Sailing Log: Bequia – Martinique

The time has come, our first night sail is coming up and we are both a bit nervous. What will await us? Will we be able to see enough to avoid possible dangers? Will the stars light our way? All week we have been waiting for the right weather window, but either too much or too little wind or too high waves were announced, now our app “PredictWind” predicts constant wind from the east and waves up to two meters. We are ready to go!

The trip from Bequia to Martinique is about 100 nautical miles long and we expect about 20 hours of sailing. We want to leave the islands St. Vincent and St. Lucia to starboard without dropping anchor. St. Lucia is a very beautiful, but also a very poor island and in the last months we heard again and again of attacks on sailing ships, which had anchored in bays of St. Lucia. We do not want to expose ourselves to this risk. However, we set two fixed points in our travel planning: We want to arrive in Martinique in daylight and we want to see the Pitons, two volcanic cones for which St. Lucia is famous. So we plan to lift anchor in Bequia at 7 p.m. to sail past the Pitons at sunrise at 6 a.m. and arrive in Martinique in the afternoon.

Eddie and Drake, the dogs of our friends Melodie and Tony, are in a festive mood.

But before we leave, there’s a big feast – at least for me. While vegetarian Alex stays on Mabul to catch up with sleep before our night sail, I drive with Horst, who has also arrived in Admirality Bay, to our American friends Tony and Melodie. They enjoy the cruiser life with their two huge wild Labrador dogs Eddie and Drake and friends who come aboard from time to time. They are great hosts and great cooks and have invited us to their boat for Thanksgiving lunch.

The feast can begin, the turkey is ready

What a treat! Tony and Melodie must have spent hours in the kitchen, and even a small plastic Christmas tree stands on the navigation table while Christmas carols are floating through the boat. They’ve wrapped the turkey in bacon and cooked it in the oven, along with deviled eggs, beans, mashed potatoes and sparkling wine. While we feast in the air-conditioned interior of the boat, Eddie and Drake have to wait outside the door and slobber all over the window in the meantime. After dinner, we tell each other what we’re thankful for – a common Thanksgiving custom. “If it weren’t for sailors, there would be no Thanksgiving,” Melodie says. So the first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated in 1541 by Spanish colonists after they sailed across the Atlantic and found food, not barren land, in the United States. That had to be celebrated! Today, Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays in the U.S. and Canada and is usually celebrated with family and friends.

Stuffed with turkey, I head back to Mabul so we can get the boat ready to sail. When we raise the anchor at 7 p.m., the bay is already pitch dark, only the anchor lights of the other boats, show us where we have to go through. When I pull up the anchor chain, however, I quickly notice that whole bundles of wire, which must have drifted along the seabed, have wrapped around several sections of our anchor chain. With difficulty we try to cut them. We need some time until the chain is free and we finally sail through the bay past the other ships. From “Take Five” singer Suzi and her husband Emmanuel wave to us, then we have left the last anchored ship behind us and sail into the black night.

Cockpit at night – Our first night sail under a new moon

We are both surprised at how dark this night is. It is a new moon night, no moon lights our way and in the beginning the stars are still hiding behind a cloud cover. We put the mainsail into the second reef, so that we don’t have to go to the mast in the night to move the reef in case of strong wind and gusts. The night is so dark that we can’t even see up to the genoa, our jib, when we hoist it.

Our eyes at night sailing: the chartplotter

The chartplotter and our AIS system are our eyes for the night. On the chartplotter we see the positions of the other ships that have an AIS system, and again and again we do a all around check to look for position lights of other ships.

Only slowly do our eyes get used to the darkness and I can see the transition from sea to sky, an almost imperceptible shift from black to gray. Soon the cloud cover also clears and we look up at an infinite sky full of stars. Silently we sail along, looking across the black sea and into the sky, where more and more stars light up, as if someone were turning them on. The first shooting stars shoot across the sky, leaving behind long, glowing tails. Mabul trails waves of neon-green glowing bio luminescence, tiny organisms whose organs glow. Thus, under a luminous starry sky, we sail through luminous water into the magic of night.

Enveloped in the infinity of the sky and the silence of the night, even our own thoughts seem to take on a new lightness. I feel a deep stillness and contentment, as if the stars were making dark corners of me glow all at once. If sailing means freedom, then sailing at night means becoming completely part of this overwhelmingly beautiful, infinite, magical universe. And what could be greater happiness?

