Jamie arrived on schedule in Sint Maarten. After spending a few days getting ready for our trip north to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), and allowing Jamie to get over jet lag, we moved out to the outer anchorage so we could all, but especially Jamie, start to get our sea legs back. Jamie was looking forward to getting back in the water, but couldn’t do it inside the lagoon due to the water being quite dirty. The water in the anchorage is nice & clear compared to the grungy water in the lagoon, so Jamie definitely enjoyed diving the anchor to make sure it was well set, and doing a few flips off the deck into the water!
We added Jamie to our crew list, and cleared out of the country Monday afternoon. The next morning, Tuesday, May 16, we left for the British Virgin Islands at 3:30 AM. The first thing Chay noticed in the pitch-black morning, was that the Maltese Falcon had come in during the night and was anchored in the bay! It looked stunning with all of its mast, deck, and underwater lights on! After much debate about whether to wake up Jamie or not (recall that this is one of his favorite mega yachts), we let him sleep, but did take a photo as we sailed past.
We had a downwind sail to Virgin Gorda, running wing & wing most of the way. Despite the wind being lighter than expected, and the second half being a bit slower than we had planned, we made it through Round Rock pass and into Spanish Town just as the sun went down.
We have come to the conclusion that the weather predictors can’t predict the wind! The weather information we use to plan our trips, from a number of different sources, was better 10 years ago than it is today!
Most of the anchorages in the BVI have been filled with mooring ball fields, leaving little room to actually anchor. Jamie & Katie teamed up to become experts at picking up mooring balls during our sojourn through the BVI.
Let us offer a bit of nostalgic history here before proceeding with our story. In 2000, we chartered a Mooring’s boat in the BVI for a week. Jamie was 2 ½ years old at the time! Chay taught Jamie to snorkel in Marina Cay. Because the smallest child’s gear was still too big for Jamie, Chay had to trim the mask & snorkel way down to fit him sort of properly! The BVI is also the place where a bartender let Jamie sit on the bar in the Mooring’s restaurant and eat maraschino cherries out of the large glass jug to his heart’s content. We also toured and had our family portrait taken in the “Baths”.
Once cleared in to the BVI Wednesday morning (it only cost us 30 cents to clear immigration!), we moved to the Baths for a few hours of exploring. The Baths is an area of large boulders on a white sand beach where the water surges in among the huge boulders creating pools or “baths”. You hike over the boulders and through rock crevices from pool to pool. One of our favorite photos of the 3 of us was taken here 17 years ago, so we had someone take our picture in the same spot & position 17 years later!
We moved over to Marina Cay in time for happy hour and dinner. Happy Hour was at the “Aaargh Bar” on the hill top, and we enjoyed a nice dinner at the restaurant with beautiful views over the water. The next morning, we snorkeled the reef where Jamie learned to snorkel those many years ago! Little did we know 17 years ago that the underwater would become one of Jamie’s favorite places to be.
Speaking of underwater, we sailed to Norman Island the same day (everything is close in the BVI) and anchored in the Bight. That afternoon we took out the dive compressor and filled our scuba tanks. The next morning, we moved so that we could dive the caves on the western end of the island. This is the island that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about in “Treasure Island” and supposedly has buried treasure. We say supposedly’ because we didn’t find any. The dive was a good one to do as our “refresher” after two years of not diving. One of the highlights was swimming into one of the caves with its rocky bottom of smoothed “pebbles” & the many colorful fish all along our path! Katie had difficulty descending after dropping off the stern of Esprit, so Chay & Jamie assessed & fixed the problem. Unbeknownst to Katie, Chay let all the air out of her BC and disconnected the air hose because it just kept filling even when pressing the release valve! (It’s amazing what heat can do to dive gear when the boat is stored on the hard in the Tropics.) So, Katie learned that she is neutrally buoyant and doesn’t actually need the security of the BC.
After Norman, we moved on to Soper’s Hole, a “quaint” little harbor on the west end of Tortola. Here we “re-created” the maraschino cherry episode of 17 years ago, by surprising Jamie with a jar of cherries whilst enjoying some rum punch at the Pusser’s bar in the little “village” in the bay. For some reason we couldn’t talk him into sitting on the bar! We all got chuckles over this treat!
