Guadeloupe to Trinidad – with a 14 month-old baby!

The Line Extends – tales of Jeffrey Smith’s circumnavigation aboard his Catana 431 catamaran Today!

My catamaran Today! has been waiting patiently in Marina Bas du Fort, Guadeloupe for my return. Andrew Dove, the local North Sails representative, has been keeping an eye on the boat, constructing a new lazy bag, and making minor sail repairs during my extended absence.

As hurricane season was approaching, and the six month limit for keeping a boat at a French island was about to expire, it was time to head south.

Scott Milne, crew on my Atlantic crossing, was joining me for the cruise through the Leeward and Windward Islands. Also joining us was his wife Kristen, daughter Kate and sister Holly.

We were all a little concerned about having a 14-month-old baby onboard. Kate had been out on sailboats and powerboats for short excursions, but 9 days on a catamaran was something new for her.

Scott was particularly concerned – he did not know if she would be seasick, frantic for exercise, or completely bored. Kate is just learning to walk, and my boat does not have lifeline nets. So we agreed that Kate would be restricted to the cockpit and would be watched 100 percent of the time. While below she was either being held, crawling around the saloon, or sitting with someone on the settee.

This was a major effort for Kristen, Scott and Holly. Not having kids, I dodged all responsibility for “Kate management” and concentrated on sailing the boat.

Holly had limited sailing experience in Hawaii, so this was a major adventure for her. We were planning on sailing the 350 miles from Guadeloupe to Trinidad via a series of short hops between the islands, anchoring out in the best places we could find.

Scott proposed immediately heading offshore and sailing overnight to get some distance behind us. He was on the boat when we sailed from St Lucia to Guadeloupe, and was not as interested in revisiting the same territory as in getting to the new areas neither of us had explored.

Alternatively, I wanted everyone to get used to the boat before we did any night sailing. While the commercial traffic in that part of the Caribbean is dramatically less than what we see in Puget Sound, it does exist. And we were sailing in areas that we had limited familiarity with.

As usual, it took longer to provision the boat and rig and store everything than we liked, but we were still able to get out of port by early Sunday afternoon.

I handed out the cruising guides for the Leeward Islands, and the paper charts, and Scott and I started explaining the electronic navigation system I use on Today! Kristen and Holly picked it up quickly, and I had them hand steering to compass courses and apparent wind angles.

We split the difference between The Saintes and Marie Gallante, offlying islands associated with Guadeloupe, and headed for Dominica. It was surprising how hazy the air was. Normally you can see Dominica as soon as you clear Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe. But Sunday we could barely see The Saintes, only six miles away.

I was also surprised at the wind angle. I had been fantasizing about doing 300 miles of downwind sailing, as when we sailed north in December, we were close reaching or beating most of the time. Unfortunately, I forgot that the winds in the southern Caribbean switch from NE to SE in the summer, so once again we were heading upwind!

Sailing in the Caribbean involves passing to leeward of each island, followed by an open-ocean passage of 12-70 miles to the next island. As we rounded the northern tip of each island, we found that we were getting major lifts, taking us towards shore. We were able to crack off to 50-70 degrees apparent and blast down the coast. Invariably, the winds would lighten as we got further down the island, and we would start motorsailing.

The first evening, we decided to anchor at the north end of Dominica, as the cruising guide raved about the anchorage and the food available at one of the anchorages. It was extremely warm and humid, particularly compared to Seattle, so the last thing any of us wanted was to heat the boat up by cooking.

We headed passed Douglas Bay, which is a marine park and does not allow anchoring, passed Prince Rupert Point, into Prince Rupert Bay. Several local entrepreneurs in small power boats came by to introduce themselves. Apparently there is a local eco-tour up a beautiful river, and these folks will take you in their boats. We explained that we were heading south and would be leaving early the next morning. But we also asked if they could take us into Portsmouth for dinner. Alexis agreed to come back in an hour, and we set about getting Kate and the boat organized.

Right on time, Alexis arrived, and we used a flashlight to facilitate getting everyone into his boat. Kristen had Kate in a hip sling, and I was concerned she would slip and they would both go swimming. Fortunately Alexis’ boat was much more stable than I anticipated and we all made it in safely.

Blazing into shore was much easier than rowing my dinghy, and as it was so hot, the breeze was refreshing. Alexis took us to a local restaurant – essentially an open gazebo – and we had pumpkin soup and braised tuna.

There was some confusion when they brought the food out, and they moved another table over against the one we were sitting at. I lost track of my daypack for a few seconds during the commotion.

We had a great dinner and were very relaxed after our first day at sea. It had been hectic getting everyone to Guadeloupe and onto the boat, provisioning and checking out. Plus the heat and humidity was really wiping us out. So be at anchor and looking up at the stars was fantastic.

The next day, Scott and I got the boat going while Kate, Kristen and Holly got some extra rest. Prince Rupert Bay is an open roadstead with great protection from the prevailing winds, so we simply retrieved the anchor bridle, pulled the chain and anchor, and then spun the boat and headed west until we could clear the next point south.

Callaloo soup is based on a plant similar to spinach, and has a wonderful taste and an interesting texture. 

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