Closing the circle in the BVI after visiting St Martin

gbowdish - January 5, 2010

We were up early and efficiently got the dinghy and outboard on deck and secured for sea by 0730. The passage to St. Martin was only 36 miles, but it was exposed to the 4-6 foot northeast swell which had built up over several hundred miles. We reefed the main and then the genoa as we left Statia's wind shadow and found 25 knots of wind on the beam. The wind moved forward to 60 degrees apparent and an occasional wave sent salty spray into the cockpit to keep our attention. As we passed east of Saba I reasoned that if we had gone there on this trip we would now be beating hard on the wind and getting even wetter. The forward cabin was smelling pretty ripe after some charterer had failed to empty the holding tank so I asked Barry to watch for the telltale brown stream in the water as I pumped it out. He became overcome by nausea and then started to yawn, so retreated to the aft cabin for a nap.

We arrived in Simpson Bay just after 1230 covering the 36 miles in five hours for an average speed of 7 knots. We were an hour too late for the last morning bridge opening to enter the lagoon, so we set the anchor and had some lunch before launching the dinghy to find Allegro, Hoofbeats and Discovery anchored near the Witch's Tit on the French side. Their dinghies were gone, so we headed to the marina where we left the dinghy and walked over to the Customs office at the ferry dock in Marigot Bay. Barry found a French bakery for fresh baguettes while I waited for nearly an hour for the customs officer to show up. Another cruiser waiting to clear out mentioned that since the clearance is now done on the internet, I could clear in at the harbormaster's office where we had left the dinghy. Since we planned to stay less than 48 hours I was able to clear in and out at the same time. On the way back to Gaiamar to make the 1730 bridge opening, we found our friends aboard and learned that the birthday celebration would begin at 1800 aboard Allegro and then we would go ashore for a pizza dinner.

Back aboard, we had time for a quick shower before we got in line for the bridge to open. I was amused that the bridge staff zooming around in inflatables directed their instructions to Barry, assuming that he was the captain. We queued up with other cruising sailboats and megayachts, forming a parade of boats that entered the cut as soon as the bridge came up and the bridge operator gave the green light. I had never taken the boat into the lagoon before, so I followed another sailboat through the Dutch side of the anchorage until I realized that they intended to drop the anchor. I had been told to stay in the channel because of unmarked shoals in the lagoon, so I carefully inched my way back to the channel watching the depth drop to 6.0 then 5.6 feet. Gaiamar draws 5-1/2 feet so I breathed a sigh of relief when we turned left around the green buoy and found 15 feet of water in the channel. We chose a spot between Discovery and Hoofbeats, but the first attempt to set the anchor was unsuccessful. When Barry pulled up the anchor Marilyn asked if he was gathering greens for a salad, there was so much grass and weeds on the flukes. The anchor held on the second attempt, and we soon joined our friends aboard Allegro for cocktails before heading to shore for dinner.

The next day we tackled the list of boat projects. Island Water World had the refrigeration fan in stock, as well as most of the other items on our list. Did I mention that Barry likes to make lists? Electec is an Onan dealer, so they had the impeller I needed for the generator. We went to Budget Marine, the Raymarine dealer, in search of a replacement instrument cover but after getting the runaround from rude sales staff, Barry finally was told they had none in stock. He wanted a burgee from the St. Maarten Yacht Club but the sale price didn't register and the sales clerk had an “attitude” so we decided to take our business elsewhere. We headed across the lagoon to the yacht club, where Barry bought an official burgee of much higher quality, and the we walked over to McDonalds to use their free wifi. Barry had been assured that Allegro no longer needed him as crew, so he wanted to buy a plane ticket to leave on the same day I was leaving to visit our mothers in Arizona.

The first cruiser's happy hour of the season was held at the Turtle Pier bar and restaurant, where we met people from all over the world. Some were cruising on a shoestring, stopping to work when they ran out of money and refilling the cruising kitty. Others had finished cruising and had settled on St. Martin. We are just part-time cruisers but were accepted as part of the cruising community. We made several new friends, and wondered where we might run into them again sometime in the future. Dinner that night was at the same restaurant where we had pizza the night before, but on Wednesday nights they offered an all-you-can-eat rib special. We gave up our table as the band was setting up in the alcove where we were sitting, and stayed for the first set of songs we listened to in high school.

The next day I sent Barry off to run errands in the dinghy giving me some time for writing and reflecting. I had set a goal that by the end of the year I would write the outline of a book I've been wanting to write for 10 years now. I have no idea where the time goes when on a boat. One thing I can say is that I'm never bored! Just after 1600 we pulled up the anchor and headed toward the bridge which opened at 1630 for vessels leaving the lagoon. Allegro, Hoofbeats and Discovery followed. They planned to anchor outside in Simpson Bay and leave for the BVI around 0400, but we decided to sail all night to arrive in the BVI by daybreak. It was such a short passage that Barry and I took two-hour watches, sharing my one harness and tether. It was a great improvement over the 30-minute naps that I take when singlehanded. Just after midnight I heard something that sounded like a flag hitting the rigging, but we had no flags up. When I investigated I found a flying fish gasping on the side deck where it landed after hitting a shroud. This was the only fish we caught during our weeks of cruising.

I woke Barry as we entered Round Rock Passage then headed for St. Thomas Bay outside of Spanishtown where we picked up a mooring. Barry said he knew we were back in the BVI because he could see bottom features in 40 feet of water. After taking care of business with surly customs and immigration officials we set sail for the Dogs where we went snorkeling on the south side of George Dog. Barry said the snorkeling was some of the best he'd ever seen, and I promised we would cruise the BVI for at least a week when we returned in March. After lunch we sailed to Gorda Sound. We were still an hour away from the entrance channel when we heard Discovery on the radio. They were planning to anchor in the lee of Prickly Pear and the others were about an hour behind them. We posed for photos by Yachtshots/BVI as we approached North Sound, then dropped the anchor in Leverick Bay where we attended the Friday night beach BBQ and were entertained by a live band and the Mocko Jumbies (Skywalker stilt dancers.) We saw several old friends and made some new ones. It's great to be back home, my second home for the past six years.

We enjoyed a beautiful last day of sailing on Saturday, which is always nice when you know it's going to be three months before you are on a boat again. We sailed into Road Harbor, completing my circumnavigation of the northeast Caribbean. I had left alone, but I returned with a cruising partner who not only shares my passion for sailing, but who is passionate about me as well. Barry has already passed the most important test, proving that we get along well on a boat. Next we'll see how well we get along on shore. Oh, did I mention that he lives near my home in Michigan? I had to go to the Caribbean to find the cruising/life partner I've been looking for, only to discover that he's been living in my neighborhood all along!