any decision on diverting to another destination until later. Ken thought that we should be able to sail pretty well overnight tonight.

Thanksgiving sunset at the start of a great night of slow but smooth sailing.

The great sailing overnight that was predicted came true. It was actually one of the most wonderful overnight sails we ever had in nice winds of 10 to 12 kts close hauled and flat seas under an incredibly bright moon. We set the autopilot in Windvane mode to have it follow the wind around to the east as it (hopefully) backed.  Our track traced out a gentle arc as wind continued to back through the night. For the moment, the wind was actually following instructions and we enjoyed the serenity.


Friday 23 Nov:  Day 6

In the morning, the air was light again and we assess again about if and when and how long and what rpm we would run the engine again so we decided to take another direct measurement from the tank with our sophisticated measuring tape. Now, we had about 32% of the tank or about 24 gallons remaining. We were wishing we had about double that.
Current pos.
22 49.160 N  61 36.882 W

Were able to stop the engine Th afternoon... those winds we were optimistic about Th a.m. did not materialize thus motored more than expected (again).

Have been sailing close haul since Th afternoon averaging almost 5kts in 6-10kt SE winds. (Bob is channeling Lance with lots of sail tweaks.)
More slowly ~3kts starting as couple hours ago. Course generally 185. Very flat seas, long low swells from SE. Seas very calm and beautiful... not physically stressful at all... quite relaxing (except for knowing our motoring options are dwindling). Had planned on no more need for motoring once we hit 24N but has not been the case. Also learned yesterday that we have to get through another dead spot that is developing later today.

ETA looking like Monday a.m. (1.5 days later than planned). Keeping option of diverting to St Maarten or VI if winds do not fill in from the east enough.
continue to troll for mahi or wahoo... no luck yet.
We sent our emails home and to Ken with our status and even though the wind was light, we decided to sit tight and sail very slowly, preserving diesel, until we heard back. We were determined to make this a no-diesel day. We want to be careful about when we use the remaining fuel that we have.

Reading conditions (quite rare on off shore passages).

The weather forecast for today sounded promising. We expected the wind would back more to the east and in fact maybe even go slightly north of east for a short time this afternoon. We were really looking forward to getting some good boat speed and putting some of our east back in. However, just like many other times in this trip the wind was just relentlessly south and never quite backed as much as predicted. We continued to lose ground to the west and we were now a few miles west of the longitude for the Antigua approach (not where we wanted to be). Like the prior night, the winds were expected to increase overnight thus we held some optimism.
We just received an encouraging weather update. Winds will continue to be light (but good for sailing 4-6 kts; and periods faster) as the direction improves with more easterlies. We likely will not have to use engine/precious diesel anymore with the exception on briefly Saturday evening.

Thus although we are delayed, and would prefer more speed, it is actually quite relaxing with the very modest swells of crystal blue water, warm sunny skies, moonlite/bright nights. I'm even reading a book today while lounging in the cockpit.

And we are confident in being able to make Antigua, and not diverting to St Maarten or Virgins.

Linda (and Bob)

PS. But still no fish!!!! Please send fishing luck my way through the ethers  :-)  :-)

Just as we were getting discouraged about how much we were getting headed off to the west the predicted lift seemed to come at first about 10 degrees and an hour later we were lifted almost 30 degrees!  It was a little late, but it showed up and it was awesome - we were thrilled! By this point in the passage, we considered 5kts a really fast boat speed!

Passage burritos!

I came back on watch at about 2300 and Linda was still doing a nice angle like 160-ish and we had already gained about 10nm of east. Within about a half an hour the winds started to build and next thing you know we had our hands full with 15kts close hauled sailing! It was almost time to reef the main! Linda came back up helped make some tweaks and in about a half an hour the wind dropped back down to around 9kts. Unfortunately it also seems the the whatever this little disturbance was eroded some of the lift that we were getting.

We got so used to things being so calm and easy we actually committed the mortal sin of having some port lights open to get some ventilation down below... and we got a good reminder why you really shouldn't do that when we jumped off of a wave and I heard a big splash down below. No harm done, but we did get a good splash on the port side settee.

