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sv sea bird 10-22-2012 05:40 PM

Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
Hello, I am preparing to get a sailboat and single-hand cruise the Caribbean in about 4 months.

I have single-handed sailed my last boat, a Sea Wolf 40, but in the protected waters of Puget Sound and Salish sea. I have bought many books and researched weather and sea conditions best I can, but personal experience of others would be the best source.

I would very much appreciate corresponding (here or email) with anyone/everyone experienced in single-handed sailing in the Caribbean.

Thank you,

Sea Bird

Zanshin 10-23-2012 02:49 AM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
I've been singlehanding the Caribbean islands for a couple of years now in various boats.
There are few places I can think of offhand that are easier to sail. Most destinations in the Windwards and Leewards are within sight of each other and are easily reachable within a day's sail. Even the long trip from the BVI to St. Martin at over 70nm is still a mere puddle-jump.

With a well-found boat and a friendly autopilot for assistance it is not a problem at all.

Barquito 10-23-2012 11:29 AM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
You aren't making the passage from the PNW to the Caribbean, are you?

sv sea bird 10-23-2012 12:38 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
Thank you for your reply Zanshin. My only concern is sail handling, reefing ect., single handed in sudden squalls I've read can come up quickly. And, with significant more seas than these protected waters, there is the added rolling and pitching of the boat while handling sails. Have you had such experiences? Of course, always keeping one hand to the boat and maybe using a harness attached to the boat would seem wise. As you say, a good autopilot would be vital. Have you used wind vanes?

Thanks again,

sv sea bird 10-23-2012 12:40 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
Barquito, no I would get the boat in the area; Caribbean, Texas to Florida or maybe east coast. Sailing down the ICW seems doable single handed.

Zanshin 10-23-2012 01:14 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
Sure - squalls on passage are an issue; they can appear quite quickly and, particularly at night, not be noticed until they are almost upon you.

This subject touches upon another one that is currently active here - the maximum size of boat that a short-handed (or single-handed) crew can handle. There are lots of opinions on that matter but luckily the distances involved in Caribbean sailing are quite short so many of the potential pitfalls discussed there can be avoided.

You need an autopilot for the longer passages. A radar is nice-to-have for night sailing in order to detect those nasty squalls when the moon is down or hidden. Harness & Jacklines are necessary for night sails and recommended for daytime passages - but that would depend upon the size and configuration of the boat. I have in-mast furling which makes for very easy and quick reefing from the cockpit and I tend to sail under-canvassed even during the since I'm not in a great hurry to get anywhere and prefer safety over speed; I'll always put 2 reefs in sails during night passages.

The waves take a bit of getting used to, but most of the sailing down is with the wind around the beam so the sails will tend to settle the boat rather than make it pitch a lot. I've got the advantage that I started with a biggish boat (43 feet) and went even bigger (now 57 feet), so the boat weighs enough to make for easy and comfortable passages.

I'd love a wind vane, but my sailboats all had sugar scoops which makes for difficult windvane installations - I opt for 2 autopilot systems instead of losing my bathing/diving area off the back. I'd immediately go for a windvane if I had a boat configuration that allowed it.

The passage from the to St Martin is the longest one at 16-24+ hours, after that all the St. Martin sails are daysails. To get from St. Martin to Ile Fourchue is a couple of hours, from there to the main port in St. Barths is even less. From St. Barths to Statia is a long day's sail, but doable in daylight. From there to St. Kitts Basseterre is a couple of hours, from there to Nevis is a couple of hours. From Nevis to Antigua is a longer sail, but can be done in daylight....
You can see that one can traverse the islands in hops of 20-40nm between anchorages/ports - good distances for a singlehander to deal with even if stuff were to go wrong (the autopilot dies, sail issues, etc.) and all the ports are well documented in the maps and generally even pretty well lit for night entry/exit. I can't think of another sailing area of that size with so many options and such great weather and water conditions.

sv sea bird 10-23-2012 04:00 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
That's great information, thanks. I've had some of those debates over boat size and experienced it myself in my 40 foot ketch. It was much easier to manage than my previous 30 foot sloop. But, dividing the sails was probably the main difference. Mainsail furling would be great, no doubt. Almost every boat has furling head sails. I would like a cutter rig best and if I went with a 40+ footer I would not get a sloop unless I was lucky enough to find one with main furling, either boom or mast. I'm not sure what cost or difficulty in switch from hanked on boom to roller furling boom. But, alternative would be as you said, to shorten sail for nights, or I would unless absolutely no sign of weather.

Thanks again,

TQA 10-23-2012 08:05 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
I have to point out that YES once you get to the St Maarten the sailing is as easy is quoted above BUT assuming you leave from Florida and island hop down to Elizabeth harbor in the Bahamas which is pretty easy you do then have some hard sailing in front of you as you bash your way upwind and up current to St Maarten. Yes if you are prepared to wait for the weather windows AND follow the guidance in Bruce Van Sants book Passages South it is doable for a single hander but you are likely to have some testing days and nights on passage. The Mona passage being the one I would treat with the most care. Not for nothing is this often called the Thorny Path.

However once you are out to the Windwards and Leewards life is good.

Why not buy in Trini or the USVI or Martinique.

Barquito 10-24-2012 12:08 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed

...maybe using a harness...
You can fall over day or night. Unless you are within swimming distance of shore, you are probably dead. Everyone needs to weigh the risks themselves.

Personally, I would wear the harness almost all the time when single handed.

sv sea bird 10-24-2012 12:09 PM

Re: Cruising Caribbean Single-handed
Thanks TQA.

Yes, buying in lower Caribbean would be an ideal choice if I can find the right boat there.

By the way, why is it no one ever seems to skip Mona passage and continue east of Puerto Rico and then go west to Virgin Islands? With the seas and currents constantly disturbed by water flowing over drop off just west of Mona passage if there is a good weather window for the extended passage I would think it a better choice. I can't find anyone writing about it yet.

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