|Windward Islands Basic Information|
The following text is an excerpt from The Windward Islands Guide by Stephen J. Pavlidis
You can charter just a boat, called a bareboat, or a captained vessel where you do as little or as much work on board as you desire. If you choose to go bareboat, you will likely have to prove to the charter company your skill level. This is usually done by a check-out sail before they let you take their expensive toys out on the water all by yourself. Captains can be hired for somewhere between US$100-$150 a day and it is customary to tip them. Some charters are there and back again, while others will allow you to take the vessel downwind where a charter company captain will return it to the base after you fly out.
You usually provision these boats yourself or have the charter company do it for you, the choice is yours. Some folks opt for the convenience of a completely stocked larder courtesy of the charter company, while others prefer the island shopping experience. A good idea is not to plan on having all your meals aboard as there is an abundance of good restaurants ashore that cater to mariners.
In the French islands, St. Martin, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, in the Leewards, and Martinique in the Windwards, the Euro is the currency in use phasing out the Franc in 2002. As you head down island you’ll find money changing kiosks in many places such as St. Martin and I would suggest that you stock up with a good supply of Euro’s and EC’s so you’ll be all set when you arrive at your next destination. If you head south to Trinidad and Tobago you’ll need Trinidad/Tobago Dollars or TTs as they’re commonly called.
Cable and Wireless Caribbean Cellular is introducing One Number Roaming to the Caribbean, which will give you the ability to make and receive class on your cellular phone when you are outside your home service area without having to change your cellular number. Prior to this service, visitors had to obtain a separate cellular number for nearly every island visited, but now, after registering with your nearest Cable and Wireless Caribbean Cellular office, you can have your phone re-programmed with a local cellular number which will be good in most of the islands you visit. For instance, if you register and receive an Antigua number, you can be cruising St. Lucia in the Windward Islands and your phone will work there. There is a surcharge for this service, but it is far less than call-forwarding.
Sailing in the Windward Islands
If you are not used to sailing among mountainous islands, say you’re used to the flatter landmasses in The Bahamas, you will learn a new way of dealing with the wind when sailing in the lee of these islands. Let’s pretend that we’re heading southbound, leaving the leeward shore (western shore) of one island and heading for the leeward shore (western shore) of the next island that lies to the south. While we’re pretending, let’s just say that the winds are easterly, about 15 knots, and seas are running about 6’, pretty normal stuff as you’ll later learn. As you leave the southern tip of one island to cross a channel to another, you may find the wind and seas “bending” around the tip and coming at you a bit more on the nose than expected. Don’t panic. As you head out into the channel, you’ll notice the seas coming more on your beam (depending of course on wind and sea direction, we’re talking in general terms here). Conversely, as you approach the northern tip of the next island, you may find that the wind and seas are now a bit more aft of the beam, on your quarter perhaps as you pass the tip of your destination island. The winds may even pick up in velocity as you approach the tip or leave the tip of an island, but generally, in normal trade wind conditions, you can expect anywhere from 10-20 knots of wind and seas in the range of 4’-8’ between the islands.
Once in the lee of your destination island you will first wonder where the wind went. Well, that’s why it’s called the leeward side of the island. If you are very close in to shore, you might pick up a bit of a breeze, then again, if you are five or more miles out, you too may pick up a breeze out there. You may also find the wind has been affected by the island and is now coming at you from your starboard bow (remember, we’re talking about heading south), from the south through the west. Confusing? Yes, of course, but that’s what makes sailing here so much fun. But, since we’re speaking in general terms here, most of us crank up the diesel and motorsail south to our destination anyway...however there’s still wind to deal with so let’s see what we may find.
You may find that you are now motorsailing south with little or no wind, your sails flogging in the few zephyrs that make their way to your boat. Sometimes you’ll be on starboard tack, and sometimes you may find yourself on port tack with your iron genny really doing all the work. But what’s that up ahead? Looks like choppy water and white caps? What is this? If you see this in a normally calm area, look to shore and you’ll probably notice that you are sailing into a funnel of easterly wind caused by a valley or some other land formation. If you’re not diligent, these areas of gusty winds can lay you on your beam and then you’ll come to realize why so many Caribbean boatyards have damaged and broken masts and booms scattered about. Use your eyes to scan the water in front of you and prepare for gusty winds when you see the choppy water ahead. You’ll get used to playing the gusts in the lee, and if your boat is fast, you’ll enjoy sailing close in and getting what breeze you can off the land. There’s usually always some sort of wind to catch in the lee of the islands if you’re a patient sailor, and you wouldn’t be a sailor if you didn’t have some tiny bit of patience in you.
Tides and Currents