Cheeseburgers in Paradise – know the Jimmy Buffet song? Well it was written while he was enjoying a cheeseburger on the beach in Cane Garden Bay. Jimmy Buffet has long been one of Jamie’s favorite cruising crooner. So off to Cane Garden Bay we went the next morning and had our cheeseburgers in paradise. Cane Garden Bay is the epitome of a tropical beach/bay with a white sand beach backed up by palm trees, on a half moon bay, all protected by a coral reef.
The next morning, we headed across to Jost Van Dyke where we would clear out of the BVI for our passage to Panama. Jost Van Dyke is named after a Dutch pirate and the home of the famous Foxy’s Restaurant. Foxy’s is a classic cruiser’s bar on the beach with a wood shack structure, and lots of flags, stickers, license plates, etc on the beams and posts. We added one of Beau’s Metro Las Vegas Police badges and a boat card to their collection of police badges from around the world on their wall near the bar.
We cleared out of Jost Van Dyke on Monday, May 21 – next port of call: Colon, Panama! We departed and made our way through the small passes between islands and reefs, picked up a mooring at Great James Island (US Virgin Islands), and spent a peaceful night before departing the next morning. This was the first time Esprit had been in US waters since 2003!
We dropped the mooring ball at 8:30 AM on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Esprit was set for a downwind run to Panama. All the weather sources showed winds would be in the 15-20 knot range, with a day or two off of Colunbia with 20-25 knots. Seas were expected to build to 10 feet and then drop back down, with an easterly swell.
We started off on a broad reach fully expecting to go to a wing and wing configuration at some point. However, it wasn’t long before we had to change to a wing & wing configuration and ended up going wing and wing most of the way!
The first day was as we expected, but by the second day the winds were picking up, and the seas started building. It wasn’t long before we were in 10-12 foot seas with a 20-foot swell – the weatherman neglected to say how large the swell was going to be! Looking astern we would often see just a giant mountain of water. In addition, the swells were so close together that there were times when Esprit’s bow was just dropping off one swell and her stern was already climbing the swell behind. We were seeing up to 40 knots of wind and 12 to 14 foot seas! Needless to say, conditions were not very comfortable in those very rough seas – the roughest we had ever encountered for an extended period of time! So much for the weather man. Thank goodness, we were “running” and not “bashing”.
The sea conditions made it very difficult to spot freighters or anything else for that matter. We had an extremely close encounter with a freighter one evening. Chay turned on the spreader lights and made contact with the freighter who said that they could not see us on radar but they had a visual on us. Then he began to complain about the seas! The freighter did not deviate course, so Chay changed our course just in the nick of time so that we could go behind him. The freighter’s wake only added to the rough seas!
Amazingly, Jamie was able to spot a whale amongst the white capped waves! It was very cool to see it surface and blow several times!
As we approached Panama near the Columbian coast the seas started to come down allowing us to notice all the debris floating in the water, including very large logs & entire trees complete with their root ball! So now we were also on alert for debris in addition to freighters. It is a good thing we did not run into one of those while the conditions were the worst!
Have you ever heard of St. Elmo’s Fire? It is a phenomenon that occurs on boats where the mast or stays and sails light up with an eerie blue glowing light. Apparently when we are running wing & wing in certain weather environments, Esprit sets up the conditions for St. Elmo’s Fire – it took us a while to figure out that that is what we were seeing. The genoa sail would flash whitish blue & a blue light would zig-zag up the forestay! This started happening when we were a couple of days out of Panama and got more frequent the closer we got.
In addition to our St. Elmo’s Fire, and extremely rough conditions, by day 4 we started seeing thunderstorms all around us! The western Pacific ITCZ was pushing across the Panamanian isthmus into the western Caribbean eliminating the trade winds and bringing with it extreme thunderstorms. So, early Sunday morning we brought down all sails and motored. When thunderstorms burst they drop an incredible amount of wind from any direction which, if sails are up, can wreak havoc on the sails. So we bring down the sails when surrounded by thunderstorms and motor.
