St Martin

January 26, 2020

It is my second day at anchor here on the French side of the lagoon.  All is quite, the wind has taken a break, time has slowed down and I’m becoming younger relative to you all.  

I finally left Marina de Salinas Wednesday late afternoon.  That morning I drove to San Juan to pickup the new outboard.  I was concerned about the time it might take to do the paper work but the process was painless.  I left Salinas at 9am and by 1pm I was back, having lunch in a small tavern by the sea that is hidden behind a rundown grocery store.  You wouldn’t know the tavern is there; only local knowledge. 

After settling my bill with the marina and buying four packs of ice I said goodby to friends who were at the bar and went to the boat.  She had been waiting patiently, for almost five months, for this moment.  Joe and Antonio helped me with the lines and  by sunset I was rounding Cabo Ratones.  The CP2 autopilot was steering while I set the main sail with one reef.

The first few hours the wind was still blowing from the south-east but at 12Kts or less.  I motor-sailed at 3 to 4Kts up to Puerta del Infierno and then set course to the east — around 100 degrees magnetic in this part of the world.  Soon, as forecasted, the wind veered to the south, I unfurled the newly stitched genoa and killed the engine.  It was hard to believe, after all the previous attempts, I was sailing EAST at 5+ Kt.   

All night Antares followed the lights of the south coast of Puerto Rico. Other than a short-lived squall that brought heavy rain and winds of 21Kt, it was pleasant sailing under a web of stars.  I didn’t sleep much though. 

By 6am the next morning I was south of the east end of Vieques.  I had coffee in the cockpit, downloaded Gribb files, and sent some emails.  All was good until I started to follow the north coast of St. Croix and the wind veered to the west blowing at less than 10Kts.  I had to start the engine to make any progress and after a while changed course to the SE to have a better angle.  I confess I started to get a bit worried. Motoring into the swells up to St Martin was not part of the plan; it would have taken forever.  But just in case, I topped up the tank with diesel and added some oil to the old Westerbeke (I need to change a gasket). 

By early afternoon, as I was living St. Croix in my starboard quarter, things improved with the wind coming from the SWS.  I was sailing again at a reasonable speed although the course was not ideal.  After sunset I had my first dinner at sea:  dry-freeze chicken with rice directly from the pouch and a Medalla light (the Puerto Rican beer).  

I slept better the second night with an alarm set every hour.  One reason, of course, is that I was more tired.  But I also made good use of the new radar; a great investment.  I set an alarm that would wake me up if anything came closer than 2 miles (it never happened).  Every hour I would check for ships sailing close-by, make sure we were not in collision course, and then go back to my bunk. 

Alas, I was still on the wrong course.  By 11pm I had no choice but to point towards St Martin, put a second reef on the main and trim it tight for stability, roll the genoa, and crank the engine.  I was sailing dead down-wind but with little or no wind, Antares rolling from gunwale to gunwale. My ETA became noon the next day, instead of dawn as I had expected!

Suddenly, at around 3 am, in total defiance of the forecast, the wind backed to north and started blowing at 15+ Kts.  I couldn’t believe it. I unfurled the genoa and was soon sailing again this time directly to St Martin.  

I made land fall at 9:30am, just when the Simpson bridge was opening.  I didn’t even have to wait in line.  I went through and docked for a few hours at Simpson Bay Marina, took a shower and, with the help of the dock master and his assistant, inflated the dingy.  I left at 4:30 intending to cross Causeway bridge and anchor on the French side of the lagoon, but for some reason it didn’t open.  They told me on VHF that it would open at 8am the next morning so I anchored for the night by the east side of the airport; not a very pleasant anchorage.  The next morning I got up at 7, had coffee, pulled the anchor and headed to the bridge.   It didn’t open, no explanations given, and had to anchor again. 

The bridge finally opened at 10am and I was able to cross into St Martin proper.  By 11am I had the hook set again here close to Colline Nettle. A beautiful and peaceful anchorage.   At sunset I had a couple of G&Ts, cooked some pasta and opened a bottle of wine.  By 8:30 I was in my bunk and I slept like a log.  

This is the track of this short passage:




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