For a long time my thoughts wander once here, once there. I think about freedom, this great gift that sailing gives us, and what happens when freedom is restricted. The uprisings and protests in China and Iran have not escaped our attention even at sea – the Internet makes it possible. To be free, the desire to be able to express oneself and be creative according to one’s nature seems to connect all people. Those who cannot be free, who are restricted and kept small, sooner or later fight back, trying to break their shackles.

Around midnight, Alex lies down on the sofa in the cabin to doze a bit. We’ve left Bequia behind and are now in the channel between the islands, where the wind is blowing and the waves are making Mabul’s nose and thus our bed, which is near the bow, shoot up and down wildly. Soon Alex is asleep. The watch between 2 and 4 o’clock is called the graveyard watch and indeed I too begin to fight fatigue. I try to keep awake with “Fall of the Titans,” the first audiobook of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, am whisked away to World War I and some love dramas, but catch myself looking at the clock again and again.

We plan to be at the Pitons in St. Lucia by six in the morning. In the channel between St. Vincent and St. Lucia, the wind picks up and blows at 18 to 22 knots, with Mabul shooting through the water at 8 knots. Sailing on like this, we’ll be at the Pitons by five in the morning and won’t see them, so I furl some genoa and trim the main a bit to slow down. Around 5 o’clock I recognize the outlines of the Pitons, but they seem much too close. Is my navigation correct? Or are we already much too close to land and I’m running Mabul aground? I study the chartplotter and make sure that there is nothing but water between us and the Pitons. Estimating distances seems particularly difficult and deceptive in the dark. I am dependent on our navigation instruments and wonder how the first sailors did it. Did they have better night vision or were they simply more willing to take risks and sink their ships regularly?

At 5:30 a.m. I see the first silver lining on the horizon

At 5:15 a.m., I see the contrast between the sea and the sky slowly increasing. Around 5:30 a.m., I see a silver lining above the clouds on the horizon and the first red shining cloud bellies, then the Pitons, the two majestic mountain cones rising from the sea directly in front of me, take on clearer and clearer contours. I reduce the speed once again a little and wake Alex at 6 o’clock. He comes sleepy and yawning on deck. He had slept wonderfully despite the swell. Slowly we sail past the towering hills, look into the bay between the Pitons where a few ships are anchored, and then sail along the leeward side of St. Lucia. We take a reefing point from the mainsail to pick up speed again.

The famous Pitons of St. Lucia at sunrise

St. Lucia looks green and wild. I smell burning trash and wonder how far the smell drifts across the sea. Alex makes coffee and I spread Ovomaltine spread on a piece of bread.

Coffee and a bread with Ovomaltine spread after the night watch

Alex discovers a small flying fish that had jumped onto the foredeck during the night and is now lying there dead.

A flying fish has strayed onto our foredeck during the night – and paid with its life.

After breakfast I hand over the helm to Alex and try to get some sleep in our cabin. But the blows are too hard, Mabul crashes into the waves and I almost fall out of bed, so I lie down in the rear cabin, where it is a bit quieter and I doze off for a few hours.

For hours we are accompanied by birds, whose traces we later have to remove from the sails

Early noon, when the sun is already high, I return to the deck. The sea is rough and the waves shine with small whitecaps. Alex points out the large white birds with their purple beaks that have been accompanying us for several hours. They drift in the wind and then dive into the water, trying to catch a fish. Why do they accompany us? Mere playfulness or are we accompanied by fish we can’t see? Every now and then a fish shoots out of the water, often flying several meters above the water surface and then diving down again. Around noon I try to warm up the spaghetti we had precooked. It’s stuffy and hot in the cabin and the stove swings wildly back and forth on the gimbal. As I pull the spaghetti from the fridge, it slides once across the kitchen before I can recapture it and toss it into the pan. I think of long passages, an Atlantic or Pacific crossing. Weeks on the open sea, no silence, no rest, but constant rocking. Do you get used to it? Does one – marked by fatigue – start to function more like a machine than a human being? What would it be like to endure long time on empty sea?

After noon we see Martinique and already when approaching we notice that this island is different. It already feels different, smells different, reminds us of civilization, of Europe with its bridges and streets and row houses that we can see even from the sea. After months on Caribbean reggae islands, this return to civilization seems strange, even if we are looking forward to a fresh baguette and good cheese. But everything seems so tidy, populated, organized and thus a little less alive.

St. Anne in Martinique seems like a small town in the south of France

In order to get to St. Anne, we tack upwind and finally reach the anchorage after 22 hours of sailing tired and exhausted, yet exhilarated by this magical night. We anchor among many boats, take the dinghy to St. Anne to buy a baguette and some cheese. At 8 p.m. we fall into a deep sleep.

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