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From Virginia to Martinique - Dec 02    

That summer we discovered what had been happening to house prices in England, and we were tiring of living out of suitcases when we went back to visit family and friends. With my father ill, we were feeling the need for a base in Europe once more, but couldn't really afford one in England and keep sailing. Our friends Paul & Wyn, who we had met when they were crewing Overstreet on her Atlantic Crossing, had a place in France, and invited us to stay with them and have a look around at properties. We liked what we saw of the life there. We spent five weeks house hunting in September/October and just as we were about to give up, we found Berty, and agreed to purchase. In France when you agree a sale, you also agree the date, so we set that for the following March.

What with that, and spending time with family, it was much later than we expected that we got back to the boat. We had planned to be cruising the Chesapeake during the autumn, but instead, we had a mad rush to try and get the boat ready for relaunching and get south before the weather closed in on us.

In fact, the weather turned really cold, and we had to go and buy warm clothes! Joel (A Bientot) gave us a paraffin heater for the boat; and as the snow started falling, we wondered whether we were going to make it to the Caribbean in time for Christmas. We spent a wonderful American Thanksgiving with Joel, Donna & Jayne in Virginia Beach, waiting for a weather window. One system after another seemed to be leaving the East Coast, and we knew we couldn't get across the Gulf Stream unless the conditions were more favourable.

At last on 1st December, it looked like there would be enough time for us to get beyond the Gulf Stream before the next low, and we made a dash for it.

The boat in the slip next to us, Fluke, was also heading for the Caribbean. They left an hour or two earlier, and said they would listen in when we called Herb Hilgenberg for weather reports, as they only had an SSB receiver, and no transmitter. They had talked of heading towards Bermuda, but as that was where all the lows seemed to be tracking towards, we decided it was better to head for a point some distance to the south.

Graham prepared sea anchors and other safety gear in case of heavy weather. When we spoke to Herb he was a bit irritated with us, as he hadn't told us to go; "not much of a window" he said. But it was enough. We crossed the gulf stream without discomfort.

Two days out, the barometer was falling and the winds started increasing to a steady 30 knots, gusting higher; we made good progress in the right direction.

On 5th December we received an emergency message on the CSAT to say that Fluke was in trouble, taking on water and unable to stem the flow. We wondered if perhaps their keel was working loose.

On our more southerly track we were too far away to go and help, so Graham called the Maritime Mobile Net and rallied them to the cause.

We later heard that Fluke sank, but the crew were all rescued by a Russian ship. Thank goodness.

Chart I made to try and track the progress of the weather systems and whether we could stay ahead of the approaching front.. The yellow and red pin shows the position of Fluke, due North of us. GULF 3 and GULF 4 were our waypoints

We had a couple of days of very variable conditions, the wind moving round from the South West to the North West and then backing. Then during a spell of gusty winds on 7th, the stainless cross bar for the goalposts snapped, taking with it the cable to the GPS. No GPS signal! Fortunately the cSAT was not affected, and we could read off our course from that.

Then the main reefing lines came undone.The seas were building to 10 -12 feet, with winds gusting to 30 knots.Graham got the GPS fixed, but with winds gusting to 30 knots again, another reefing point blew out.

I vividily recall having to hold the boat into the wind in those heavy seas with over 30 knots of wind, while Graham worked on deck to secure the line again.

When we spoke to Herb just after that he didn't seem to believe that we had the weather we had been experiencing. We hove to for supper, and made 2.4 knots in a NW direction!

As the day came to an end, the winds started to moderate. It had been a hard and miserable day for us.

Looking back on old logs, I found that 7th December 2000 had also been a miserable day in the Atlantic....

That night, when I received the tropical Surface Analysis weatherfax, it showed a Low right where we had been...

It seems that we had been tracking along with it all day, and only by hoving to did it get to overtake us, leaving calmer weather in its wake.

Next day was completely different, cooler, light winds. We both had a shower. Graham replaced the reefing lines, and also caught a mahi-mahi (our favourite, especially as a blackened mahi mahi caesar salad...).

Winds were now SE (isn't that typical, just from the direction you want to go in?), so we were close hauled. It was starting to look like we might have to make our entrance to the Caribbean through the Anegada passage. Oasis doesn't point into the wind very well, so whenever we could we used the engine to help us get more easting in.

We started to get some squally weather, with sudden gusts up to 35 knots, books going flying from the shelf above the bunk. We successfully used the radar to try and avoid the next squall.

Where are the Trade Winds?

above : tracking squalls on the radar, and what it actually looked like ahead.

12th December. A lovely solar shower in the cockpit. A Green Flash at sunset. 7.0 knots under sail! A night of shooting stars (the Geminids). Kind of makes up for the bad bits.

Next day we were trying to avoid squalls again. But in between I managed to bake some bread and there were more shooting stars to see that night. Must be getting closer to land as we are starting to see a few birds.

15th December. Loom of civilisation to starboard. Lots of squalls to avoid. Dolphins. Fish on line, but lost it. Then G caught a 20 lb mahi mahi. The sun set behind Dominica, with dolphins dancing at dusk. That night we saw the lights of Martinique, such a welcome sight.

We dropped the hook at 11.00 am on 16th December, at Ste Anne after 15 days and approximately 1800 miles. That's our third longest passage, and seemed the most taxing. We were so pleased to arrive safely.

Graham dinghied around the anchorage, offering mahi mahi steaks to our neighbouring boats. Thank goodness we had arrived safely, and should be able to get to Bequia to meet up with friends for Christmas.

All photographs copyright Graham Berry, 2000-2005. Images on this page have been size reduced and compressed.
High quality digital images available by arrangement - please contact us by email

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