Sailing BVI to St. Martin 2015
By Sheryl Shard, copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Greetings from the half-French half-Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten in the Caribbean!
Sunset anchored in Simpson Bay Lagoon, St. Maarten
After almost two idyllic months cruising in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) we are now anchored in Simpson Bay Lagoon on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.
Departing the British Virgin Islands
Wednesday March 24 we raised anchor at 0600 and slid off the shallow bank we were anchored on at the mouth of the inner harbour at Road Town, Tortola, in the BVI planning to make an 18-hour non-stop upwind passage to Simpson Bay in St. Maarten. After showering and getting ready to depart, we determined we were too low on water for comfort. We had enough to be fine for the day but decided it would be safer and more convenient to top up our water before sailing offshore across the Anegada Passage. You never know what can happen. So instead of leaving for St. Maarten from Road Town we decided to sail up the Sir Francis Drake Channel to North Sound, Virgin Gorda, where it would be easy to stop at Leverick Bay Marina to fill up on water. The timing was good. It would be open by the time we got there.
Wednesday was a beautiful day with winds E 10-15 and a forecast that the winds would go to the NE in the afternoon, meaning we could sail versus motorsail to St. Maarten for at least half the day. Sailing from North Sound out the Necker Channel would give us an even better angle on the wind improving our chances of sailing upwind so was another good reason for changing our plans to go up there.
We motor-sailed up Sir Francis Drake Channel to make good time for the marina opening and marvelled at how few boats were out at that time of the morning. Not a bad morning commute :-)
Leaving the inner harbour at Road Town, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands
Luckily there was space at the dock when we arrived at Leverick Bay Marina - just a charter catamaran and a mega-yacht with a guy polishing the helicopter on deck - with space for us at the back. Water is 15 cents US per U.S. gallon and we totally filled our water tank for $22.00 US. Even with lots of showering and cooking and washing up we can go for about 2 weeks without a fill. Since we have good water capacity on our Southerly 49, Distant Shores II, we chose not to go with a watermaker on this boat since it's easy to get water where we've been cruising with the boat in Europe and the Caribbean. But at some point we may choose to add one. We had a Schenker watermaker on our previous boat, a Southerly 42.
We quickly filled and set off happy that we hadn't been delayed too much. Life in the galley at sea was going to be much better now that I didn't have to watch the water levels too closely and we could have a good long hot shower when we made landfall later that night.
Crossing the Anegada Passage
I won't go into too much detail about crossing the Anegada Passage since we have made the trip several times and have written about it in previous newsletters about St. Martin plus documented it in Distant Shores episodes in season 6 and season 9. However, I will say that on this trip the air was so clear that we were 40 nm away from the British Virgin Islands before Virgin Gorda disappeared below the horizon and we picked up St. Martin when we were 32 nm away! The whole voyage from Road Town was just over 100 nm.
We saw lots of boats including the tallship cruise ship, Sea Cloud II, on the Anegada Passage en route to St. Martin
Arriving in St. Maarten
On this trip the winds never did go to northeast as predicted but picked up to 15-20 knots from the east which was pretty much "right on the nose". Distant Shores II is a long narrow boat with a 10 ft. 3 in. draft with the keel down (2 ft. 10 in. with the keel up for shallow draft) so slices through the waves and goes great to windward so despite this and the time we added for our water stop we were anchor-down at the Simpson Bay anchorage in St. Maarten at 10:30 PM, an hour and a half earlier than we predicted. Woo hoo!
The anchorage at Simpson Bay is large and we've come in there in the dark several times before so it was no problem arriving especially with the moonlight. We anchored at the back of the fleet in 4 metres with a sand bottom, so good holding, and despite it being a little rolly, as it often is here, we slept soundly. The only disturbance we had was at around midnight when a very drunk but happy couple returned to their boat in their dinghy and mistook our boat for theirs so were loudly puzzled why the stern ladder was raised. They burst into gales of laughter when then realized they were trying to board the wrong boat and sped off :-)
The next morning we saw another boat had anchored behind us in the night but the captain must have been very tired and not set his anchor carefully or not put out enough scope. We watched him drag across the harbour and almost out to sea! We couldn't raise him on the radio and we had our dinghy on deck so couldn't chase him but just as we were about to lower it and go after him we saw someone on deck and the situation was remedied.
Coming through the Simpson Bay Bridge, St. Maarten
At 0930 on Thursday morning we caught the Incoming Bridge Opening at the Simpson Bay Bridge (bridge opening times here) and went into the smooth protected waters of Simpson Bay Lagoon where we anchored in our favourite spot in a very shallow but convenient-to-everything spot near the bridge. However we barely had the anchor down when a family in a Bavaria went aground beside us not realizing our Southerly 49 is shallow-draft. This happens all the time so today Paul wrote a new Tech Blog, Warning Shallow Water, that is essentially a field guide to Southerly Yachts. Our boat looks very similar to a new deep-draft Jeanneau so people see our boat and assume there is lots of water around us. We’re getting very good at helping people get their boats off shoals…
After helping the Bavaria get free of the ground, we took the dinghy to the customs dock which is right in by the bridge and cleared in to St. Maarten as well as paid bridge and anchoring fees. Info on clearing in at St. Maarten.
We'll be here for a couple of weeks before heading down-island doing the maintenance and repairs we weren't able to complete when we were here at Christmas before flying home to conduct boat show seminars. On the to-do list is to build a new cockpit hatch, service the freezer and generator, install a new winch base on the mast winch since the support is corroding, make some new oar holders for our Avon dinghy to store them better and pick up our new Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Plus sewing machine and get to work on some long overdue canvas projects. Can't wait!
What spring maintenance projects are you working on? We welcome your comments below…
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