Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Most writers I know need to do research about places, people, historical events, legal issues and about a zillion other subjects that come up as we make our way through a story. One of the easiest ways to find answers is the internet—yep, Google is my friend—although not everything posted online is reliable. When delving deeper into a subject, books are a great resource and libraries a treasure trove of valuable information. There are times, however, when we need more specific insight into a hypothetical situation that only an expert can provide. And that’s where personal interaction is critical.

My critique partner, Sarah Andre, recently had some legal questions pertaining to her romantic suspense, LOCKED, LOADED AND LYING. The letter of the law, she learned, totally screwed up the basic premise of her plot. When it looked like a major re-write might be necessary, an attorney she spoke to told her there were times when reality did, indeed, allow for the events in her story to happen. This man’s input gave her expert insight she would never have gotten from the internet or a book and made her premise believable.

I love asking people questions about subjects dear to their hearts. Often the answers are not what I expected and even send my story in an unexpected direction. My work in progress, SHADES OF THE DEEP, takes place in the Caribbean—primarily the British Virgin Islands—but it’s been years since I lived in St. Croix or sailed the BVI. Between the internet resources and Google Earth, I’ve been able to refresh my memory and see how some of my favorite places have changed.

But I was stuck. I needed to know how long it would take my hero to sail from Fat Dog Island--a made-up place near St. Vincent—to Road Town, Tortola. I contacted an old friend who has bareboated in the Caribbean for years and asked him. The reply I got was 46-48 hrs. His elaboration, however, brought the trip alive:

Could be faster if wind is up; slower if it is down.
Could be slower if there are nuisances getting out of Kingstown or into Roadtown; probably not a big factor since both are clean shots.

Distance = 370 – 390 nm, depending on route, rhumbline vs. island hop.
Sail set = close reach (winter) – beam reach – broad reach (summer), depending on time of year
            All good sail sets for comfortable voyaging
Good sailor, 60 ft sloop or cutter or ketch, solo, should make 8kn comfortably.
200 nm in a day is a really good day for a 45 ft boat, but your boat is bigger and the course is a fast sail set.

I would recommend modified island hop.

Basically, from St. Vincent , get offshore quickly, setting course for near St. Kitts (west side).  Then straight shot from St. Kitts to Roadtown, missing all the Anegada reefs encountered if you went via St. Maarten.  Plus, St. Maarten à Roadtown is downwind and slower. 
Sail on west side of all the islands, 10-20 nm offshore.  That will minimize turbulence and disorganized seas from being too close to land and minimize wind shadow from tall islands.  At the same time, islands in the distance to the east (visible at range of 10-20 nm, will give visible markers of progress and a safe haven to run for if needed.

Let me know if you need more detail or sanity checking.

I’m a good sailor and knew these places, yet I’d forgotten so much of what it takes to make the sail. What he wrote brought back so many vivid memories I can now draw from. His insights have given me inspiration, a voyage to plan and some serious daydreaming to do. And now I know Bodie can make it from Fat Dog to Road Town in 48 hours or less. Thanks, JB!! 


Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Wow! I can't wait to read your story, Lark. It probably will be the closest I'll ever come to sailing in the BVI. I'm guessing Bodie is going to have to run for a safe haven on this trip. Oh, and I'm bet there will be nuisances getting into Roadtown. Fascinating stuff!

Lark Howard said...

Glad it sounds intriguing to you, Pat. I've been living this story for a while and am startled sometimes to look up from my keyboard to find myself in Houston instead of on the beach in Jost Van Dyke.

And yes, poor Bodie will be tortured early and often--as is necessary to make things interesting. :-)