Dominica to Martinique
Our last night in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica was a wet one with lightening and torrential rain, run off from the aft deck pouring in through our open portholes. A damp and drizzly start to the day brightened up with our sail down the east coast to a bay just south of the capital Roseau. We took up a mooring buoy just off ‘The Anchorage Hotel’ where, ironically, it is not possible to anchor because it is deep (30m) to the shore with stone and gravel on the sea bed. The National Park starts just south of this mooring field and continues around to the south coast, and anchoring is not allowed in this zone anyway. A peaceful still night with hardly a breath of air – which we were grateful for as the mooring was rather unsubstantial and a storm in the night would have probably put our 37 ton of steel on the lee shore only 60 metres or so away.
We had a reasonably early start for the 40 miles to Fort de France in Martinique, we had chosen this as our target for the chandlery and supermarket before heading off to St Lucia. Leaving under motor with little wind, as we approached the SW tip of Dominica the wind ripped around the corner, 25-30 knots on our beam. Sails up, rather a bit too much sail up actually as we soon discovered this wind accelerating to 35 knots across the deck and very nasty breaking sea. We put three reefs in the main hoping this wind would ease further into the crossing, and were not so lucky. The wind increased to a steady 40 knots, that’s Gale Force 8, recording 42 at one point across the deck, we reefed again with just a slither of main and less mizzen – the mizzen sail (that’s the one on the smaller mast over the aft deck!) is not so easy to reef with such a wind force but we managed it. Steep white water hit the side of the boat with such force, after a loud bang on our steel drum they leapt into the cockpit smacking us with gallons of eye-stinging sea water. Drowned rats sprung to mind. With speeds of 8’s and even up to 9.6 knots boat speed over the water we started to leave Pannikin behind, keeping a very close eye on poor Steve who was sailing solo whilst Angela visits relatives back home down under. We managed to slow the boat down to 7.5-8 with less sail making it easier on the helm. Joy performed brilliantly in what turned out to be our worst conditions encountered since leaving home a year ago, and without breakages or drama for once! Once we reached the protection of Martinique we had 20 minutes or so of no wind as the high mountainous terrain acts in places as a wind shadow, and thank the lord for chocolate muffins as we hadn’t eaten all day. Soaked lifejackets, coats and clothes came off and I had a mop up of sea water that had rudely entered the companionway and thrown itself inside all over the saloon. Then the wind returned and we were off again, but this time in 25 knots of wind, much more manageable so we shook out some reefs and had a wonderful sail down the coast to our anchorage off Fort de France. Pannikin had a wonderful display of dolphins, we watched as Steve sailed through a huge pod, all happy to tail slap and ride his bow wave for several minutes. We were quite jealous as only one lonesome fella darted over to us, did a circuit and then raced back to his pals surrounding Pannikin. It was a hugely tough day and we arrived at 5pm, Steve came into the anchorage behind us and he still had a huge smile on his face after all he had been through.
When we checked in the following day (nice and simple DIY check in on a computer in the chandlery!) he told us of his near knockdown, he was hit by a gust which sent him over on his side so far that his cabin windows were underwater and so much water came into his cockpit that his lifejacket inflated. The mattress on our bed ended up off the bed, things that have been flat on non-slide mats for a year threw themselves across the cabins. But we all came through it smiling – it certainly is character building, this sailing game! A couple of days rest and cleaning up, then off to Rodney Bay, St Lucia for a day or two. We have developed an engine problem, a worrying knocking sound which needs looking at, so we will get this sorted at St Lucia before sailing to St Vincent.