The dangers on the weather side of Martinique never bothered Donald Street. Before charts were drawn—and while he was drawing them—Street navigated and explored the windward coast of the French island in his engineless yawl Iolaire.
With Street in mind and Iolaire’s namesake charts on the navigation table, I set out from Roseau, Dominica, with friend Shanon Richards and her parents aboard the 44ft Lagoon catamaran Cajou II.
My intention was not to explore inside the windward reefs, as Street recommends, but rather to sail past the island, keeping in the trades and out of the wind shadow. Shanon’s parents were non-sailors and I did not intend to give them a motorboat ride.
The trades were far enough north of east to allow us to lay a course clear to windward of Basse Pointe and sneak out into the Martinique channel without tacking. By nature I am a monohull sailor, but over the course of three months I’d learned to coax some enjoyable sailing out of what amounted to me as nothing more than a stable SCUBA diving platform (and for which it was most often used that year). Shanon and I took turns at the watch. Her father remained awake for the duration, excited, and fortified with a cooler of Kubili. Close-hauled, we made nine knots.
Offshore and sailing south fast, the Phare de la Caravelle flashing intermittently behind the jib, we eased sheets and fell onto a beam reach in boisterous seas.
On that moonless night, the stars above were brighter than the scattered lights of civilization on the island.
Cajou II crashed and slammed, shuddering when each crest exploded into the bridgedeck and losing her balance as the waves lifted first one hull and then the other. We were pushing twelve knots. The hissing wake sang in concert with the buzzing inside my head from a large pot of coffee. I spent my watches staring at the streaming wake disappearing into the blackness beyond the range of the stern light. An endless pattern of light and sound, never repeating itself, invoking a kind of runner’s high, the sort of feeling that no drug or taste of alcohol could ever replicate, one which you understand and welcome as it happens, an in-the-moment über-consciousness only possible through a combination of natural beauty, deafening silence, lack of sleep and a dark night with no horizons.
Once comfortably south, we turned west and jibed, angling as close to the reef as we dared in the dark, avoiding the shallows surrounding Ilet Cabrits. Overnight Cajou II had sailed too fast, and we were early, arriving off Grand Anse des la Salines before the dawn, bounding down wind and wave. We dropped all sail in the lee of Anse Caritan and maneuvered under power in the snaking channel, dropping the hook south of Boulevard Allegre and cracking a beer to await the dawn.
As the sun slowly illuminated the east side of the island I was shocked at the number of boats we shared the harbor with, and at the intricacies of the entrance channel, which, had I known better, I might not have attempted in the dark.
Shanon’s mom and dad returned to their home in Dominica on the ferry the next day, and we boarded another cat that we delivered north back to St. Martin 24-hours later. Again we went to windward, and were rewarded with the Trades and the starry night, attempting to return to that ephemeral moment once more.
Andy Schell is a professional sailor and the editor of All at Sea SOUTHEAST and Yacht Essentials Portbook. Contact: fathersonsailing.com.