Early on in the passage, the auto-pilot started acting up, but held our course, more or less, for the first 5 days. Early Sunday morning it decided to give up the ghost, leaving us to hand steer the rest of the way! Hand steering is tiring under good conditions, but it is quite exhausting under the conditions we were in.
The thunderstorms got worse the closer we got to Panama. Katie was on her 3 to 6 am watch Monday morning (May 29) when a particularly bad thunderstorm hit with rain coming down in torrents. In order to maintain some visibility, the cockpit enclosure was kept partially open. So, although this allowed her to see, she ended up getting soaked! One plus of the thunderstorms is that the temperature cooled down – most of the passage was extremely hot. One of Katie’s prayers when on night watch is to stay awake…. there was no way she could fall asleep under those weather conditions!
For those of you who were wishing us fair winds & following seas, your wishes worked 10-fold! Although the conditions weren’t comfortable, we were doing 8 to 9 knots most of the way with some 10’s thrown in for good measure. This with a double reefed main and a handkerchief genoa poled out. We made the 1100 mile passage in 6 days and only had to motor as we neared Panama for last 23 hours!
The high point of the trip occurred at 6:30 AM on Monday morning May 29th when we crossed our eastern most line of longitude… Esprit had now crossed all lines of longitude around the world!
With that under our belt, we entered the canal zone at 11:00 AM, went into Shelter Bay Marina, and spent the next week in extreme heat preparing Esprit for another stay on the hard in dry storage. As is typical, clearing into the country was a little challenging as we had to find the correct immigration office in Colon (probably the most unsafe city in Panama).
When we started this cruising season our plan was to finish it by transiting the Panama Canal. However, there turned out to be a 3 week waiting period upon arrival in Panama to be given a transit date. This did not work with our schedule because Jamie needed to be back in Bozeman to start his summer internship on June 12th. So we have postponed the canal transit for now.
Although we are less than 30 miles from crossing our most easterly line of passage done in 2005, because of the direction of the Canal we are now further west than we would be on the other side of the Canal , so by one definition, we have “gone around the world”. As we said above, “The high point of the trip occurred at 6:30 AM on Monday morning May 29th when we crossed our eastern most line of longitude… Esprit had now crossed all lines of longitude around the world!”
Cruising Again....May 11, 2017 - Trinidad to Sint Maarten (check out the photos at the end of this blog)
We returned to Trinidad April 6 where the temperature was 90+ degrees & the humidity was 100 percent! We returned to Esprit with the goal of completing our circumnavigation in June! So hopefully, this cruising season will take us up the windward & leeward islands to St. Maarten, where Jamie will join us, and then onward via the Virgin Islands, maybe Jamaica, to Panama, where we will transit the canal. When we exit the canal on the Pacific side, we will cross the eastern most point of our path – the finish line of our circumnavigation.
Our first week was busy with the usual preparations for launching Esprit. On a positive note, the boat was pretty darn clean for having sat on the hard for almost two years, the auxiliary engine started, the dinghy engine started, the staysail & genoa sails are back up, as are the dodger & bimini. You may be wondering how we start engines while on the hard. Well, Katie uses the hose to run fresh water through the thru-hull, getting thoroughly drenched and cooled off, while Chay starts the engine from topside while burning up. We only let it run for a few seconds, but it allows us to know whether or not it will start when we are launched.
Unfortunately, the pre-launch process did not go quite as smoothly as in past years. Our ProSine charger/inverter for the batteries died after 14 years of reliable service. A new inverter charger was ordered, however, after 14 years one would expect that with all the advances in electronics a new inverter charger with the same capabilities would now be smaller, but noooo! Now they are larger and won’t fit into the same area. So, we had to settle for one of less capabilities. With the charger/inverter not operating as it should have during our absence, we are now working to get the battery bank charged back up. Looks like we will at least have to purchase a new engine start battery.