Cleaning up the salt water from the wave that came splashing in the open port hole.

Saturday 24 Nov:  Day 6

I woke up to nice but light sailing conditions with light winds and fairly flats seas. We weren't going very fast but we were still making a good angle south towards Antigua. We were also very encouraged see the we are now under 250 nautical miles away from our destination. That almost feels like a day-sail now! Although slower than planned, we should be in Antigua Monday! (Not)
24nov 0730

21:04.2N. 61:30.2W

Good morning.  Im sure the question on everyone's mind is "how many times has someone got hit in the crotch by a flying fish?"  The answer is "only once so far"

Yesterday, we were expecting winds to finally back to the east in the afternoon. That didn't happen until 1700 so we were getting a bit discouraged and wondering if it was ever going to happen. When it did, we got a great lift and  were able to reclaim some east under sail.

Yesterday was a zero diesel day.

Overnight, winds built and we again had a pretty fast night.  We were in high 6s low 7s and at a great angle.

As predicted, the wind has veered back to sse and is light this morning.  Sea is pretty flat but a tiny bit of chop is stealing speed from us.  We are really slow right now and doing a course over ground of about 190 (so giving back some of our hard won east).

We expect a dead spot today and so will probably motor on low revs for a bit. We will use that time to get some of our east back. 

270 nautical miles to go!  We are at Antigua's longitude now, but we are sliding slowly west due to the wind direction.  We won't change a thing until we hear from ken with today's outlook.  For now just sailing slowly as high as we can.

We've been using the autopilot in windvane mode. Last time we tried that, it worked horribly, but that was before all the firmware updates. It's working beautifully now.

I've been ordered to go back to sleep as soon as I send this.

Saturday Night - ugh...

I started my watch about 1800 on Saturday night. We had a pretty good day making decent progress under sail and putting some east in the bank. Winds were light and expected to veer a little bit around on our nose overnight to SSE. We now had 200nm left to go (in a straight line).

We were not approaching 20N (and had expected to be sailing nicely on those easterly trade winds well before now) when winds started to get very light and we noticed a lot of patches of dark clouds through the moonlite. Eventually, we were becalmed and we decided to motor on slow revs to make any forward progress and maintain steerage (vs just bobbing in the still waters). In the moonlight, the water looked like glass. More fuel anxiety ensued. And looking at the chart plotter, seeing how far away we were from any land, makes one feel quite vulnerable.

All dressed up but no where to go!

As a dark mound in the sky approached, Linda called me up from my rest to prepare for a potential squall. Sure enough, the winds would go from 1 to 20kts in 30 seconds requiring quick reefing and careful steerage in the now pitch black conditions. And torrential rains accompanied these winds making it quite challenging to stay oriented. Both of us were very tired by this point rarely having more than a couple hours sleep at a time for a week now. I was definitely having an Are we there yet? moment.

Exhausted and a little worried about our limited options in making good southward progress.

Reflecting the next day on what happened last night...

After the third squad rolled over us, it left us with a very southwest wind (wrong direction!). We had to tack to the southeast. This southwest wind up against the prevailing swell from the east, made the sea state absolutely miserable. We were both exhausted, and it was impossible to sleep and now we were frustratingly loosing some ground.

Every passage has a moment of despair, and this was it for both of us. This wind shift was not expected (not to this degree anyway) and we were now sailing way off course and making virtually zero progress toward our destination and just generally feeling very discouraged and vulnerable. We were very aware that we could not outrun bad weather approaching should that be in the cards. My kingdom for some diesel!  On top of this, we had gotten a high data usage alert earlier from the satellite provider (well in to the 4 digit of dollars). This just demoralized us more as we try to be smart about such things.

We spent most of the next day consoling each other as we drifted further and further east with virtually no southerly progress toward our goal. For the first time in many days I took a Stugeron because the motion was nasty. That would have helped me sleep if it wasn't for the constant loud banging into waves every minute or so. 
Good morning.  We had a bit of a rough night last night. We expected winds to veer to sse overnight, but they actually veered further to ssw.  This happened right after a period of dead calm intermixed with squalls with high winds and heavy rain. We were forced to tack to the east until this morning when we could see signs that the wind would back to the east again.  It seems to be very gradually doing that (good). The sea state was awful last night when the wind went to the south west quadrant. We're pretty exhausted today.  Still possible to land antigua tomorrow night if this wind ever gets more from the east.  Backup is that we're pointing right at st Maarten now while sailing as high as possible.

