Horrible trip to St Maartin

Susie and Adam (both think they are skipper)
Sat 5 May 2012 22:11
04:05:12, 18:01.98N 63:05.85W
After a month in the BVI’s we’re back in a very hot and still St Maartin.  We had a fantastic time in BVI and I can’t believe we were there a month, it doesn’t seem like it, it is a very different place to the more southern Windward and Leeward Islands in terms of culture, but they are very beautiful, quaint and quiet – and we were there in high season!  You could virtually anchor somewhere new every day for a month and there are so many beautiful bays with empty beaches and coral reefs.  Our favorite inhabited island was Jost Van Dyke, unfortunately we didn’t go to Anegada but you have to leave somewhere to go next time! 
Our tender suffered a bit of an accident during our sail from Jost Van Dyke back over to Tortola.  We were having a fantastic sail – 18 knot winds and because the area between the islands is relatively enclosed you don’t get the big atlantic waves so it is like a very warm and pretty version of the solent.  We tacked our way through the narrow gap at the end of Tortola past Sopers Hole (probably to the annoyance of all the motoring yachts who had to give way) and out into the Sir Francis Drake Channel where we had great fun in ‘racing’ everyone going the same way as us and leaving the charter boats in our wake.  All was wonderful until Adam looked back at the tender to see that the ‘strong point’ used for towing it had actually pulled straight out of the front leaving a hole in its bow. At least the tender was still there (we have another rope that is always attached to the inside of the strong point. . . which was now the outside)!  So we hove-to and pulled the tender up alongside so we could get everything out of it and attach a cats cradle of multiple lines to tow it from the various D-rings and eyelets on it.   We were happy that once we set off again our main ‘race competition’ had not yet caught us up.
So it was on from there to Road Town to hope that one of the chandleries was still open. ... .. .  it wasn’t as it was Saturday afternoon.  And we then discovered that the fibreglass resin we have on the boat for repairs had all turned to treacle as well so we had nothing for a permanent repair.  Never mind – although diving was out for the last couple of days which was a shame, we did get to do a lot of diving in the time we had there, we did a temporary repair of gaffer tape, but didn’’t really want to take a tender with a gaffer-taped hole out diving.
We had wanted to see ‘the Baths’ at Virgin Gorda before we left so had a day for that – the Baths are actually a couple of little bays on the south of the island that are surrounded by enormous granite boulders.  Doesn’t sound wildly inspiring but they are beautiful and we had the benefit of being able to tie Stargazer up there and swim ashore!  The bays are very pretty and there is a trail through the rocks and the caves that they form.  The water there was incredibly clear and although there weren’t the volumes of fish you see on dives – there were plenty of fish, swimming in and out of the boulders is like swimming in an aquarium.  I climbed up one of the boulders to have my picture taken – going up was easy, getting down was not – Adam had to come and catch me.   But it was worth a morning to go and see as the boulders are pretty amazing.
Once our month was up we cleared out and went to Cooper island to anchor for the night with the intention of setting off at first light and arriving in St Maartin for a couple of hours after sunset.  That was the plan anyway, what followed was I think we can say just about the most miserable passage we have done in the Caribbean in 2 years for weather.  The winds weren’t strong so it wasn’t especially rough – it was mainly the changing winds, endless rain. . .and . . .  oh yes. .  the thunderstorms that did it.  All started off OK but with light-ish winds and a bumpy sea we knew it would be a long journey tacking up wind.  By mid afternoon we weren’t even halfway there and had resorted to motoring which we hate doing, especially as the sea was quite bouncy still from strong winds a few days back.  By late afternoon it was drizzling all the time with the odd torrential downpour. 
By 9pm we were still miles away and the wind had picked right up, it was bucketing down rain and we were surrounded by thunderstorms, we have never seen it rain for so long out here – it’s usually all gone in an hour but we were in full waterproofs pretty much the whole trip.  The whole sky was lighting up pink with the lightening – luckily it seemed to be atmospheric and not going down to earth but it is still not very nice.  As the wind had been almost zero we had full main up and were motoring – we waited a short time to see if it would all stop again. . .  but then a quick decision to reef the main down, get the engine off and put some jib out so at least we would be more comfortable sailing (and why motor when we seemed to have some wind again).  It was the right thing to do as the wind stayed for another 6 hours and got stronger before disappearing completely at about 2am . . . .  we finally pulled into a windless and hot St Maartin at 9:30 in the morning.  The forecast did have occasional thunder storms – I think we managed to ensure we sailed through every single one! 
So now we’re in St Maartin furnished with dingy repair stuff that Adam has been using today, we have to get some sail repairs done but essentially we have about 2 weeks to prepare the boat for the big trip to the Azores.  I am hoping we can organise ourselves well enough to have a couple of days off and visit Anguilla and possibly nip over to St Barts for a couple of final dives.  We don’t have to leave on a set date – it will all be down to weather but the best time is meant to be around end of May
We have enlisted the help of Stokey Woodhall to do our weather routing for us on the way home – Stokey taught me my Astronavigation for my Yachtmaster Ocean and he has a service doing weather routing/forecasting for yachts.  We were happy enough to do it ourselves on the way out here, but the way back involves finding the location of the Azores high and sailing around the top of it so we think it is worth getting some professional help and trust Stokey to do good job.  Some people plough straight through the middle of the high and go direct to the azores from here – but you have to have enough fuel and be prepared to motor for days on end to do that so we would prefer to accept that there will be some motoring, but try and get the best route possible for the winds.   
The route back goes through the ‘horse latitudes’ which lie each side of 30 degrees north where there can be weeks with no wind at all (hence Horse latitudes as they used to chuck the horses overboard in ye olden days when they had no engines and they didn’t have food or water for them any more – I am unclear on why they didn’t just eat the horses rather than throw them over.. . . .seems a waste so assume they did have enough supplies of weavil infested biscuits and things to eat).  We also may have to go into the famous Sargasso sea which is in the middle of the north Atlantic Gyre – given that our Duo-gen power generation device just gives up as soon as it hits Sargassum seaweed, I am hoping the Sargasso sea isn’t just a giant floating raft of weed, but suspect it could be.  I have three good facts about the Sargasso sea  – It is the only sea on the planet with no shores, the surface is allegedly 1 metre higher than the atlantic surface is once you reach the US eastern sea board, all the Eels go there from Europe to breed.  I hope we don’t have to spend too many weeks gazing into the Sargasso sea ourselves though.
Reading my planning chart today for the trip home I was concerned to see mention of IceBergs – ICEBERGS – apparently they have previously made it to south of the Azores before and in one year 12 were spotted between Bermuda and the Azores (basically – where we will be).  So I am hoping that this year is not a good year for travelling icebergs.  The book says that the Azores are always shrouded in Fog, but offshore is clear – however, if you run into a sudden fog patch whilst out at sea – then it could be sitting around an Iceberg.  I think they are fairly unusual though – lets hope so, Icebergs was not something we had really considered on our tropical adventure.
Anyway – back to tidying the boat and writing lists of things we have to do. . .. .. .