As we beat our way east along the Thorny Path, we were reminded what a bad idea it can be to try and sail to a tight schedule. Ideally, you adapt to enjoy wherever you are and then wait for desirable winds and seas. Whenever those elusive conditions present, regardless of whatever else you have going on, you drop everything, weigh anchor, and push east!
We had experienced a somewhat bruising passage to eastern Puerto Rico, so we were hawkishly watching for a good weather window to hop over to the British Virgin Islands. Alas, the sail rigger we hired, took a week longer to get started than he promised, and we watched our good weather window spout wings and flit away. This was sad, indeed.
We made the best use of our extended stay in Puerto Rico by ”hauling out.” Insurance companies require you to pull the boat out of the water every few years to have a surveyor go over her with a fine-tooth comb so they can make sure nothing potentially catastrophic is developing. This was our year, and suffice it to say that it was a big, hairy deal.
After our haulout our list of boat projects grew again. And we really like Sint Maarten for boat projects – lots of vendors and marine chandleries, good contractors, and a reasonable marina to stay in while we affect our repairs. Also, Karen’s brother was scheduled to visit us there in mid-April. But we could not miss a chance to stop in the British Virgin Islands…
The BVIs are a day-sail from Puerto Rico, and once you are there, it is a sailor’s paradise (save for all the other boats). Quick aside: my only real complaint about all the marine traffic there is that you are never completely sure if the captain behind the wheel of that charter boat on a collision course with you is a competent, professional skipper who is well-versed in all of the rules, regulations, and procedures to avoid a disaster or a “credit card captain” who has not been on the water in years and may not recall how to handle this situation and may be very distracted (or worse), to boot. The most likely scenario is that you’re dealing with something between those two extremes, so you can’t really relax and assume the other captain is going to do what he or she is supposed to do. With the volume of traffic, and there is a LOT of traffic, it keeps you on edge!
But, the BVIs are so lovely and sailor-friendly that most boaters would never venture any further if it were not located smack dab in the buckle of the hurricane belt.
After a looooong check-in to the country (thank you, Karen, for handling that – the British islands do love their forms, lines, and fees) we stopped at Pusser’s Restaurant. One of the charming things about Pusser’s is that when you order a Painkiller, the bartender asks you “and just how much pain do you have?” You respond with a number 2 – 4, and they adjust the strength of your drink accordingly. If the islands had a taste, it would probably be this. We both chose a two (four being the strongest). And since Pusser’s publishes their painkiller recipe, I respectfully offer it here to you, Dear Reader.
We anchored for the night, and no trip to the BVIs is complete without a stop at the Soggy Dollar Bar. There is no dock, and the beach drops off fairly precipitously, so the procedure is that you take your dinghy reasonably close to shore, set your anchor, and then dive in and swim to land. Q.E.D., you see how the place earned its name.
It was a happy surprise also to run into our friends Josh and Robin, aboard Second Star. We met them in Ft. Lauderdale and really hit it off, so of course we shared a cocktail hour with them to swap stories of each boat’s adventures since leaving Florida. I wish we had a photo with them, but none of us thought to take one.
The next day, we grabbed a mooring ball in Virgin Gorda and started to truly unwind.
We both love this area and wished we could have stayed longer to explore, but we were feeling the pressure to get to Sint Maarten to pick up our guest, so at noon on Easter Sunday, we untied and resumed our journey east. This leg would take us nearly 24 hours.
Timing your entry into Sint Maarten can be a bit tricky for a sailboat beating east. First off, you traverse the Anagada Passage, which sailors call the Oh-My-Godda Passage. When it’s stirred up (which is most of the time) it’s like sailing through a washing machine. Another factor that makes timing tricky is that the drawbridge into Sint Maarten’s Simpson Bay only opens four times a day for inbound traffic (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., and 3:00 and 5:00 p.m.). If you miss that schedule, even by a minute, you get the privilege of anchoring outside the bridge and cooling your heels until the next opening… or the next day. Point being, we were motivated to giddy up!
But, because we probably needed one more challenge, the Anagada Passage lived up to its reputation, and our speed promptly plummeted to a miserable three-knot-slog with strong winds and big waves on our nose.
That speed was significantly slower than we had budgeted. We revved up both engines, but the combination was such that everything got tossed off the shelves and onto the floor and the refrigerator shook out of its installed cubby.
Sailors refer to this wave pattern as the “Caribbean Two-Step”; you pick up speed and then slam nose-first into a wave. The entire boat shudders and grinds to a near-halt, and as you might imagine, hilarity ensues. Lather, rinse, and repeat… for nearly 24 hours. It’s every bit as miserable as it sounds.
TLDR? We made the 11:30 a.m. bridge opening. Crisis averted, more or less.
On this passage, I noticed the port engine was consistently running about 15 degrees warmer than I expected it to. There wasn’t much I could do about it until we were tied up in Sint Maarten, but as soon as we were secure, I donned my scuba equipment and jumped in to have a look. Holy cow! Apparently we had caught a fishing net with our port prop somewhere along the way, and it was all miserably wrapped up. This photo does not give context, but this nest of line and rope is about the size of a large horse’s head (sorry – the epic Kentucky Derby remains fresh on my mind).
Karen’s brother, Kenny arrived in Sint Maarten on Tuesday, April 19. This was his first trip to Gratitude. He was supposed to get here a day earlier, but his original flight was canceled, so Tuesday it was. This cut his trip shorter than we wanted, but we were honestly just happy to have him. We took him to The Pub and Lagoonies, and we all enjoyed watching the planes fly low over our heads at Maho Beach.
Once you’ve sailed to Sint Maarten, you’re pretty much done with your Caribbean “easting”. It’s a good time to catch your breath and fix the things that need fixing and ease a bit more into island life!