Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sailing In The Lee

In the lee of Dominica

Monday June 1st
Sounds lovely doesn't it?  A casual sail in the protected lee of an island.  Yep, and it can be.  But we have found sailing in the lee of these islands can be a mixed bag of winds, currents and of course fish traps (French islands) 

Take yesterday's sail.  The winds were up in the Portsmith anchorage around 15 knots straight out of the east so we had high hopes for a good sail down to Roseau on the south end of Dominica.  We set off with full main and slightly reefed headsail - we've learned to be prepared.  If you get greedy and put up too much sail, strong gusts can hit and at the very least round you up and occasionally lay a yacht over.  With an outgoing tide, we surfed out of Prince Rupert Bay on a broad reach at 7.5 knots.  Woo hoo!  Our Garmin chart plotter showed we would arrive in record time.  We turned south to head down the coast and the wind died.  D-I-E-D!  We were doing less than two knots..  Ugh.  But we could see wind ahead of us. that sailboat coming towards us (thus going north) also on port tack (meaning the wind is coming over the port side)  But we are on a port tack as well and we are headed south.  *OK readers.......who has right of way on that one?!  Yes, the wind was out of the west for a period of time.  During the dry season (Dec to June) the land heats up quickly and draws the cool air towards it and off the ocean and thus west winds can occur at times. So after luffing around a bit, we settled into a sail with west winds but on the light side.    
Dormant island volcano making it's own weather

A little while later we reached an area where an ancient volcano, lush and green with it's rainforest towered above the dry hills along the coast. Here the wet of the rainforest, even in the dry months, is enough to keep the land cool and allow the normal easterly trade winds to flow from east to west.  However, the height of the various volcanoes on these islands accelerates the tradewinds - greatly accelerate at times. Like screaming down into anchorages like Deshaies in Guadeloupe or Saint Pierre in Martinique and in certain spots along different coastlines. This is where winds can go  from 10 knots to 25+ or more in a matter of seconds. The buzz word (I despise "buzz" words because they are abused in the corp world to ad-nauseam ugh) for these ferocious winds is katabatic.  Any yacht with too much sail up could find a leisurely sail in the lee becoming very exciting in a flash.  There was a rumor this season of a charter cat actually flipping over. 

But it is so are having a great sail with winds at 10 knots but the boat is reefed so you you could go faster. You think...."Couldn't we put up more sail and get more speed?"  There are several of you readers out there that wouldn't be able to stand it -speed freaks that you are, you would be putting up more sail.  I've sailed with several of with little patience, more is better.....admit it!  You know who you are.  Anyway, the other day the wind finally settled down into a south wind.  South!  The direction we were going.  Ugh!  The forecast was not for a direct south wind but east southest.  However, in the lee of an island, it can often curve around the island and east southest can become south.  So we motor sailed the Rhum line tacking back and forth to Roseau.
In the lee of St Lucia
Additional note - I may have mentioned before but it's worth mentioning again. We have found winds between these islands can be strong at times, stronger than forecast.  We sail very conservatively - aka - we like comfortable and we don't like breaking stuff (gear, rigging, us).  We usually reef prior to sailing out from behind the lee of an island. We can always shake out a reef easier than putting one in - this is true regardless of the reefing system!  And....we have found it takes a little bit of sailing to truly get to the "clear" winds.   But that is just our experience to date and our strategy.  Everyone is different.
Final note -We have not yet sailed on the windward of any of these islands.    

No comments:

Post a Comment