LATITUDE / RICHARD
LETTERS option is working your way up the Western Caribbean, at which point you'll still have to go nearly 1,500 miles upwind to reach St. Martin. Although you'll still be battling the trades, you can take shelter at Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. If you're in no hurry, it's a pretty good choice. A second potentially viable option is to sail to Cartagena, then pray for an unusually long break in the trades to sneak around the hump of South America, at which point you can No matter what route you choose or how difficult it hug the coast is to get there, the Caribbean is worth it. in lighter winds the rest of the way to Trinidad. But once at Trinidad, it's still a long tight reach or more upwind to St. Martin. The key is catching a long enough weather window out of Cartagena. A lot of cruisers have had their bottoms handed to them trying to make it east from Cartagena and had to backtrack. Newport to St. Martin — The trick here is to leave Newport after the last hurricane of the season and before the first ice on the decks. The good thing is that you'll only freeze your ass off for about 48 hours, after which you'll be in the warm Gulf Stream and not too far from Bermuda. From Bermuda, you've only got 800 miles to go to St. Martin, and the farther south you get, the better your chance of decent weather. This one is also all about waiting for the right weather window out of Newport and Bermuda. Virginia to St. Martin — This is basically the Caribbean 1500 route, and if you've followed the history of the event, you know you'll have to be prepared for some bouts of very strong winds and big seas. This is no Ha-Ha. It's not unusual for the fleet to delay the start a day or two for a better weather window, and sometimes participants take shelter at Bermuda. But if the weather is good, it should be possible for you to complete the course in 10 or 12 days. Fort Lauderdale to St. Martin — There are two options on this one, too. You can either sail straight east until you get to 'Highway 65', then head due south to St. Martin. Capt. Jim Drake did this once with our Ocean 71 Big O, and said it was one of the best sails he's ever had. But it's often not such a sweet sail. The other option is to take Bruce van Sant's Thorny Path — 1,500 miles upwind against the trades with lots of stops at the various islands. This can be like a never ending root canal, and lots of folks who have done it swear they'll never do it again. But others have had success. We don't mean to make all of these options sound unappealing, but they all involve some challenges. Good luck! In a typical month, we receive a tremendous volume of letters. So if yours hasn't appeared, don't give up hope. We welcome all letters that are of interest to sailors. Please include your name, your boat's name, hailing port, and, if possible, a way to contact you for clarifications. By far the best way to send letters is to email them to email@example.com. You can also mail them to 15 Locust, Mill Valley, CA, 94941, or fax them to (415) 383-5816.
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• May, 2010
The May 2010 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.