Rivercafe

Nightsailing – Daysailing

Farewell to the Virgin Islands

After two beautiful but unusually windy months in the Virgin Islands, it was time to leave. The Spanish, American and British Virgin Islands are wonderful islands well worth the arduous journey from the more southerly islands..

Our schedule awaited us back in St. Martin in early April. The distance is about 85 nm (157 km) in the direct way and goes exactly against current and wind from eastern directions. This makes it an arduous route and the most unpleasant possible course for a catamaran. 14-15 hours against waves and wind, make it quite a salty journey. The daylight hours are not sufficient and therefore the night has to be included.

On the previous outward leg (SMX to BVI) – which can be sailed on a downwind course – we left in the late afternoon and sailed blindly through the night from 7 pm onwards. At sunrise the BVI were in front of us. For the way way back we chose the alternative: Start at 3.00 am in the morning in pitch dark night in Copper Island to arrive at daylight around 5 pm. in SMX.

Without stars and moon you can imagine sailing at night as if you are driving a car without lights over an open area and steering only according to the navigation system. How comforting it is then to see stars or the moon – or a navigation light from another vessel on the horizon.

For more than a week, we observed the weather predictions to catch a day with as little wind and flat seas as possible. Fortunately for us, we did not need a current C19 test to enter St. Martin, french side. This gave us the flexibility to set our departure based solely on the weather conditions. A great relief. Monday was the day. “Windy” and “PredictWind” forecast the smallest wave for 2 weeks at 1.2 m and the weakest headwind at 16 kn. That was our window be have been waiting for. And it turned out, we caught the only one for the foreseeable future.

After an unsuccessful attempt to clear out with the grumpy and unfriendly BVI customs/immigration officials on Saturday, we succeeded on Sunday and got the required forms and stamps.

The anchor is stuck

But we still had to deal with a challenge. Two days we were already anchored in Trunk Bay, right next to “The Baths” in Virgin Gorda. The romantic Trunk Bay is praised for its good holding. This is total nonsense. On our first visit, our anchor got caught in the island’s underwater power cable. This time it hung as if concreted between two rocks and had not the slightest intention of moving or being picked up. Good for the stay, bad for the departure. The sunny side of the many shadows in sailing is the immediate support by fellow sailors. Our American friend Dean anchored nearby and Keith, a likeable Australian, immediately came to support with his dinghy.

We connected two dinghies, dove and tied a rope to the anchor underwater. Then pulled the thing with two times 15 HP after some attempts out of its rocky grave. We were free again and headed for Copper Island with the idea to get easily get off a mooring ball the following night. For us there was no sundowner in the Coppers Island bar, but very early bedtime.

An alarm clock at 2.30 am in the morning is always hard. At 3.00 am we threw off the lines. With slow speed we maneuvered us by chart plotter and Ka with spotlight on the bow through the narrow exit in pitch dark night. Not that shallows and rocks already bring enough tension, so often still fishing buoys lie in the middle of the fairway, which are more or less well visible. If such a line gets caught in the propeller, one becomes unable to maneuver. A nightmare in pitch black night between rocky islands. After a tense hour, we reached deep waters.

With wind and safe straight on our bow we motored on into the pitch black night, blind except for the chart plotter at the helm. The night was quite cloudy and the view of the starry sky – usually the reward for night sailing – was sparse. In clear skies, you can see around 5,000 stars in the sky. On the Atlantic, many more. This night there were 10, but we were lucky that the fat clouds didn’t drop their charges on us, because that always brings extra wind.

Around 5:30 am the first daylight slowly awoke and at 6:30 am it was light. In front of us was only water, a lot of water. And no land in sight.

On our navigation plotter we could see that there were three other vessels out of our sight on their way to St. Martin, among them the “Mercan” with our friends Arzu and Emre. But the vastness of the sea is so enormous that you can hardly see anyone with your eyes. From our helm we can see a horizon that is about 5 nm away. Depending on the visibility, you can see another sailing vessel at a distance of 3 nm.

Treat in St. Martin

9 nm before St. Martin the annoying fishing buoys appeared again, in the middle of the fairway of the approach. The last miles are always incredibly long. At 5 pm we had finally reached Marigot Bay and dropped anchor. One anchor beer later we were hanging over the fence and early in bed. What a relief to stretch out after many hours at sea.

Welcome dinner: Oysters on Rivercafe

Now we are for about 1 month in St. Martin (SMX) and look forward to many visitors. And right after getting the ship ready, we headed to a real supermarket. Oh how soothing to finally find really good food again. Delicious and healthy. As beautiful as the Virgin Islands are, the food is scary or outrageously expensive. Welcome to the land of milk and honey. / Holger Binz

 

Weather report:
Sunrise 6:08 h, sunset 18:26 h, daytime temperature 29 degrees C, at night 23 degrees C, wind 5-7 Bft, mostly cloudy, occasional rain showers

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