Pos 19:30.6N 61:19.2W

Im becoming a fan of airplanes 

At daybreak (Monday), the wind was still relentlessly southwest and we both felt defeated and exhausted. Finally, at about 0700, I noticed the first inkling of the wind backing east of south - just a little bit.  Soon, we were able to tack southwest again. As we did, the sea state improved drastically and things felt better in a hurry. We spent to the rest of the day sailing as high as we could and our projected course over ground line was hitting somewhere between St Maarten and Barbuda. Sailing to St. Maarten was now plan B again.

So close, and yet we just can't point where we need to. Those last 200nm were hard fought.

Monday's weather update predicted the wind was going to back all the way to east southeast in the evening but south of latitude 19N. We were still about 10 miles north of that latitude so we weren't seeing it yet. We were really hoping it would happen.

At one point, we decided to do some motor-sailing to both charge the batteries and make some more direct progress to 19N. We fired up the engine and... uh oh... it sputtered and coughed a bit.  "Something's not right", said the skipper. I was ready to shut it down, when it finally smoothed out.  We must have gulped a tiny bit of air at some point. This is exactly what we don't want to have happen as we're pulling into a harbor, potentially at night!

Tracking position, fuel measurements, wind direction on paper.

Monday morning at daybreak, I'm sure this is a total shock, but the winds never backed to where we expected them too. We are about 35 nautical miles north of Barbuda (about 80 miles from English Harbor, Antigua) and at our current angle we were not going to make it east of the island. I got a good night's sleep while Linda manned the helm working to stay as east as possible. Knowing that land should be in sight soon, our spirits are lifted.

Another epic sunrise on Monday. First light and sunrise is always a treasure, especially on difficult passages.

Around mid day, it's obvious that we're not going to see this predicted easterly turn, so we looked at our options. I considered again just bailing out and going to St. Maarten. We knew for sure we did not want to use the engine for any propulsion after our hard start the previous night. The solar panels are working very well at this angle and the batteries are being topped up nicely.

I was not convinced we would ever be able to make a better angle than 200 (on a starboard tack) so I drew a "safety line" on the chart from the southeast tip of Antigua (a lee shore) at about 205 degrees to determine how far east we would need to be to make it. It wasn't pretty.

We were determined to still make Antigua. We decided to put in a long tack to the east and see if the wind would back later in the day. The latest weather update had the wind backing (really, this time for sure) to east and even ENE in the late afternoon and evening (after a dead spell). We ended up putting in about 20 miles of east by the time we were done.
Monday 0530
Pos 18:19.3N 61:44.6W

Good morning.
And keeping with the theme of this passage the wind never backed as far to the east as it was supposed to. Wind just doesn't follow directions sometimes or ever on this trip it seems.

We had an easy gentle night last night.

We're currently about 35 nautical miles north of Barbuda and about 50 nautical miles north of Antigua. The only issue is that we're a little bit too far west. We will sit tight for a bit before we either do a tack or do some motor sailing to the east. Other option is to come down the west side of the island and pull into jolly harbor on the west instead of English harbor on the south.

Still have 23gal of diesel in our pocket too.  Will definitely do some motoring anyway to charge batteries.  We've learned that sailing due south is not so efficient with our solar panels. They are shadowed by the sails for the best part of the day.  We finally turned the fridge right off yesterday and used up just a few perishables in there.  Warm soda from now on.

The good news is we will be in sight of land today and we're already hearing a little bit of VHF traffic. Expect to arrive overnight tonight unless we have to do a big long stupid tack which will make it perhaps this time tomorrow. We would prefer to arrive daylight anyway. Linda did a long watch last night and I got plenty of sleep.  She will probably sleep for a good spell today I hope and then we'll figure out how we're going to get were we need to go.

next message will hopefully be from cheap Wi-Fi and Antigua.

