Safena log 10th - 17th November - "Passage north to USVI"

s/v Safena's blog
Simon Ashley
Tue 19 Nov 2019 12:03
With much excitement we slipped the lines at around 0830.  We were cheered on by many of the other cruisers we had met over the previous week.  There was also a feeling of nervousness.  We had a 400 mile-plus passage ahead of us, would everything work?  We had essentially re-rigged the yacht ourselves, this was going to be a major test of all the sailing and other systems.

The swing bridge at Willemstad opened for us and it felt wonderful to be released back into the sea again.  This was going to be a slog north-east into an easterly breeze.  Reefed main and staysail set, off we went.  First we had to round the SE tip of Curacao.  Lots of short tacks, made easy by the self-tacking staysail.  So wonderful to be sailing again.  It seemed to take an age to get round Curacao and it was also quite rough in the sea between Bonaire and Curacao with some slamming into the easterly waves.  We weren’t sure if we would make St. Croix or Puerto Rico.

As we approached the NW tip of Bonaire it was night fall.  We set in for the first of three nights.  The moon was full and the light at night was exceptionally beautiful. The wind (by my estimate) was mostly 15-20 kts with occasional stronger periods.  We adopted a conservative sail plan with a heavily reefed main which we did not change, and then adjusted power using the headsails.  We principally used the staysail and reefed this accordingly.  There was a west-going current about 1-2 kts.  We were advised not to tack in the Caribbean Sea but just keep heading north on stbd tack until our landfall was reached.  This worked well.

It was quite an uncomfortable motion beating into the easterly wind/sea and I must confess to feeling quite seasick for the first couple of days.  We were making very good progress though.  Day 2 was defined by several squalls one of which was massive with 35-plus kt winds.  Nina and I got very slick with our "squall management sail plan”.  We bore away and let out the main, we reefed the staysail (fully or partially).  This was very manageable.  We did this several times and could do it at night very easily.  Keeping the main constantly reefed helped a lot.

On Day 3 the wind was lighter and we had some blistering sailing with full genoa.  The wind dropped overnight and we motor-sailed.  This helped us get further east and made up some miles.  Our initial landfall was now definitely St. Croix. During the night we were called on the VHF by a US Aircraft Carrier!  They asked us to maintain our heading and that we would pass each other Starboard to Starboard!  We could not see them on radar, AIS or visually (stealth!).  I tried to speak to them but clearly this was not a two-way conversation, they were telling us what to do and that was that!  We woke to light winds but enough to sail the last 40 miles or so with full main and genoa.  With the smooth sea we were doing 7.5-8.5 kts hard on the wind!

We reached St. Croix and motored round to Christiansted.  We anchored and took the RIB ashore hoping to clear in through customs.  Unfortunately we were informed that customs got destroyed in hurricane Irma.  We would have to take a taxi ride to the airport in the centre on the island.  By now it was too late to do this.  We tucked in for a very quiet night and it was great to switch off!  We slept amazingly well after our 430 mile, 3 day passage.

As our next destination was St. Thomas we left St. Croix the next morning.  We had a fantastic sail reaching with full main and genoa doing 8.5-9 kts to St. Thomas.  We picked up a mooring in Elephant Bay on the west side of Water Island near Crown Bay Marina.  We took the RIB to the Border Protection office near the ferry dock and cleared in.  

We had picked up a private mooring.  Luckily, Calvin, on a neighbouring motor yacht (Runaway) contacted the owners, who he knew, and they gave us the ok to stay here for a few days.  Ben was due to fly in from Miami within the next few days so this was an ideal spot. The first night we had a great meal at Frenchman’s Quay although it was a bit of a trek in the RIB.

We spent the next few days sorting, fixing, cleaning and organising Safena.  It was very useful time.  We were chuffed that everything had worked.  We went ashore via Crown Bay Marina and discovered the Pueblo Supermarket which was superb.  We revictualled and replenished Safena in anticipation of Ben’s arrival on 17th November.