The second problem was that the generator wouldn’t start! Chay checked, repaired, and/or replaced just about everything to no avail. Needless to say, this had Chay extremely frustrated! We decided to wait until we were in the water so that we could try starting it while the aux engine is running…if it doesn’t start, we will not have much refrigeration to keep food cold, and will have to be power-nazi’s to conserve our batteries. Even the new charger/inverter needs to have the extra "oompf" from the generator to keep the batteries adequately charged.
We enjoyed attending Mass at St. Finbar Roman Catholic Church with its traditional altar and Tabernacle. Palm Sunday Mass was more traditional than in the States with the Crucifix, statues, and paintings all completely covered in purple cloth. Easter was celebrated as a High Mass, and the church was standing room only. Keep in mind St. Finbar comfortably holds between 700-800 people!
Besides having “Doubles” for breakfast at the little local stand down the road from the boat yard, we treated ourselves to Bake & Shark, a traditional “Trini” food. Both local delicacies are delicious! Chay also enjoyed Arepas for breakfast, which is a Venezuelan breakfast that is very much like papusas we so enjoyed in El Salvador and Costa Rica!
Our new inverter/charger arrived a day earlier than expected, and Chay had it all installed and operational the next day. It operates a bit differently than our old one, so he is having a bit of a learning curve to identify its idiosyncrasies. Chay also installed a new starter battery for the engine, and moved the old one to the generator since the generator start battery just couldn’t be resuscitated.
We successfully launched back into the water on Friday, April 21st, and are on Peake’s private dock due to the regular docks being full to capacity! This was good for us as it is calmer here (although still quite rocky/rolly), and it will make for an easier departure Tuesday morning. A gentleman came over to help us tie off, and it was none other than Peter Peake, the owner of Peake’s Yard! He is a very nice guy and very down to earth.
The biggest news is that after an epiphany at church on Sunday, Chay was able to start the generator by jumping directly from the battery to the glow plugs! Although this is good news, it is not something we can easily do underway, so if the generator didn’t start on its own during our passage north, we feared we may have to hand steer and be power-nazi’s to preserve the house batteries.
We checked out of Trinidad on the 24th with the plan to sail to Antigua, with an estimated time of arrival of Friday morning (April 28, 2017). Antigua’s English Harbor is reportedly one of the prettiest harbors in the world! We will let you know!
Yo ho, yo ho, is it the cruising life for us? We departed Trinidad at 4:30 am on Tuesday, April 25 with a weather forecast of 10-15 knots from the east for the next 24 hours and then dropping to 10 to 15 knots. Those weather conditions were experienced for the first 80 miles to Grenada. We had planned to stop in Grenada if we the weather was bad, or we were just tired, but because the trip to Grenada was a "smooth" one, Katie said she wanted to continue on rather than stop, so we did. Then the winds increased, seas increased and became confused, and the winds were on the nose for the next 300 miles! It was not a comfortable ride - maybe we should have stopped, but we will never know. We both suffered from the sea queazies; this was the first time Katie actually experienced borderline seasickness! We had another fallback spot at the top end of Guadalupe to stop for the night, but we approached it at dawn after a quieter night in the shadow of Guadalupe and some much needed sleep. So with 40 or so miles to go, we continued on to Antigua with 24 to 28 knots on the beam and smoother seas. About 8:00 am, 30 miles out from English Harbour, our foresail (150% genoa which we call the "whomper") blew out! We furled it up as best we could, put out the staysail, and listened to the cracking sound the genoa's tattered pieces made as they blew in the wind for the next 4 hours. The anchorage was not near as crowded as we had expected, especially considering it is Antigua Race Week (one of the biggest sailing events in the Caribbean), so we found a spot to anchor and dropped the hook. Aahhh - calm! Over all we did 400 miles in 55 hours, not too bad for the old girl and her crew!
