Leander is at 17 19 N, 61 08 W, motor sailing at 6.9 knots on a course of 237 magnetic in 10 knots of wind.
We just spotted Antigua, rising and falling above the swell. One can only imagine the thrill that Columbus and his men must have felt. I mean, we know exactly where we are, and were the land is. It is nonetheless a very big deal to spot terra firma after so many days at sea.
One would think that we could enjoy these last miles. The winds haven’t been very strong, and the seas aren’t too bad. So one would think that we could relax, and start thinking about a job well done.
We will be entering English Harbor, on Antigua. It is reef strewn, and filled with scores of sailboats at anchor, many of them unlit at night. If we arrive at daylight, we’ll have no problem. But it will be less easy to arrive after the sun sets. The sun sets at 6:10 in this part of the Caribbean. After that, darkness falls like a curtain — quickly. By 6:50, it is pitch black.
We have known since late yesterday afternoon that if the winds held, and we maintained our current speed of 6.5 knots, we’d get in at 8 p.m. or so, soon after dark. Close but no cigar. On the other hand, if we could maintain a speed of 7 knots, we’d arrive before 6:30 p.m. A little bit faster than 7 knots would provide us with even more cushion. We had to charge the batteries anyway, and so we decided last night to turn on the engine and leave it on, and motor sail, at low revs, to get that extra 0.5 knot, to try to get in before dark. The alternative meant spending another night bobbing up and down outside of the harbor, or slowing down considerably, neither of which we favored. It would have been an easy decision if we were slated to arrive at, say, 2:00 a.m. They we would wait the extra day. But with daylight arrival within reach, that’s what we worked for.
We had a great night. The winds held just fine. Westy Westerbeke, our trusty engine, has purred along faithfully, and we kept up a speed of 7.2 knots or so. But we take care of the engine. It is needed to maintain the electronics, vital in emergency situations such as man overboard or reefing in a squall, and the only way to get into harbor comfortably. One doesn’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by overworking her to make up time. So we are running it slowly, watching it closely, and changing oil and filters more often than required.
We knew that the wind was supposed to fade a little bit today, and veer to the SE, but that would not be a problem, as we are heading SW. But at 11 a.m., it backed much more than it was supposed to, swinging all the way down to south by south west, but staying at 15 knots. We were forced into a sharp right hand turn, well off course. We hoped, at first, that it was caused by the passing squalls. The squalls moved on, but the wind shift stayed.
Drat! After 13 days of wind from ESE, with 35 miles to go, NOW it decides to come at us from the direction that we’re heading?! We reefed down the main and jib, and began to cut into the wind. We could not get close enough, however, to maintain our course.
Over the last 30 minutes, however, it has backed some, and Leander is moving in the right direction once more. We lost about 30 minutes dodging around, and we have less of a margin to get in before dark. So much for relaxing and looking at the flying fish.
As of right now, things look OK, though we’re watching the wind closely.
Unrelated to the sailing, we had a nice astronomical accomplishment this morning. I’ve always wanted to see the old moon on the last day of its appearance in the sky, before it completely disappears or, conversely, the new moon, during the first 24 hours of its appearance. We’ve written about this before. It is extremely hard to do, because (1) it is only a hairline of light in the sky, (2) it can be seen on the horizon just before sunrise or just after sunset, when the light in the sky makes it harder to find, and (3) because it is on the horizon, you must find a day when there is no or very little cloud cover down low. It takes some luck to find a day when you are at a place where you can see it, and you have the right conditions. I tried on several occasions in the Canaries, renowned for their clear skies, but had no luck.
This morning I saw it. I had Mercury (or was it Venus?) there to guide me, so that I knew roughly where the ecliptic was and where to look. There was a giant squally cloud in the way, on the horizon, and it as exactly where the moon would be, and not going anywhere fast. I waited and watched, trying to find it with the naked eye. I couldn’t. But on about the 10th try or so, using the binoculars, I found it. It was the slightest of wispy hairline curves, about 15 degrees above the horizon, and 5 degrees below the morning planet. I called Sima and Alexander up, still in their pajamas. Both could find the star, but couldn’t see the moon. After another five minutes, I couldn’t either, as the sky had become too light. Well, I don’t think that they were quite as excited about seeing the moon as I was anyway . . .
All are well. The kids are VERY excited of the prospect of making landfall, and talking of the beach. I am jonesing for a run or a swim. Sima a long hot shower.
It’s fascinating to watch our two-year old with sea legs. She wanders back and forth in the main cabin, collecting toys and moving boxes, and sways her body this way and that, moving with the seas and anticipating the often uneven swell.
Wait, did we say TWO year-old!? Happiest of birthdays, darling Aylin! Today she is three!
We sailed 163 nautical miles during the last 24 hours, for a total of 3,001 done, and 55 to go. (That was as of 11:00 a.m., our daily check time. As I write this, we are 39 miles out, with six hours of daylight to work with.)