British Virgin Islands to St Maarten
The time arrived at the end of April to conclude our winter respite in the British Virgin Islands and begin the next leg of our voyage - heading south through the Caribbean island chain so that, come summertime which is hurricane season, we would be out of the hurricane belt.
The area of high risk for hurricanes in the Caribbean region, as defined by our yacht insurance company Pantaenius Yacht Insurance, is East of 98°W and West of 60°W, and between the Latitudes 10°N and 30.5°N. The “Named Tropical Storm Clause” in our insurance goes into effect from July 1st to November 15th. Different insurance companies have different limitations so check this out if planning to sail or store your boat in the Caribbean during the summer and autumn months.
Paul at Pipe Creek, Bahamas
Another option for avoiding hurricanes in the summer would be to sail north through the islands of the Bahamas, one of our favourite cruising grounds as you may have determined by the number of Bahamas Distant Shores episodes we have filmed there, and then north to the Chesapeake Bay, another great cruising ground on the east coast of the USA that we have documented in the show. (Maine and the Canadian Maritimes are other appealing summer destinations for many sailors that cruise in the Caribbean for the winter, as is the Great Loop, a route exploring inland waterways of the USA and Canada.)
Travelling through the Erie Canal, Chesapeake Bay and Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Distant Shores Season 6
We have made the trip up from the Caribbean to the Bahamas, the Chesapeake Bay and home to Canada through the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and Trent-Severn Waterway in the past and, since next season we are are planning to cruise the western Caribbean, going north would mean a long journey retracing our steps back to the Caribbean in the fall. So we have decided to take the boat south for Hurricane Season this year and explore more of the leeward and windward islands along the way.
The first leg of our journey south from the BVI was to sail back across the Anegada Passage to the Dutch/French island of St Maarten/St Martin, a passage of about 90 nm. In February we did this in the opposite direction, going St Maarten to the BVI, which is generally a nice downwind sail with the current in your favour as well. (See Feb 26/13 newsletter).
But going the other way, from BVI to St Maarten, is a whole different story since you are sailing into the trade winds and with the 1 to 1.5 knot current against you, so you need to plan the eastbound journey a bit more carefully. As cruising sailors we are blessed with hundreds of great sailing days in a year so the general strategy for this passage is to wait for calm conditions, motorsail into it topping up your batteries as you go, and Get It Done. From St Maarten heading south through the island chain your angle of sail is better and you can expect days of great beam-reach sailing with regular trade winds blowing from the east.
Checking the weather forecast on WindGURU we saw light wind conditions predicted for Thursday April 25 and Friday April 26. On Friday, the wind was predicted to be slightly more ENE rather than E and since we were going to set sail from North Sound in Virgin Gorda at the most northern end of the BVI we would have not-bad angle on an ENE wind. If we left very early on Friday morning there was a good chance we'd be able to make the 12-hour passage under sail, at least for part of the day. (Of course you could skip St Maarten altogether and sail southeast to islands further down the chain to avoid a headwind bash but St Maarten is a great place to stock up on provisions, fuel, and chandlery items before sailing down-island so we really wanted to stop there.)
The Cruising Guide to the BVI by Nancy and Simon Scott have a good section on options for sailing south from the BVI to the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.
A new customs office in the BVI has recently opened in North Sound (also called Gorda Sound) at Gun Creek just across the sound from where we were anchored off Saba Rock so in the late afternoon on Thursday April 25 we motored over to Gun Creek, anchored off the customs quay, and cleared out of the BVI. You can clear out 12 hours before your planned departure.
Early the next morning, Friday April 26, we were up at 4:30 a.m. and raised anchor at 5:30 a.m. just as the sun was rising and the full moon was setting over Virgin Gorda, a beautiful farewell image of the BVI.
Heading out of the sound into Necker Passage we noticed there were 3 other yachts in our wake. We wouldn't be alone out in the Anegada Passage.
Necker Passage takes you out past Necker Island, the multi-million dollar private resort belonging to Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines and other Virgin Group corporations.
We were soon out into open water, mainsail raised and self-tacking jib ready to unfurl but the wind never did set in from the ENE. It was light and on the nose, due E, the whole day. Motorsailing it was to be. It was a very clear day and Virgin Gorda didn't disappear off our stern until mid-morning. We each stood our watches listening to audio books on our iPhones to pass the time and watching the many sea birds and passing ships. The Anegada Passage is a gateway to the Caribbean for ocean-going ships travelling to and from the rest of the world.
At the half-way point we passed sailboats heading in the opposite direction and the blue skies began to get cloudy. Then the radar started to show patches of squalls developing and by the afternoon we were getting scattered shower – brief and cooling.
However, just after sighting St Maarten on the horizon in the late afternoon, we got a series of big squalls. No worries. The heavy rain gave the boat a good cleaning washing all the salt off the decks.
At the same time as the squalls passed we noticed an incredible feeding frenzy going on. Hundreds of sea birds were diving on fish at the surface all around us. Now we're not very good at fishing but we thought if we put out a line in this location we couldn't go wrong. Over the years we've done a lot of fishing with the hand spear but not so much with a line. But now we're getting into it and found a great book to guide us, The Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing by Scott and Wendy Bannerot. We dropped our line but I guess we were a bit late doing it since no fish seemed interested in our lure. Oh well. Better luck next time.
Just after 5:00 p.m. the skies had cleared and we were rounding the south end of St Martin/St Maarten in sunshine under blue skies. By 5:30 p.m. we were dropping the hook in Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of the island just behind SV Banyan owned by Canadian friends, Dave and Alex, who had left the BVI the day before us.
That's the great thing about cruising. You meet so many great people on your travels and encounter them many times in many places. A welcome always awaits you.
Until next time,
Sheryl and Paul
Aboard SV Distant Shores II
Join our email list and get hints, technical articles and tips plus videos to help you achieve your cruising dreams.
- FREE 1/2 hour video on cruising the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas
- Technical Blog shows you how to deal with issues facing the cruising sailor
- Destination information from some of the world's best cruising areas
- Special discounts and promotions