There is a reason people have been sailing around the world from east to west… for ages. That thought crossed my head very recently, when we were on our first long voyage west. Before, I never gave that reality much thought, except when having those big old ships of the first explorers in mind. They could basically only go to places downwind. Modern boats have way more flexibility and we basically sailed Irie wherever we wanted, except straight into or very close to the wind. Catamarans don’t go to windward very well.
Sailing downwind towards the rainbow and the west, with just the jib © Liesbet Collaert
The first year into our cruising life, we made it from the east coast of the US to the Eastern Caribbean. When you look at a map, this is not a direction boats like to go in easterly trade winds, so it involved a lot of timing and motoring. Once in the Leeward Islands, we went up and down the chain a few times, heading south when the winds had a southeasterly component (summer hurricane season) and sailing back north when the wind blew from a northeasterly direction (winter cruising season). This meant we always sailed close-hauled, with the sheets trimmed tightly and the boat bashing into the waves. On short occasions, we’d have the wind behind us – leaving harbors or moving along south coasts – and our minds on high alert, to prevent accidental jibes. During some of these downwind trips, we wouldn’t even bother raising the mainsail and just unfurled the jib.