We returned to Gratitude in the British Virgin Islands shortly after Christmas, and on December 28, we received our dear friends, the Ranks aboard. We wasted no time getting underway.
In the BVIs, there are a few “must sees”, and we made that circuit, hopping from Willy T’s off Norman Island, snorkeling at The Caves, eating at Foxy’s, and The Soggy Dollar Bar in White Bay. Finally, we capped it off with a quiet day of anchoring and swimming at the remote, and beautiful, Sandy Cay. This is an uninhabited island with a pristine strip of beach. We all listened to UGA play LSU, but some of our party couldn’t stay awake for the ending! I’ll just leave that there.
As a backdrop to this, I was doing more ritual combat with the water maker. This has turned out to be the most difficult system for me to keep running. Whether we’re at home or on the boat, I generally like to take the first pass at trying to repair something, but it was time to call in the cavalry on this one. We decided on an expensive option that involved replacing numerous components in the hopes that this may actually fix it. Time will tell.
Once the Ranks were in a taxi for the ferry terminal, Karen and I turned our attention east. After grinding out several challenging passages recently, we had one more difficult one facing us, and this one had previously kicked our butts more than once.
And a quick refresher (or spoiler) about sailing east in the Caribbean: it is generally no fun. There are several reasons for this, but the short version is that the trade winds and the seas conspire to oppose you at almost every turn. There are a couple of places where this is particularly salient – the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands and the Anegada Passage between the British Virgin Islands and Sint Maarten (or Anguilla), which was next up for us.
Once you have completed the Anegada, you are more or less at the end of your “easting”. When you arrive at Sint Maarten or Anguilla, you can pretty much breathe a big sigh of relief. It is expected that going “down island” will be “easy breezy” from there.
But we weren’t “there” yet. We were in the British Virgin Islands and still had to cross The Anegada Passage. We’ve written about this before. It’s a rough crossing. So rough, in fact, that sailors morph “Anegada” to call it the “oh-my-god-a” passage. Some go to absurd lengths to avoid it. The last time we made it was in April, 2022, and when we finished, it looked like our boat had been turned upside down and shaken. Everything that had been on shelves had crashed down onto the floor. Artwork was on the floor. Appliances had fallen off counter tops. Bottles had fallen and smashed. Our refrigerator had “walked” its way out of its installed cubby. Things broke. We were miserable. You get the idea.
On our previous Anegada crossing, we needed to hurry to Sint Maarten to pick up a guest, so we had hoisted the sails and cast off without much care for the weather.
But this would be our third time making this eastern crossing, and this time we had the luxury of waiting to select a favorable weather window.
Before we started our trip, however, we had to watch the UGA vs TCU national football championship. We went to Saba Rock (a really cool venue), which was showing the game and arrived in time to secure a space with a clear line-of-sight to the TV. There were probably twenty five other people there watching the game, but we were the only two UGA fans in the place! Everyone else was pulling for the underdog, TCU! We loyally cheered on our hometown favorite, earning uncomfortable stares and some obnoxious jeers. Fortunately, UGA’s performance quietened them down about halfway through the first quarter.
But back to the looming Anegada Passage… we untied on January 10 at noon, and it turned out that waiting for the right weather window was a game-changer for us. The passage was relatively smooth and easy, and nothing went flying! For any mariners who are interested in the particulars of this weather window, I humbly submit the following:
|July 2019||14 – 19K at 4º||8’||7 seconds||22 hours||Really, really rough.|
|April 2022||14 – 18K at 0º||7.5’||7 seconds||22.5 hours||More miserable. Things broke.|
|January 2023||6K at 40º||4.1’||7 seconds||17.5 hours||Pretty smooth!|
So, our lesson learned is to do everything in our power to wait for a weather window closer to the one we just had. We made such good time on this passage that we found ourselves, unexpectedly, anchoring hours before dawn in the inky dark. That can be stressful by itself, but it was preferable to getting tossed around like the S.S. Minnow for 20+ hours.
Once Gratitude’s hook was set, we both collapsed and caught up on sleep.
As for Anguilla, it has a beautiful strip of beach with a few restaurants, but you wouldn’t really call it “cruiser-friendly”. There are many reasons, but here are a few: There are prohibitively-high fees if you anchor anywhere else but Road Town on the north of the island (the message we took from that was that they wanted to attract cruise ships and not sailboats). There are only three or four restaurants and no shops or grocery stores you can get to without a taxi. It’s just not enough to keep you engaged for very long.
So, on January 18, we weighed anchor and sailed south the short hop to Sint Maarten.
Sint Maarten is where we currently are. Andy truly loves this island. It is packed with beautiful, sandy beaches, great restaurants, quirky beach bars, and every boat-related shop/facility you could ask for. Also, it’s all duty free, so you can bring things into the country with no headaches or fees.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to Sint Maarten, though, is how easy it is to fly home from there. No ferry rides, layovers, or headaches – just a direct flight to the ATL! Which is what we took at the end of January, so that we could come home for: a) a dive trip to Roatan leaving from Atlanta; b) our son Clint’s wedding; and c) long-awaited sinus surgery for Karen. (She’s recovering nicely and breathing much better now!)
After Karen returns to Gratitude later in March, we’ll set sail once more for Antigua. We’ve only stopped there once in all our Caribbean travels, and we didn’t stay NEARLY long enough. So this time around we’ve budgeted a whole month.
We’ll leave you with some final photos from our time in the BVIs, where we not only entertained the Ranks but also went on a couple of great dives with Sunchaser Scuba, based at the Bitter End Yacht Club. Two items of note for fellow sailors: One, you can get a mooring ball at the Bitter End that gives you all the advantages of a slip at the marina. Two, Sunchaser Scuba there is a class act. Great dive masters, interesting dive sites, a well-run organization. Two thumbs (fins?) up!