Even with guests aboard, I still arose every morning around 06:00 while the rest of the crew snoozed. I download my GRIB weather files, study the NWS forecasts, then compare the forecasts to the graphical representations displayed on my MaxSea computer navigation system. Joy and I had been preparing for the first big jump of the year across the Anegada Passage to St. Martin. While it’s not a terribly long passage, it can be an incredibly rough one. I knew we’d face winds well forward of the beam, and we’d also have the adverse Equatorial current doing its best to push us back the way we came. If possible, I really wanted winds under 15 knots true. I’ve mentioned my reasons for seeking light winds, but it pays to reinforce them. Ocean Angel is a very fast yacht. With 15 knot wind blowing 45 degrees back from the bow, our forward speed of 7 knots creates an apparent wind of around 22 to 23 knots at a 30 degree angle. Couple that wind with rolling waves and adverse current, and you have a moderately messy day. So, 10 to 12 knots over 15 hours makes for a much nicer ride.
NWS predicted three days of 10 to 15 knot winds from the east, backing to northeast, beginning the day after Joe and Casey left. That NE wind would bring near perfect conditions for the passage. That was the forecast.
The next day I took an early morning 15 minute taxi ride to West End to clear Customs and Immigration. As a point of interest to cruisers, clearing in or out at West End is much easier and faster than trying to process in Roadtown, the cruise ship port. Need I say more? Clearing out took less than five minutes.
We slipped the dock lines at Nanny Cay near 11:00 for what very well might be the last time for some years. We sailed off to the northeast end of the BVI, passing between Virgin Gorda and Necker Island just shy of 15:00 hours. Before the turn east, we gazed back down the Sir Francis Drake Channel with both sadness and nervous anticipation as we began this next leg of our adventure.
Looking at the photo above you might say “What a perfect passage!” Well, remember that forecast a minute ago? It was, after all, just a forecast. The wind never moved into the northeast, instead holding firmly out of the east at 15, increasing at night to near 20 knots of true wind. Take a close look at the size of our headsail in the photo; you’ll notice the clew is well forward of the shrouds. That’s our storm staysail up there, a tiny, 125 square foot sail. There were times during the night when the apparent wind hovered near 30 knots, and the waves rolled onto and over our Angel as if she weren’t even there. The boat was drenched; I was drenched; the tiny headsail was drenched; we, including Joy, were all miserable. I couldn’t wait for this passage to end.
Eventually, 24 hours after leaving Nanny Cay, we safely anchored in Marigot Bay, St. Martin, on the French side. This island is a dual nation, French on the north, St. Martin, and Dutch on the south, St. Maarten.. We chose the French side as our home base because the Customs formalities are much simpler, far less expensive, and the people are much easier going. Oh yes, and the wine is better. Once you’re cleared in to either country, you may pass back and forth at will between the two as long as you leave the mother ship berthed where you cleared.
Let me tell you about the process of clearing Customs and Immigration in the French Islands. When I walked into the Customs office in Marigot, I said, “Bonjour”. Remember, we’re in the French islands now, and also in French, “I’m arriving on our boat, and I need to clear Customs”. Just a few words in French, and you’ve opened the door to a much easier process. The officer pointed to a computer and said, “Right there”. With a questioning look I sat down, glanced at the screen, and began typing. Seriously, five minutes and $12.00 U.S. later, I was done. I simply had to enter all the information about the boat and crew, print the completed form, pay the small fee, and that was it. Have a great day and welcome to St. Martin.