Mandatory stop in Saint Martin
Some islands on our way we visit for our pleasure, others because it is necessary. Nevis is the first, Sint Maarten/St. Martin (SXM) the second. After only five days in Nevis – by far not ling enough – a favorable weather window drove us on. This time we sailed the 65 nm to St. Martin with a buddy boat, with new American sailing friends Leigh Ann and Troy, whom we met in Nevis.
Right at sunrise we set sails and a reach breeze hurried us through the shallow passage between St. Kitts and Nevis. East of the islands we set a northerly course and had the wind at our backs for the entire distance. We had surprisingly smooth wind conditions. 12-15 kn wind, that’s it for the day and it was a leisurely ride. However, sweetened by the visit of a dolphin family, which played exuberantly with the Rivercafe. Experiencing dolphins within hand’s reach is always exiting.
Dolphins playing with Rivercafe
After their departure, we once again cast our baits and caught a Horse Eye Jack, a Mackerel with delicious red meat.
Horse Eye Jack
After 8 hours of sailing we were fed up and decided to spend the night in the Dutch side in Simson Bay with a yellow flag up and no clearance. Simson Bay on the Dutch side of the island offers anchoring ground at its best and would actually be a beautiful bay. If it would not be located directly at the runway of the airport. SXM is the famous airport where limited intelligent people hang on the fence when the planes take off. In Simson Bay, it’s super loud when the planes accelerate over the mast. Actually, the entire Dutch side of the island is not far from the runway. If no airplane takes off, then brainless tourists on jet skis recklessly cruise past the anchored ships. But when the airport and the jet ski primates go to sleep, the clubs blast monotonous music into the bay. Too bad about the bay, could be so nice. But I don’t know a louder and more annoying anchorage than Simson Bay in Sint Maarten.
The myth of cheap yachting equipment in Sint Maarten
Among yachties the opinion is smoldering that all yacht accessories are cheaper in Sint Maarten. And it is justified with tax exemption. This is nonsense. You can buy tax free on almost all islands if you present a clearance. The Dutch dealers probably first add 200% to not charge the tax. We once needed a new dinghy and there were plenty of them on display at the dealers. In the end we bought it in Bremen (Germany), had it shipped to the US Virgins and paid half the SXM price including transport. You really shouldn’t wait with your shopping list for SXM. Besides, the rates for labor are the highest and I know plenty of reports from sailors about rip-off tricks of the contractors. And finally – I’ll end my Sint Maarten (NL side) bashing with this – the Dutch charge crazy exchange rates, because on this side of the island you pay in US dollars. Current exchange rate USD/Euro: 1:1. So sailors be aware that your are cash cows in Sint Maarten.
The French side
First thing in the morning we pulled up anchor and made our way around the island, to the French side, to Marigot Bay. This is also an excellent anchorage and recently they put mooring balls, although they are not allowed to be used after one broke and a vessel crashed on shore.
This bay is quiet, the water is clear and no one is annoying – even though there are easily a hundred vessels moored here. No jet skis, no annoying clubs. We booked ourselves two days in the Fort Louis Marina to do our shopping. St. Martin – French side – is perfect for that. Here everything is available like in France, plus Caribbean. Even if we are not meet addicted, here we found our favorite butcher with top french mainland quality. In French St. Martin one pays with euros. We stocked up on everything we won’t get in the Turks & Caicos and Bahamas – so basically everything. On top we enjoyed two days with fantastic bread and French cheese. A feast. The last night we anchored and said farewell to our Austrian sailing friends Iris and Volker, who were not yet ready to sail.
Last Dinner in SXM, French Side impressions
Sailing at night
The next afternoon at 4 pm we set sail to arrive in the morning at sunrise in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). At 6:30 pm it was dark and from then on we sailed 12 hours of the 90 nm in total darkness. The wind was between 10 and 20 kn and blew from 120-180 degrees into the sails. Without spinnaker and code D, which we never sail at night double handed. This wind angle requires concentration or the autopilot on wind angle.
One of us is always on watch at the helm. At night we have watches of 3 hours, the other can then try to sleep. It is a bizarre feeling to sail blindly into the dark with only AIS, plotter and radar electronically oriented. I always need a little time to get used to it. Every now and then there is time for a look at the fantastic starry sky and at some point the half moon also rose and brought some cold silver light. The moon by the way does not feed the solar panels, as funny rumors claim.
We were passed by freighters and two cruise ships on their way to Florida. When the course became tight, we exchanged information over the radio. Since we were under sail and had little chance to change course. The “Wind Surf” – an oncoming cruise ship sailing toward us – nicely changed course. The darkness makes orientation difficult. Especially when it comes to distances. On the AIS you can see distances, speed and course, but unfortunately there are still vessels without. One of them annoyed me for hours, sometimes on parallel course, sometimes with course on us.
Around 5:30 am, still in complete darkness, the lights of Virgin Gorda were ahead. We sailed another gybe to run more westerly along the island, as our wind angle had taken us past the island. Just in time for sunrise at 6:30 am, the entrance at Virgin Gorda was ahead of us. We left the rock pile “Fallen Jerusalem” on port side and the dangerous uncharted underwater rocks of Virgin Gorda on starboard side. Shortly after 7:00 am we were moored at one of the most beautiful places in the Caribbean: The Baths. And we had caught a wonderful day, because here it can get very wavy and unpleasant. Clearance we did in Spanish Town for 75 USD and just under 2 hours – a good value in the BVI. Since this year vessels from the US Virgins are allowed into the BVI and that brings a lot of traffic at the clearance.
It’s easy to understand why the BVI is an incredibly popular sailing destination for charterers. Real sailors need patience or avoid the area. 55 Euro for a reserved mooring ball is already going towards robbery. We spent our short BVI week in North Sound and Norman Island, against the pull lines of charter sailors. We had not planned much time for the BVI because in the US Virgins there was already a technology leap ready for us: our Star Link system. From the next report from the USVI on we will hopefully be able to be online always and fast. / Holger Binz