Bailing Out

We like to have contingency plans. The worst case scenario is usually imagined and planned for, we have backups for backups, and our travel itineraries always identify bailout points.

Yesterday we tried to go from Nevis to Montserrat. The weather we expected was wind from 90 degrees at 15-18 knots gusting to 20. Our only bailout option was a return to Nevis.

Like most catamarans, Take Two just does not sail well to windward. The sails will draw at about 35 degrees apparent wind angle, but we’re slow and make a lot of leeway. Speed reduces leeway. To build speed we have to bear away, but the increased speed brings the apparent wind forward again, so we bear away more. We reach equilibrium at about 60 degrees true, which is the number we use for planning. It’s pretty bad. Then there are the waves… We try not to go upwind.

The course from Nevis to Montserrat is 135 degrees, and with wind from 90 we’d only be able to sail 150, so we knew it would be an uphill battle. But the wind in these parts is seldom far from 90 degrees, it’s just something you have to deal with until you get far enough East. So we went out thinking we would deal with it.

The general strategies available are to sail giant 120-degree tacks that take us far out of our way and back again, to sail as close to the course as we can and then motor directly upwind for the final leg, or to motorsail the course (use the engines to provide the extra power needed to hold us closer to the wind).


Unfortunately, the wind we found was a lot stronger than was forecast, which seriously impeded our desire and ability to make windward progress, even with the engines. Motorsailing wasn’t going to work, sailing off the wind and then motoring upwind was going to be very hard, and tacking upwind would almost double our distance for the day. Once we were well clear of Nevis and confident we were seeing the real wind unaffected by mountains, a decision was needed.

On several occasions, I’ve felt compelled to apologize to the crew after days that were harder than expected. I did not want this to be one of those days. Ahead was a challenging upwind struggle to an uncertain anchorage dominated by an active volcano. Behind us was an easy reach to a calm anchorage with friends, a nice beach, and understanding customs officials. There wasn’t a reason why we had to do the trip that day. So 7 miles into our trip to Montserrat, I pulled the plug and turned us back to Nevis.

We rolled back into Nevis slightly abashed, but smiling. We were not defeated or damaged. So we’ll sit back and relax for a few days, celebrate Midsummer Day with our Swedish friends, and pick our weather more carefully next time.

The name “Take Two” is appropriate because it sometimes takes us two tries to get something right. If the first try doesn’t work out, we usually nail it the second time. But if it doesn’t work the second time, then in the immortal words of Curly, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking till you do succeed.”