Antigua to Sint Maarten
On 14. April we lifted our anchor in English Harbour on Antigua and sailed over night to Sint Maarten. It was a pleasent sail with a nice wind, meaning from the right direction and strong enough to give us a decent speed but not to strong to make any trouble. A little after sunrise we arrived and dropped our anchor in the Simpson Bay. Because we had learned that the authorities can be very strict regarding crew going on shore without being cleared in, I took the dinghy to clear us in while Marco stayed on board. Luckily it was not difficult and not a too far walk to the customs and port authority so after 1,5 hours I was back on board and we both could go on land.
On our departure when I cleared out we learned that the fees were 27 US-Dollars, independent from the length of stay on the island. We spent some time in an air conditioned French bakery. It being French in a Dutch/English environment shows the vicinity of France on the other half of the island which belongs to France and therefore to the EU and the currency there is the Euro.
But we did not go to the French side, we only heared about it. On the Dutch side they in theory have their own currency, called Dutch Antilles Guilder, but all prices and all money was in US-Dollars. And people were mostly at least bi-lingual with Dutch and English and some spoke also Spanish. And it all looked rather US-american and the electricity is also US-american meaning it is 110V and the sockets are the two vertical slots and not the round wholes as we have them in Europe.
The next day we met with Maria, who had sailed with me from Lisbon to Gran Canaria in October / November 2014. She showed us around the hills as she knew the island already very well because she had spent already three months here.
Sint Maarten to Virgin Gorda
That evening, we lifted our anchor at about 20:00 to sail to Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands and almost the end of the trip to the north of the Caribbean.
Most of the journey was fine, we had started so late in the evening because it was only 90 nm and we wanted to make sure we arrive at day time to find our way through the rocks and reefs into the Francis Drake Channel which forms the water between the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
But in the morning some rain clouds came over us with an increased wind speed while I was on watch. Due to the increased wind speed I wanted to reef the furling genoa but I made mistake. I thought I could just let the sheet go and furl it in but the wind was too strong and the flapping sail was wound around the forestay so it would not furl in nor out. With me being alone on watch I could not really handle the sail and after a while of trying the sail ripped along one of the stitching lines. So I wound it around the forestay as good as I could and we continued under main sail only which was enough in this wind speed.
The lesson learnt was that I should have pointed the boat with the bow into the wind as good seamanship foresees it in such a situation. You see, even experienced sailors make mistakes.
The sail probably would have ripped along this line sooner or later anyway so the cost of repair would have occurred anyway.
However, we happily reached the marina in Spanish town before noon and again I had to go to clear us in. This again was no problem and cost 4 US-Dollars. We treated ourselves to the luxury of a marina, including water it was 43. US-Dollars for one night. Quite expensive but sometimes you need the luxury of a sweet water shower and easy and independent access to the boat without depending on the dinghy. We shopped a little bit in the surprisingly well stocked little supermarket in the marina, spent some time on the internet, got the ripped genoa down and put the smaller but brand new Genoa 3 on and had a very nice meal with rib eye steak, green beans and potatoes.
Virgin Gorda to Tortola
Via facebook I knew already that my sailing friends Kjell and Kristine of the SY “Emma” were on the BVI and planning to go to the Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. The nice thing about the Virgin Islands, British as well as the US Virgin Islands, is that the distances are really short. So from Spanish Town to Cane Garden Bay it was only 15nm and because we had to leave the marina by 11 am anyway we arrived after a very pleasant down wind sail in the Cane Garden Bay at 3:30 and dropped the anchor there. Soon later Kjell and Kristine arrived as well and we had some drinks on board of SeaBelow.
Although it being a nice bay, the warning of the guide book became true during that night that there can be a strong swell. It became so strong even though there was no wind that Emma changed from their anchor spot to one of the many moorings were a little bit less swell was.
But as soon as possible everybody left the bay the next morning, so did we and Emma and we went to Sopers Hole on the south-eastern end of Tortola.
