We left St George’s in a brisk breeze, about 18-20 kts from the west-northwest, on a sparkling Saturday afternoon. We made good time for the remainder of the day, the night, and the next morning, blasting along fast enough to flirt with a 200 mile day, which is a standard measure of a rockin’ trip (we didn’t quite make it – 194 miles in 24 hours). The course from Bermuda to Antigua is almost due south, but our plan was to head pretty far east of south for those first two days, to get the boat far enough east that if the tradewinds had a lot of southerly component (they’re usually easterlies, but often are somewhat south of east), we wouldn’t get caught directly downwind of Antigua and forced to beat to weather – sort of a strategic insurance policy against unfavorable weather. As it turned out, though, the winds remained mostly west and north of west, so we sailed much closer to directly toward Antigua than we intended, to keep the boat “powered up”, or sailing close enough to the wind to keep the apparent wind forward and stronger (heading east would have left us going very far off the wind and slowly in a sloppy sea and insufficient wind to make good headway through it – there was still a lot of sea left over from the passage of the hurricane). For the most part, the wind stayed about due west at about 15 kts., but we had a few short squalls with lots more than that.
By mid-afternoon on Sunday, though, the breeze faded, and we began a stretch of motoring in light winds and lumpy seas that lasted about 15 hours. The breeze returned early Monday morning, and we had a fairly uneventful passage for the next day and a half, mostly sailing, but spending a few hours motor-sailing, mostly to charge the batteries, but also to make some progress when the wind went lighter. Standard sailboat delivery rules are that when the boatspeed drops below 6 knots for any extended time, the “diesel topsail” is set.
Tuesday night, the breeze quit again for real, and we started another stretch of motoring that went on for another 12-15 hours. Listening to the engine for that long on a sailboat is a bore, but there was one advantage – during that time, we went through a rainstorm that was as strong as any I’ve ever been out in. Not windy, just raining really, really hard – hard enough so that we kept saying to ourselves that it couldn’t keep raining that hard for very long, and long enough to prove that was nonsense (about 6 hours!) The boat has a generous cockpit “dodger” (which we referred to as the tractor shed), and we stayed inside it whenever we weren’t either moving from the cockpit to the cabin or taking a periodic look around for traffic (of which there was none at all). Having fixed the autopilot was a huge benefit, since we didn’t have to stand in the rain and steer, and even though we were mostly under shelter, I was wearing a light spray top instead of my full “battle jacket” foul weather gear, and I came off watch soaked, as the rain had been so intense it had found its way around the neck seals.
During our motoring, we realized that the wind was likely to fill in from the east and southeast, and that we needed to get back to our original plan of getting farther east to be ready for it to do so. We worked our way farther east over the next several hours, including after the rain stopped and the wind did return (from the southwest) around mid-day Wednesday. We got out to about 60° west before the wind shifted to the southeast – just far enough, it turned out, to be able to reach Antigua on port tack after the wind shifted. The wind remained from the southeast all the way to Antigua, and we had a nice ride for the next day and a half, making 8 knots or better in anywhere between 15 and 25 kts of breeze and a sea that had finally got its manners back. It was a very nice ride, and we felt pretty smart for returning to our plan in time to take advantage of the breeze without having to beat.
We sighted Antigua late in the afternoon on Thursday the 15th, after having passed about 10 miles from its flatter neighbor Barbuda without seeing it, and got to watch a spectacular Caribbean sunset across the island on our way around the eastern shore. We bore away around the southeastern headlands and headed toward Falmouth Harbour as darkness fell, and after rolling up the jib and taking down the mainsail for the first time in six days, we picked our way past the shoals at the entrance to the harbor to arrive at the Catamaran Club Marina at about 7:30PM.
The trip took 6 days and about six hours to make a rhumbline distance of roughly 935 nautical miles, or just about 150 miles per day – not a particularly fast trip, but it could certainly have been slower. We arrived in Antigua still carrying all the extra diesel fuel we left Bermuda with on deck, and with another 70 gallons still in the tanks, so we used about 50 gallons all told over the course of the trip, which ain’t bad. We didn’t have perfect weather, but it was adequate, and we didn’t get hit by any of the several weather systems bouncing around the Atlantic during our trip, some of which were fairly nasty. We saw pretty much no wildlife for the entire trip from CT to Antigua, which was quite unusual for that trip – we heard a porpoise the second night out of Westbrook, and we got a strike on our fishing lure a couple of days south of Bermuda, but we never saw the porpoise and the fish spat out the fishing lure before we could get to the rod, so no luck there. Apart from those two encounters, nothing at all. We also didn’t see much on the way of boats, until the last two nights of the trip, when we saw a couple of lights on the horizon at night and (barely) some sails during the daytime. The latter is less unusual, but it’s still nice to be able to pace somebody, and we would have liked to do more of it. All in all, a great delivery, even if it passed without any momentous events (actually, boring is good on a delivery, since the alternative to bored is usually terrified!)