Gentleman’s Sailing

There is a saying that “Gentlemen don’t sail upwind”. Rodney Bay in St Lucia is a turning point. The East Caribbean islands form an arc. Starting in Grenada in the south the islands stretch towards to nor’northeast. With the almost constant easterly trade winds this means that up to St Lucia one is sailing into the wind (hence these islands are known as the Windward Islands). Whilst often exhilarating sailing, the boat is well heeled, one is banging into the waves and it can therefore be uncomfortable. From St Lucia northwards, the arc turns to the nor’northwest up the Leeward Islands and all of a sudden the winds are either on the beam or slightly behind. From this angle the sailing is fast, the boat is level, one isn’t pounding into the waves and it is altogether much more enjoyable. This is gentleman’s sailing.

Mina2, at 20 tons, is a heavy boat for her size and it takes a bit of a puff for her to lift up her skirts and get going. I always say that in anything under Force 4, everybody overtakes us – but in anything over Force 4 nothing overtakes us. In the Caribbean the trade winds blow at a steady Force 5 or 6. Not that Lawrence, Neil nor I have a competitive bone in our bodies, when we left a port on passage we were in the habit of scanning the horizon for the white dots of other sails ahead of us and monitor our advance on them until, with a punch of the fist, we overtake them one by one.

After our lay-day in St Lucia our next passage was a comfortable 44 mile sail to St Pierre in Martinique. Shortly after we had left the bay and started screaming towards our destination, we had identified five target yachts ahead of us. Then I looked behind us. The boat that had left Rodney Bay some 20 minutes after us was definitely gaining on us. Unheard of. Who were these people? It looked big – and it was. It turned out to be the Oyster 82 Zig-Zag. It was absolutely vast and bearing down on us at a rate of knots that was off the scale by our standards. I had not only seen Zig-Zag before, but I had sailed on her. It was about five years ago. The DS and I had flown to Antigua for a friends big figure birthday celebration and her wealthy brother had chartered Zig-Zag for a couple of weeks. One day he invited me along with some other guests to go for a sail. I was welcomed on board by the professional skipper who said “I understand you are an Oyster owner. So you’ll want to have a look round the engine room?” Too right. Compared with the engine room on Mina2, where you stick your head in and contort your body to fix things, the engine room on Zig-Zag was the size of a ballroom. Full standing headroom and easy access to every bit of equipment. Apart from the main engine, it contained no fewer than three generators – the principal one, a spare one that was used when the principal one was being maintained, and a smaller whisper-quiet one for use at nights so the guests could still enjoy the air conditioning in their state suites. Having had my awestruck conducted tour, the skipper then said “OK, we’re going sailing. I need to turn on the generator”. “Why?” I asked. “Because all the winches and furlers run off hydraulics and they need electrical power to generate them”. For me a part of the magic of sailing is using God’s own free energy to waft you from place to place. On these superyachts you couldn’t go sailing unless you were burning diesel at the same time. I was appalled. Notwithstanding, the sail on Zig-Zag from English Harbour to Green Island was wonderful. Standing on deck in the warm sun with the acres of sail billowing above us, I thought the only thing that could improve the moment was a bit of refreshment. At that precise moment there was a tap on my shoulder. A personable young lady in a short skirt was holding a silver tray draped with a crisp linen cloth on which there was a long-stemmed glass. “Champagne, sir?” she asked with a glittering smile. When we got back, I told the DS that as hostess on Mina2 she had better sharpen up – she had a lot to learn.

Five years on, Zig-Zag looked magnificent as she thundered past us with cheery waves from all their crew. The only other boat to overtake us during our entire two week delivery cruise was another 80-foot racing boat. The rest we trounced.

This passage from St Lucia to Martinique was one of the fastest, most perfect passages ever. We were screaming along at 9 knots+ with the wind at a very comfortable angle and in relatively flat seas. Thundering along through the brilliant blue water under a warm and cloudless sky, beers in hand, and in excellent company, I was just wondering how things could be any better, when Lawrence put on Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell at maximum volume. We were in heaven. A discerning pod of large bottle-nosed dolphins clearly loved Meatloaf as well as they came bounding over and frolicked in our bow wave for about ten minutes, just to add to our bliss-like state. We were all sorry when we arrived – ahead of schedule – in the French island of Martinique. We could have carried on for ever.


Tim Barker is a sailor and occasional adventurer. Since 2004, Mina2, his Oyster 485 yacht, and he (with the Downstairs Skipper and a wonderful bunch of friends) have sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between. Come join their adventures and read Tim's award winning blogs and journals from the comfort of your own computer screen.

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