It was a very quiet bay but a lot of boats and no space to anchor except in 18 metres deep water. But for that I do not have enough anchor chain and rope. So we picked up one of the moorings which is of course a good thing but the price was high, 30 US-Dollars for the mooring per night.
Getting a visa for the USA
But we had to stay here anyway because we needed to get our US-visa. Now, that is and interesting thing when you want to enter the US with your own boat. Before you can enter the US with your boat you need to have a visa. One way is to get a so called B1 visa which is valid for 10 years once you got it. But that requires an interview at an US –embassy, the would have been on Barbados or Trinidad. Too far away for us.
The other way is that you apply for a visa waiver on the ESTA-web page of the US Border Control and Protection. This takes some time and concentration to understand the questions correctly. After you filled in everything and payed the 14 US-Dollars fee your application is processed. In my case I got the approval instantly which means there is appearently only a computer check made but no human checks it. The permission of the visa waiver then gives you the right to travel with a commercial carrier by plane or ship to a US-Customs and Border inspection office. And you need the print out of the approval. So the next day we took the ferry from West End / Sopers Hole to Cruz Bay on St. John, the US-Virgin Island we could already see from our mooring. The ferry costs 55 US-Dollars return ticket and the authorities want a “departure tax” of 20 US-Dollars. The trip to Cruz Bay only takes 30 minutes and the ferry stops directly at the customs office. So all passengers got off the little ferry and queued to get their access to the US.
When it was our turn we were quiet excited wether everything would go well. And everything went well. After approx. 10 minutes it was all over and we were free to stroll around the island. We spent the time with walking around Cruz Bay and paying a visit to the St. John National Park Visitors Centre. These US-national park visitor centres are always worth a visit because they are usually well made in the sense that you quickly get a good overview of what the specialties very friendly and happy to answer your questions.
Three hours after our arrival we took the ferrry back to Tortola via Jost van Dyke, another BVI island where we had to leave the ferry shortly to clear in again into the BVI. So in West End / Sopers Hole we could just walk through the customs.
Back in Sopers Hole we met with Kjell and Kristine that evening for first some drinks in the marina bar and then continued on board of Emma.
From Tortola to St. John
The next morning Marco and I left to sail to Cruz Bay once again to clear in the boat. This was as exciting as our first visit. I had already obtained a form that has to be filled for the boat. It was good to know the place so we could prepare the boat for mooring in front of the customs building.
And again everything went well, we just had to complete some fields in the form which I had left blank because I did not have a shipping agent for example.
After that we left immediatly the customs pier because you are not allowed to stay there longer than your customs clearence takes.
The visit in the national park visitors centre had already created the idea to go to the park for two days which we still had before Marco had to be on St. Thomas to catch his flight to Florida. So we went to the Cinnamon Bay where you have to use a mooring buoy. It was a nice calm bay with a beautiful beach and a camp site nicely hidden behind the trees and bushes on the beach so the view was not spoilt by man made infrastructure. Only a historical warehouse which was now serving as an exhibition room about the history of the island was visible.
The moorings are not free but 15 US-Dollars per night was ok for being it in a national park.
We went snorkelling and saw sea turtles and sting rays (Rochen) and several other fish of which we do not know what they are called.
For a day trip we changed to the Trunk Bay which is the next bay just a mile away and where there is a so called under water trail along the reef. It turned out to be about 6 signs put under water in about 2,5 m depth where some facts about the plants and animals of the reef were written and these signs were stretched over about 100 m. Many people from the near by beach were snorkeling around like us and enjoyed the clean clear shallow and warm water.
Because it was too rolly here we went back to the Cinnamon Bay for the night.
From St. John to St. Thomas
The next morning we started sailing to Charlotte Amalie, the main city on St. Thomas. It was a nice pleasant sailing, quite slow actually because there was not much wind, we even got out the spinaker. Once in the St. Thomas harbour we could see the city and headed for the anchorage right in front of the historic town centre, which was Danish until Denmark sold what is now the US Virgin Islands 1917 to the USA. So the street names are often still Danish and one of the oldest historic buildings in the USA is the Fort Christian in Charlotte Amalie.
