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The Northbound Alternative

Year after year, a handful of cruisers break free from Georgetown, Bahamas (aka: Chicken Harbour) to travel the “Thorny Path” leading to the Leeward and Windward Islands and the West Indies.  In April 2007, this is exactly what my wife Kylie and I did, aboard our 46 year old Cheoy Lee Bermuda 30, Meggie

We boldly embraced the challenge of sailing the Thorny Path, all the while playing the weather window game and racing against the hurricane season southward through the island chain.  The whole time, we were not really knowing exactly how long we would be gone for or just how far we would go, but one thing we did know was that we would have to eventually return northward to Canada.

We chose to hunker down for our first hurricane season in Grenada.  Come November, 2007 we took our time to cruise back up the chain as far as Antigua, where we competed in the Antigua Classic Regatta 2008.  June was upon us already, bringing with it the beginning of our second hurricane season.  With the West Indies explored, and after experiencing one too many storms in Grenada during the last hurricane season, we were ready to see what else the Caribbean Sea had to offer. 

We chose to sail to the Venezuelan mainland, out of the hurricane belt.  We hauled Meggie in Medregal village located in the Golfo de Cariaco, and after a much delayed launch date, late August was upon us.  Ready to move on, we got underway and experienced wonderful downwind sailing westward to the Venezuelan out islands.  We spent an incredible month in Tortuga, Los Roques and the Aves (not to be missed).  

Before we knew it we were in Bonaire and then Curacao…time flies when you’re having fun!  Being this far west, it was very tempting to continue onto Cartengena and The San Blas islands, but we figured this would require another season of cruising and we knew our cruising kitty was not up to the challenge and felt it was time to head north.  The thought of beating eastward against headwinds and current back to Grenada and up the chain, simply had NO appeal.  We considered the option of sailing from Bonaire to Puerto Rico but NE trades put you hard on the wind for days, ultimately close reaching….yet again. 

So we decided instead to wait for a weather window and charge straight across the Caribbean Sea from Curacao to Jamaica, which lies just under 600 nautical miles northwest.  This would place us in a good position to visit Central America, before staging in Mexico to head back to Canada in April, all the while sailing with wind, waves and current in our favour. 

We put the plan into motion and departed Curacao on Nov.10th with a reasonable window of lighter winds and seas.  This passage proved to be one we will never forget.  Wonderful fast sailing, a strong west/northwest setting current, an average of 15-18k of wind and seas averaging 6’, allowed our 30 footer to log noon to noon runs of 125nm, 140nm, 138nm and 124nm. 

Unfortunately, 35nm off the coast of Jamaica the wind dropped and we were barely able to fill our spinnaker AND our mizzen staysail spinnaker, so inevitably we motor-sailed the rest of the way.  We made landfall in the beautiful Port Antonio on the evening of our 5th night.  To our surprise we found only two other cruising boats here, both of which have been here for quite some time.  The harbour offers excellent protection from all directions and the marina staff and facilities are great.  (Editor’s note:  See Mike and Kylie’s destination report in this issue.)

Ultimately, being staged in Jamaica this early in the season offers cruisers many different sailing options: the windward passage to the Bahamas, a back door to Cuba (closest point of land 60nm), The Caymans only a stone’s throw away, and of course smooth sailing to Central America.  What may have taken a month or more of waiting for weather windows, running anchorage to anchorage through the island chain and inevitably being faced with NE Christmas trade winds, only took us a mere 4.5 days…definitely a better choice for us and our boat.
Now we can take it easy, relax, and enjoy mahn!

Mike Shaw has been living for two years with his wife Kylie aboard Meggie, a Cheoy Lee Bermuda 30 built of teak wood that they have rebuilt.  They sailed their boat from the Great Lakes in Canada.

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