We're doing 3 to 5 kts sailing as high as possible into light air. After the last 5 days, this feels like the new cruising speed of Argon.  I haven't seen us do 7kts since the night we left Bermuda.
At about 1500, the backing was indeed happening, yipee!!! And we did what we hope is the last tack to south for final approach to Antigua. Now we were just waiting for the winds to build as predicted (and you know how winds always do what they're predicted to do).

Things are tuning our way!

This time, the wind followed directions perfectly! (That tempestuous debutante showed up to her party!)  We sailed an easy beam reach all night in 9-12kts of wind on flat seas. It was almost possible to forget the frustrations of the last many days as the lights of Barbuda were visible (land ho!). We were both too excited to sleep much.

Smiles tonight. We'll be there in the morning!

As the lights of Antigua lit up the west, we saw a few other AIS targets (first time in many days) behind us (and passing us). We knew those guys had been through the same stuff as us and were now having the same great reach to the finish line.

The home stretch??

At sunrise Tuesday morning, we were just making the turn (now downwind if you can believe that) around the southern coast of Antigua. As we approached English Harbor, we went into standard operating procedure about dropping sails and motoring in but not until we were almost in the harbor to minimize our fuel usage. In our minds, we were hoping the engine wouldn't slurp some air and stall out at the worst possible time (but neither of us mentioned this worry to the other). Just in case, we kept a screwdriver handy to open the air bleed valve on the fuel pump!

Final approach to Antigua English Harbor on Tuesday morning!

We're going to make it!!

The engine started and ran fine, and within a few minutes we were dropping the hook in English Harbor!

It was a long time coming, but we made it here after 9 days at sea.
We were tired, and excited, but there was no time to chill out. We had work to do:  Commission the dinghy, get cleared into Customs, put the sailbag back on, get to town and buy a local Sim for our travel phone. I fired up the bullet and looked for some wifi... nuthin'. To send our final shore email, I just temporarily turned roaming on in my main phone.  Later, we purchased a Flow Sim card and put it in the cheap travel phone. So far, so good.

And now, it was all worth it.  As I walk around Nelson's Dockyard, I don't miss my lovely Newport home at all.

The track of the whole passage.

Lessons Learned

Clearly, the big mistake here was fuel planning and not factoring in enough margin for error with the weather forecast. We had enough fuel for the forecast, but we know that weather predictions are just estimates, especially several days out. And we did not factor in enough fuel for in case much more motoring would be needed (which it was). On a passage this long with as much expected motoring as we had, we should have had about three or four Jerry Jugs of extra fuel (not just one). This would have made all the difference. Because we spent so much of the passage going so slowly, we were too late getting to latitudes where the wind was better. So the problem just cascaded:  The slower we went, the harder it would be to go fast later.

We were also very lucky that there were no impending nasty systems that we needed to outrun.  We couldn't outrun anything on this passage. Luckily, although it was a slow passage, the conditions were very safe and benign most of the time. Even the nasty Saturday night we had probably felt a lot worse than it really was.

We didn't download nearly enough podcasts for the passage.  I had to listen to the same Bugle about 4765 times!

One thing we did right was continually strategizing, tracking and carefully using the fuel we had. And finishing the trip with easily enough to motor safely in to a harbor.

For now, we're enjoying Antigua which is one of our favorite places.  We're working with Stan Pearson of Antigua Rigging on affecting final repairs to our rig. In the meantime, we are happy to be stuck in Antigua!


  1. This was a great read. Well done. I am always trying to learn from "the experts" and see what can go wrong and right.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Jeff. Although we are far from experts... I think each off shore passage I realize how much more we have yet to learn and experience.

  2. Linda,

    It was nice meeting you briefly in the harbor as I took a swim off our dive boat. It was nice to see Argon at anchor in Antigua after reading your Bermuda adventure. Jeff and Pat Kenyon, s/v Calitri, T4100.

    1. Great meeting you Jeff. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your diving and you Antigua visit. Hope to run in to Calitri on the water on of these days!


Dear Humans: We invite your comments. Dear SEO Comment Spammers: Get a Life!