We anchored near the Coast Guard Pier and rowed ashore to find some internet and a cool place to sit for the rest of the afternoon. Marco also had to figure out how to get to the airport the next morning at 6 a.m.
We found a nice back yard open air pub where we had a sandwich with some drinks and could sit on the internet and charge our computers.
In the evening we went for dinner to the Greenhouse on the water front and at around 7 pm went back to the boat.
It was quite a rolly night and I decided that I would look for a better place the next day after Marco had gone to the airport and I done my land business.
So early next morning, Friday 24. April, we got up and I rowed Marco ashore. After saying good bye I went back to the boat to sleep a little bit more and have breakfeast.
The whole reason we came to St. Thomas is that I want to put SeaBelow on a freight ship to get her back to Europe. Over the internet I found the German company Global Boat Shipping (GBS) in Leer who made me a good offer and the ship on which they were selling a space for me leaves from St. Thomas.
They have an agent here and for such an exciting operation I needed to see somebody in person to get a better feeling about it all. Up to know I only had contact with GBS in Leer by phone and e-mail. So I walked all the 3 km through the tropical heat to the office of the local agent and had a little chat with him, mainly to make sure that I had done all my duties regarding the customs clearance. But there was nothing actually to be done by me. All the agent has to do here is to tell the customs which boats are leaving.
He also told me where I could find a sail maker to repair the ripped genoa and he recommended me to go to Manfred Dittrich on Hassel Island.
So I did after I had come back to my boat. But the agent had not been 100% sure in which bay on the island it was, so I had to cruise up and down the coast of the island, luckily it is only 1nm long and there were only two options where it could be.
Finally I decided to look into the Careening Bay and when I came into it an elderly couple in their dinghy were also looking for the sail maker, but they had not yet found him. There were two free mooring bouys in the small bay and I picked one up to look by myself. That moment a man in his dinghy came and I waved him over to ask him for the sailmaker. And “Yes” he said, Manfred the sailmaker is right here and he is going there himself. So he gave me tow with my dinghy over to the tiny little harbour. And there very nicely cast away in the bushes were some old warehouses, probably of the Hapag Lloyd coaling station which was here until 1917, where Manfred has his workshop. The surrounding of the old warehouses is full of old ship equipment like anchors, ropes, booms, safety rings, old bottles and there were legouans, peacocks (Pfauen), crabs in shells, it all looks like a pirates nest 250 years ago.
Manfred turned out to be a German in his 70ies or maybe even eighties, but still fit to repair sails and he has some younger men working for him. So I agreed with him to leave the sail in his workshop the next day because it was already the end of his working day. But I used the remaining hours to clean the bilge from diesel that had apparently gotten there. I suspected one of the jerry cans in the cockpit locker to be the source. It was one of them, but not the one I had suspected, it was a completely different one which had a little whole at its bottom feet. I do not now it got it, but it must have happened at one time when the jerry can was dropped too heavily on the ground or into the cockpit locker. It is strange that it did not leak earlier because between the last movement of it and the occurence of the diesel in the bilge there were several days. Anyway, I cleaned everything and luckily got rid of the diesel smell. I could fill some of the diesel into the main diesel tank and some into one of the other jerry cans which had some space left.
This bay is one of the nicest places I have stayed and it is the best in the Charlotte Amalie area when it comes to calmness from the swell in the southerly trade winds we are experiencing at the moment.
So it was a very nice quiet night and the next morning I talked with Manfred what I wanted him to do on the sail and he said it would be ready Wednesday the following week.
Having done that I walked over the island and explored the historic sites of it, a lime kiln (Zementofen),
the old ware houses of a Danish ship provisioning company
and the remains of a British officers quarters from the napoleonic wars.
It was really hot and after about one hour I went back to the cool breeze on the boat.
My next destination was the anchorage on the west side of water island opposite the Crown Bay Marina. Arriving there after shortly motoring there within 30 minutes I tried to anchor close to the beach of the island but the anchor did not hold in the 4,5 m deep water so I tried it in the deeper water at 8 metres and there it held.