Our first task was to untangle and unfurl the genoa which was quite the mess. Chay went up the mast twice in 24 knots of wind to try to cut off some of the loose tangled pieces, but wisely decided not to try any more than that when he realized the flapping genoa pieces could knock him out or kill him! Two of the cruisers offered their assistance with the shredded genoa. The first, Marcus on the German flagged boat "Skook", brilliantly assisted in untangling and unfurling the genoa so we could drop it down on deck. The second, Andrew on the British flagged boat "Hanse Sailor" brought over a spare genoa he had on board. Unfortunately, it was a bit too tall for our rig. We took our 150% genoa in to the A&F sail loft, where upon inspection, we were informed it would cost more to repair it than to replace,which we already suspected. This is the same genoa that blew out in Ouvea, New Caledonia. We had it repaired by a Kiwi in Bundaberg Australia over 8 years and 25,000 miles ago. He did a great job! So, with sail ties in hand, we left our large genoa behind after 17 years and over 50,000 miles of use.
Fortunately, we had a smaller 120% genoa on board, original to Esprit, which we planned to put on with the hope that it was in seaworthy condition for the next 1200 miles to Panama!
There is a silver lining in this story. When Chay started the engine underway to charge the batteries and run the refrigeration, he also tried the generator which started just like it should and continued to every day since!!! The batteries seemed to be doing better each day.
English Harbour & Falmouth Bay here in Antigua are beautiful bays. The town of English Harbour is a step back in time to the 1700's! You could be on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. They have done a beautiful job of restoring and updating and using the old buildings, rather than letting them just sit and deteriorate.
Antigua is definitely the sailing mecca it is reported to be! There were mega yachts, like Maltese Falcon (which we anchored next to in the Med), gorgeous classic sailing yachts, modern racing boats, and of course your everyday cruising boats like us.
The week we were there was Antigua Sailing week so the town and marinas were buzzing with activity. Our hike to the top of Shirley’s Point look out in Antigua was an invigorating 1.5 miles! The lookout is one of the high points overlooking the harbor, which used to be a fort and gun battery protecting the harbor and British fleet. We were able to watch one of the races from the excellent vantage points offered along the way. Once to the top we found the restaurant and settled in for a couple of hours of steel band music, good food & drink, and conversation with a group of crew from the super yachts, both classic & racing. They were a fun & interesting group – we cruisers enjoyed hearing about their world, and they enjoyed hearing about ours. One of them lives in Wyoming and is a ferry boat driver in the Tetons during the summer!
We hoisted the smaller genoa (120%) on Monday the first of May (Jamie’s 20th birthday!) and it looked in good condition – but it is definitely smaller than the 150% whomper, deck sweeper! You can actually see under the sail from the cockpit when it’s out.
We checked out of Antigua on Tuesday May 2, and departed at 4:30 am on Wednesday for St. Barthelemy – supposedly home to the rich & famous. The first few hours were a nice sail, with the genoa performing well, but the winds became fluky and the seas more rough offering a less than comfortable ride the second half of the passage. We are starting to question what’s so great about sailing the leeward islands of the Caribbean!
Chay managed to catch a few a fish along the way. Sadly, the first fish was a Wahoo that a much larger fish ate most of while Chay was reeling it in! All that was left was the head! He then caught a barracuda which we through back to the sea.
We arrived St. Barth just before sunset and picked up a mooring. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Not so for Katie who is a bit gun shy about picking up mooring balls due to a couple of bad previous experiences (all of her own doing). During the first attempt, a local motor boat loaded down with parents and teenage girls cut right in front of us. Chay had to slam on the brakes so to speak (hard reverse) to avoid T-boning them. The captain did not appear to even see us, and the girls just stared at Katie with blank looks! On the second attempt, Katie got the mooring, but did not get it secured fast enough. Chay attempted to hold the mooring line, but had to let go when it almost took his finger off! However, we were secure on a mooring on the third attempt, and Chay ended up with a very bruised & swollen finger.
We cleared in the next day and toured the small town of Gustavia. St. Barth is only 8 square miles in area with Gustavia being its main port. Although it is French now, it was Swedish, so the atmosphere is a mix of the two. Many of the buildings, including the small Catholic church, date to the 18th century and street names are shown in both languages. We visited “Le Select” – a “famous” bar frequented by cruisers and, as we saw, locals alike. It has been in operation for almost 70 years!
