Passage from Hell

December 27, 2017

I have read that every sailor has an experience that makes them question what it is they thought they loved about sailing. We had that experience on our sail from Tortola to Saba (maybe that should be I instead of we).


It is a difficult passage sailing into high head winds with rough seas as you go east in the island chain. (it is rumored to be much easier going the other way, I will let you know). We had hoped to leave Tortola before the Christmas winds kicked up, but the holiday season was here and so were those winds. That weather window looked pretty favorable though so we were hopeful that the night wouldn't be too rough as we left the dock. We departed for the 12 hour sail at 5:30 pm feeling pretty confident that we were prepared for anything after our 9 days at sea and excited to finally be on our way to uncharted territory. Immediately we were hit with rough seas and I was hit with queasiness. But Bonine had gotten me through bumpy seas before so no worries, or so I thought. Not long into the trip we discovered diesel leaking under the main salon seats, and not just a small leak, there were gallons. The smell was overwhelming and made it pretty difficult to forget about feeling sick. We knew we had to figure out where it was coming from so Tony stayed below tearing apart the seats and looking under floor boards while I stood watch. Forget that 3 hour watch schedule we had planned, we were both going to be up for the night.  Finding the problem wouldn't have been easy in the best conditions and we in far from good conditions with everything below crashing around. So as Tony was cleaning up diesel I was hanging over the side of the boat getting sick. Not quite the fun sail down we had hoped for. Soon everything that was stored under the seats was rolling around on the floor and Tony was turning green from the fumes. The boat was a mess. He finally managed to get the diesel cleaned up and stop the leak, just in time to see Saba appearing on the horizon. An end to this really unpleasant night was in sight.


We were pretty desperate to get off the boat, but when we rounded the island we realized that there was no way we were going to be able to anchor there. It was every bit as rough at the anchorage as it had been on the passage. We were meeting up with friends in another boat that had also sailed down overnight to Saba and they had decided to continue on to the next island as well (collective moan from the crowd would be very appropriate here) It is an additional 5 hour sail to St. Kitts, the next island in the chain. Did I mention I was desperate? I thought of swimming to shore at this point, anything would be better than staying on board.  To add insult to injury, our friends radioed us to say that their engine wouldn't start. Rules of the sea are that you help out a boat in distress. (What about every man for himself? Survival of the fittest?) So we agreed to putt along with them to make sure they didn't need any help on their way to St. Kitts. That 5 hour sail had just turned into a 7 hour sail. When you think things can't get any worse they actually do. It was officially the passage from hell.  By this time I had a long list in my mind of all the things I didn't like about sailing.


Then a funny thing happened, the seas calmed down, the sun came out, everything wasn't cheery but it was a whole lot better. They got their engine working after a couple hours and we were full speed ahead. I realized we were going to make it, the seasickness I suffered from was not going to be fatal and sailing wasn't such a bad way to travel after all. Even as I write this it is hard to conjure up exactly just how awful the trip down was, the good just squeezes out the bad memories and they don't seem to have a place to go any more.


We arrived in St. Kitts later that afternoon, still really happy to get off the boat but also excited once again about the journey and the  

destination. I read recently that travel is an exercise partly in broadening yourself and partly in defining your own limits, how true. I hope we keep learning that our limits can be stretched so much further than we realize. 


 We will be exploring St. Kitts and Nevis until our kids leave mid January and then we will be on our way. The plan is to stop in Montserret, an island with a sometimes active volcano, for a couple days and then on to Antigua. We will keep you posted when we can, but know that we may be out of sight and out of internet coverage, but you are never off our minds. Best wishes in the New Year! 


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Our Itinerary

December 2018 - Leave the boat in Salerno, Italy

March 2019 - Return to Salerno

Sail to - Greece



July 2019 - Start to work our way back west across the Mediterranean


              Balearic Islands



September 2019 - return home for our daughter's wedding!


October 2019 - Arrive in the Canary Islands

November 2019 - Sail from Canary Islands to Cape Verde and on to St. Lucia

December 2019 - Arrive in St. Vincent in plenty of time for the holidays!

Winter 2020 - Enjoy sailing the Caribbean, warm water and sunny skies

April 2020 -Begin the sail back home

June 2020 - Be back in Buffalo for the birth of our granddaughter!

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