Sometimes it seems, sailing is all about numbers. Time 2:18am. Depth 6,200′. Wind 11.4 knots, 97 degrees apparent. Speed 5.4 knots, 105 degrees. I think I have some very vague sense of what flying a plane is like, moving along at night in a cockpit, continually glancing at the array of numbers glowing in the dark, with occasional glances at the horizon. In a car it’s different, the attention is reversed. You stare at the road ahead and check your speed with a look down. On a sailboat 30 miles offshore (another important number) you pay close attention to your instruments and less on the horizon.
I am sure this approach would draw the scorn of some sailors. When I helped deliver a boat back from Bermuda, we drove it like a car. No autopilot, just hours of hand steering and, to be honest, white knuckle grip of the wheel. On a cruising boat, it’s more common to engage the autopilot and sail by your instruments, especially at night. We say goodbye to Tortola as the sun sets.
We are ten hours into our first real offshore passage as a family. No crew, just Sarah and I double handing with occasional help from the boys. The Anegada Passage is about 80 miles between the BVI and Anguilla. It’s a small hop in offshore terms, but still has some teeth. The sea drops to over 6,000′ deep and there is frequent shipping traffic. As I type this I am careful to check the chart plotter AIS every now and again and scan the horizon. Even as I do so I see a big ship on the horizon only a few miles away and check its closest approach.
We have spent the last few days watching the weather for a “window” to make this passage. It is not that far to go, but the main problem is that Anguilla is more or less east of the BVI, the same direction the trade winds blow from. Sailboats don’t go well into the wind. We have been lucky in that not only has the wind dropped from its usual 20 to about 10 knots, the wind has also switched to the north. This means a great sail for the passage, we’ll be on a beam reach the whole way with the wind at 90 degrees of us. As an added bonus, it’s almost a full moon and we can see by the moonlight.
The boys have been excited about the passage, their first. Peter and Simon especially wanted to take a watch. On an autopilot cruising boat this means clipping in with their tether next to the wheel and monitoring the wind, instruments and horizon. Both have done a short one so far. Peter wanted to get up at 2am, but he decided to stay in his bunk when roused. Sarah and I have been splitting the night in two hour watches. Double handing is not easy, you don’t really get any sleep, just dozing, and there isn’t anyone to talk to on watch. Just under the dull glow of huge instruments. Maybe I’ll get my iPhone out and find some suitable music.
In a few hours we’ll be approaching Anguilla. Just three miles out the sea drops to over 1,500′. My plan is to get to the edge of the drop off and then sail along the contour with our fishing lines out for an hour or two. Supposedly, where the sea drops off like this is good fishing, lots of sea life is rising to the surface. We almost had a mahimahi snagged a few days ago, but it escaped off the hook as I hand lined it over the rail. I really want to get one to show the kids, and to eat!
Oh yeah, and we did catch two Bigeye Tuna!