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Defeated By The Thorny Path

Sailboat on Thorny Path - The Fosters

Plans kill sailors. That’s what did us in while sailing the thorny path. Plans that included us trying to:

  • Squeeze in a Zoom meeting on the day we sail
  • Exit the country via the thorny path before our cruising permit expires
  • Coordinate plans with a buddy boat
  • Change plans then the engine overheats
  • Going the thorny path too late in winter (the best times are early Dec. and the end of spring)
  • Find new insurance after our Caribbean coverage was “no longer carried”

Most people we speak to, motor the thorny path. Calm seas, calm air, and engine on. We chose to sail it.

The video shows the results.

What do you think? Did we make a good decision? Would you have done the same? Would you have sailed onward to another island?

Our friends Christ and Elis have sailed this path for 4 decades. We learned from them that it’s better to turn back. We watched them return to anchor twice over a two-week period while they headed to the Dominican Republic back in December.

Pick only the very best days to travel. Make it a leisure, make it enjoyable. There’s no hurry, no rush.

To us, this was a lesson about currents, trade winds, and plans. But more so it was a lesson in sailing philosophy – lifestyle philosophy even.

Take it easy. Choose to do what you want. Don’t succumb to the pressures of a plan.

Life can be lived at a leisurely pace if you choose to.

Antilles Current and Trade Winds

The route we chose was the north side of Crooked Island. The wind was ESE and forecasted to die overnight. This would ensure a smooth tack out and an evening tack/motor in to Mayaguana.

Sailing from Crooked Island to Mayaguana - Thorny Path Routes
Sailing from Crooked Island to Mayaguana

What we didn’t consider was the effect of the trade winds. The trades were in full force blowing upper teens, and they stirred up the Antilles Current.

Antilles Current along the Thorny Path.
By Caballero1967 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46533252
By Caballero1967 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46533252

This current is nowhere as strong as the Gulf Stream, but it can create a good chop.

For us, the seas were stacked closely and 3-4 feet. Not massive, but there were wrapping around Crooked Island and facing us head-on. That means every 4 seconds or so we’d pound into a wave, crashing over the bow and slowing Cadence.

Waves crashing over the bow of our sailboat Cadence.
Cadence crashed into a wave, early in the day before the seas were stirred up.

Even though the wind was at a good angle for sailing, the waves were not. And they definitely weren’t good for a planned Zoom meeting.

Thorny Path and Leisure Sailing

What makes this route to the Caribbean so challenging? It’s wind in your face and current against you. That’s why most people just wait for the wind to die down and motor there with spurts of sailing in between days.

Unlike many cruisers, we like sailing. The ocean travels are days to escape the pressures of work life.

We chose differently. And the thorny path won – for now.

But we also choose a mode of travel called leisure sailing.

When we move, we sail. When we sail, we enjoy it. We’ve heard it many times at beach fires and over sundowners, “I don’t like the sailing, I just like the destination.” I’d say at least half of the folks we meet have this impression of their own travels. We have the opposite view.

We like sailing. The ocean travels are days to escape the pressures of work life. But then again, we only sail when the wind is in our favor. And I believe that’s the difference.

So maybe the thorny path isn’t for sailors like us.


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2 responses to “Defeated By The Thorny Path”

  1. Ian McKay

    I don’t have the experience to offer an opinion, other than to agree with your assessment, it makes sense. From my limited experience, I’m calmer when sailing. I wouldn’t give that up, the art of sailing is a beautiful learning experience. The destination is a separate experience for me. Enjoying both is even better. I might think differently in the future. It’s too bad about your insurance. I wouldn’t say The Thorny Path is not for you, try it again going north from the Virgin Islands, I’ve read that this is the more popular route. It wasn’t as successful as you planned, but it’s an experience nonetheless, and thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Ian. I agree 100% with the idea the sailing and the destination are two experiences, not one. It’s easy to think that the sailing is “just” the mode to get to the destination. But we’ve learned to view the two as separate treasures to enjoy, and it makes both so much more enjoyable.

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