On Friday morning while working topsides cleaning stainless and waxing the deck, we were visited by the Capitainerie (the folks who manage the harbor) and were told that we were on a private mooring and had to move off and anchor. We had watched Cruisers coming and going off these mooring for two days!
So, anchor we did. The anchorage as a whole has a reputation for being rolly, but the anchoring area outside all the mooring balls is much rollier than the mooring field. We wonder why these countries fill in the best anchorages with private mooring balls to discourage cruisers (their source of income), especially when we can’t use them! It’s not Vegas man! We cleared out that afternoon, and departed Saturday morning for Sint Maarten.
However, before departing we had to reinstall the lower main sail batten which had somehow pushed itself out of its pocket. We struggled to no avail on Friday, but after waking up Saturday morning Chay had the idea of using the reefing lines to pull the sail straight back towards the stern – it worked like a charm. We were ready to go!
It was a pleasant 3 hour downwind sail into Simpson Bay where we anchored outside the swing bridge. We cleared in, explored a bit inside the lagoon in the dinghy, and then went to Budget Marine where we ordered 5 new lifeline house batteries and a new water heater. Although we were able to nurse the batteries along up until now, they were on their last legs and ready to be replaced. The water heater hasn’t been working (it was leaking) since we got back to the boat in Trinidad – it served us well over the last 17 years!
Once back on board Esprit we celebrated having arrived in Sint Maarten safe & sound in time to pick up Jamie on Wednesday the 10th. The outer anchorage was a bit rolly as reported in the guide book, and a bit noisy with music late into the night (not so great for a good night’s sleep). Although some of the music is from the resorts on land, the loudest music was from Jab Jab’s – a “boat bar” which opened 3 weeks ago in the center of the anchorage. Although right now they only serve drinks, they have plans to have a kitchen in place by next summer. The young couple is excited and full of energy, and we wish them well with their endeavor. It definitely meets a “need” for the cruising environment of St. Maarten.
On Monday morning we entered the lagoon with the 9:30 bridge opening and moved into Simpson Bay Marina after refueling. The staff is very professional, friendly, and accommodating – when we asked the dock master if we could have a berth with our bow facing the wind so that we could have natural air conditioning, he figured out a way to make it work.
Once settled in our berth, we headed over in the dinghy to Budget Marine to pay for the batteries & water heater, as well as a few other items for which we were waiting until St. Maarten to get due to its being a duty free country. On top of that, when Chay jokingly asked if we could get a discount, they actually did give us a 10 percent discount!
After removing the old batteries (at least 74 lbs each) with only one mishap and some damage to the saloon floor after narrowly missing Katie’s foot, we had them on the deck waiting to be picked up by Budget. Budget Marine delivered the new batteries and water heater later that afternoon, and took away the old batteries.
Chay completed the battery install that afternoon. Next project, the water heater! The next morning, after the best sleep we’d had in several days, Chay completed the old water heater removal & new installation. As part of this project, Chay also made repairs to the auxiliary engine’s cooling system because he had noticed “seeps” while motoring. After cleaning off the corrosion at the hose fittings, what he thought was a hose issue, was revealed to actually be a corroded hole in the thermostat housing. After a moment of panic when our inventory showed no replacement, Chay, certain he remembered buying one 18 years ago, indeed found the spare in the shed. We should probably point out that when these projects are underway, the boat becomes very small as the galley and saloon are overcome with all the tools and spare parts required to complete the task at hand.
It rained all day while making all the repairs, and well into the night with up to 40 knots of wind gusts! We were glad we weren’t at sea. Some of our mast “lazy jack” lines were clanking very loudly with the stronger gusts, so Chay ventured out into the storm to tighten them up. Come morning we had to pump out the 3 plus inches of water out of the dinghy. We haven’t seen this much rain in a very long time!
Although we aren’t big fans yet of sailing these leeward island Caribbean waters, we have to admit, the waters of St. Barthelemy and Sint Maarten (outside the lagoon) are a beautiful blue! The bluest since the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines.
Jamie arrived on time – it is good to have him back “home” with us again!