Return to St Martins

Darrell Jackson and Sarah Barnes
Thu 20 Feb 2014 00:23
18:03.93N 63:05.64W

Having found we could clear out there, we were up and away straight after a quick breakfast to motor the mile or so across to Gun Bay where we arrived in time to anchor and be at the customs for when they opened at 08.30. But of course this is the Caribbean! There was no sign of life, despite a notice on the door informing me they opened at 08.30, so to save time later, I walked the short distance to the supermarket to get some "real" milk that we needed and was back at the customs in 10 minutes. They were still not open. After another 10 minutes a uniformed official arrived, opened up and let the growing queue in. The paperwork was completed quickly, but I had to wait another 10 minutes for his colleague to arrive to give me our clearance and a receipt for the $1 I had to pay.
Back on Stream, Sarah had readied the boat for departure and all that was left was to remove and stow the dinghy outboard on the pushpit and haul the dinghy up onto the foredeck where we scrubbed off nearly 4 weeks worth of marine growth including a healthy "beard" of weed around the stern and some tiny barnacles all along the underwater hull. We then secured the dinghy and motor sailed out of the sound and were soon passing Mr Branson's Necker Island where we could see at least 10 sailing dinghies lined up on the sandy beach, presumably for the use of his guests. It also appeared that he had made a small desert island just off the reef for them, with fake looking palm trees, but that could have been the direction we were looking in. Once clear of the reefs around the island we set the full genoa and had one reef in the main as we started a long port tack in the vague direction of St Martins.
Progress was good as we sailed at 6 knots, but there was a large swell and we were crashing into the waves. Now Stream has a very shallow bow which is designed to skim over the water. Unfortunately in these conditions she does not skim, rather bangs her way through the large waves. This may look spectacular when you see the boat from the land with great plumes of water being thrown up either side from the bow, but on board it is noisy, uncomfortable and tiring. (It also makes Sarah throw up.) Despite sailing at 6 knots we were not going directly towards St Martins as the wind was coming from that direction, so although we were getting nearer we were not actually heading towards the island and so would have to tack to bring us back towards it. Our first tack was at around 20.30 and saw us on an even more uncomfortable course. We had of course eaten by then. Sarah somehow managed to make bacon and egg sandwiches for the helm for lunch ("because that's what you have when you're making a passage"' Sarah's words not mine!), and we had a pasta dish that we had pre-prepared, for supper.
The last nine hours of the passage were horrible! The wind was shifting and gusting in a way that didn't help us. The seas were getting bigger. We were getting more and more tired. The lights of St Martins didn't seem to be getting any closer. We saw no ships all day until it was dark and then we had the added excitement of trying to work out which way they were going and if they were going to come too close to us. Our closest scrape (not literally fortunately) was with a yacht sailing the opposite way to us with no nav lights on except for an all round white masthead light. Port and starboard lights would help show his direction of travel. It was only when he was very close to us we could see he was heading in our direction, sailing with an asymmetric spinnaker and not aware of us coming towards him. We easily avoided him, but were close enough to see it didn't look as though there was anyone in the cockpit, but if there was they would have heard my helpful suggestion that they put some more lights on. The big ships always seemed to appear when they either stopped us tacking when we wanted to or made us tack earlier than we wanted to. None of this helped calm tired bodies.
We decided eventually to drop sails and motor into Marigot Bay on St Martins, but hadn't checked how far it was. We were motoring into a huge swell and were back to banging into the waves and sending plumes of water off the bow. Now yachts are designed for sailing and although we have a large motor, like any yacht, Stream does not motor into big seas very well. We were making less than three knots and we had 10nm to go! Just when we thought we were nearly there we had another 3 hours to go. Fortunately as we approached land the swell reduced along with the wind and our speed picked up, so that as we neared the area we were going to anchor in, we were doing over 7 knots. It was, by this time, light and so manoeuvring between anchored mega yachts and smaller ones in the dark, was not a problem. Sarah was relieved to be anchoring in daylight and being able to ensure that it set properly so we wouldn't drag and we could get some sleep.
The sail had taken 21 hours and we had covered 105nm. We did not see one bird, no flying fish and no dolphins, much to Sarah's disappointment. The sunset was very disappointing with no spectacular colours as you so often get in the tropics. We entered Marigot Bay in the same conditions we had left it 4 weeks before, monsoon style rain which reduced visibility to less than a mile. Moonrise was good though. A creamy, almost full moon, arose in between clouds and provided good light for most of the hours of darkness along with lovely reflections on the waves added to by a generally clear star studded sky. Apart from that there was not much to say other than we had arrived safely in St Martins and we're still talking to one another! Although, we were slightly more battered and bruised than when we had left. Even Darrell had succumbed to clumsiness, although he may have been trying to cheer Sarah up, as he fell over in the cockpit luckily landing face first on the seat cushion that had slipped on the floor. As he sat back down to recover he banged his head on the Bimini supports, it was rather like a slapstick interlude in a panto, where you can see exactly what will happen but can't stop it.
Despite our tiredness, I managed a cup of Earl Grey and some cereal (it was breakfast time!) while Sarah insisted on washing up, before having a hot shower and falling into bed for some long overdue sleep.