When to set off?

Phil May and Andrea Twigg
Tue 25 Nov 2014 23:57
17:57.9N 66:37.1W
Some passages are fine to sail in almost all conditions.  The route north-east from Bonaire, across the central Caribbean, is not one of these.  The prevailing wind and waves are from the east-northeast, with the added complication of a half knot of current pushing you west. 
In lighter winds you have the issue that your slower boat speed means the westward current is more of a factor.  You also have the issue that the apparent wind direction varies a lot with the frequent gusts.  Set too aggressive a wind angle and the autohelm will periodically stall the boat.  The best our autohelm can manage in these conditions is about 39 or 40 degrees apparent, but in light winds that is perhaps 55 degrees true.
In stronger winds the autohelm can cope with sailing a bit closer to the wind without stalling too frequently.  The issue here is that, in the strong gusts, it will accelerate Anastasia to 10 knots, at the same turning her to point towards the 10 foot high, tightly-packed Caribbean waves.  You then risk her jumping off one wave and diving into the next, which is uncomfortable at best and over-stresses the rig at worst.  In this situation we have to reef and bear off for safety – back to 55 degrees true.
The bottom line is that, on this route, it is a struggle to make much headway east of north, whatever the conditions.
We left Bonaire when the forecast was for a period of moderate trades, 18 to 20 knots of wind from the East and 6 to 8 foot seas.  The easterly wind meant we should be able to make St Croix, the southernmost of the US Virgin Islands.  (A few days later the prediction was for lighter winds but from the NE, so no good for us.)
What we got was 20 to 25 knots from ENE with frequent squalls.  All we could do was reef and bear away.  Even so it was pretty horrible.  Noone ate much the whole way.  Lots of things fell off shelves and walls, which had never fallen off before.
Anyway, here we are in Ponce, Puerto Rico.  Sometimes you just have to go where the wind takes you.