I rowed across to the marina and treated me to a sandwich from the delicatessen shop and an cappucino from the little harbour cafe.
When I started rowing back to my boat the security man told me that it is not allowed to row in the marina, only motor dinghies are allowed! I looked at him and he only shrugged his shoulders and said that he is not making the rules. I did not say anything and just continued rowing but I thought this is a very stupid rule and I did not understand it.
So the next day I just stayed on board and had a lazy day with some reading.
Next to the marina is the quay where ships moor which load the yachts. There seem to leave many freight ships with yachts from here and there was one lying right across from my anchorage, so the whole day I could observe how they loaded the yachts. Sometimes it took them quite long to do so.
After two nights on this anchorage I wanted to go somewhere where I could row ashore without being chased away so I went back to the St. Thomas harbour but this time close to the yacht have marina. Here it was no problem to land with a rowed dinghy, there were several people who did not have an engine on their dinghy.
It was now Monday and I decided to check out the Carnval. On the square next to the Fort Christian they had put up a little fun fair for the kids and next to it a stage and around the space booths where you could buy all sorts of Carribbean food. I was there by 6p.m. as I had been told the activities would start. Well, what started was the fun fair for the kids, the music started about 8p.m. and slowly the square filled with people. But nobody was dressed up for Carnival, everybody came in his normal leisure wear. And it was striking how much police officers where around. At times it looked as if 10% of the persons on the square were police officers. I wondered what they are so afraid of. Later I read in the newspaper that almost every year at carnival there is a shooting or stabbing happening. So I knew why they had so much police around.
By 10p.m. I got tired and did not have the feeling that this evening would get any more exciting, especially when I saw that many people had brought folding chairs, indicating that they were expecting a relaxed evening.
As my computer had stopped working the week before I had on that Monday found a little PC repair shop where I brought the laptop on Tuesday and he had promised to have it ready by Thursday. The evening I tried the Karaoke evening in the marina bar “Fat Turtle” which was quite nice because actually everybody who sang a song, and there was always somebody, was a good singer, so it was good fun to listen to it.
The next day, I had nothing to do than to wait for my computer to become ready and it being too hot to walk around on land, I once again just stayed on the boat.
When I came to pick up my computer on Thursday it turned out that the repair guy did not have to erase everything on the hard drive but that he could run a repair programme which fixed the software problem of the operating system. So I did have much less work as I did not have to reinstall everyhting and secondly it was only 60US-Dollars instead of 125 US-Dollars it would have cost if he had to erase and reinstall the operating system..
Having gotten my laptop back I changed back to the Careeing cove where the sail maker is and picked up a mooring. The next morning, Friday 1st May, I went to Manfred to pick up the sail.
On the evening I had been invited by Mel and Jane on their Swan 47 “Cygnus” which they are going to load on the same ship as mine. They live in New York so they will unload it Newport / Rhode Island where the freight ship will call before it crosses the Atlantic to Southampton.
We had a nice chat over some beers and shrimps and they told me that they want to sell the boat in Rhode Island because they are getting too old to sail it. So, if you are interested in a 1984 Swan 47 in very good shape, here is one for you. The special thing about this boat is that it has a center board which extends the draft to 10 feet, if you lift it up has only 6 feet draft which is the maximum for the Intercoastal Waterway along the US-East Coast.
So, now I am sitting here and wait for the freightship “Sampogracht” to arrive next week Thursday to load SeaBelow onto it.
Why I put SeaBelow on a freight ship back to Europe
You probably wonder why I do that rather than sailing her back to Europe as it was my original plan.
Well, there are several things that come together. First of all I have to admit that the Atlantic crossing was actually quite boring and I do not feel like doing it once again.
SeaBelow is a great sailing boat and could handle all the situations we were in absolutely perfect, so there is no reason not sail with her across an ocean. And yet, 31 feet is quite small and with three people it gets very packed. There are always things lying around, it takes a lot of discipline to keep the boat tidy so this adds to the physical effort.
The next thing is that when we arrived on Martinique in February I got a Makula oedem in my right eye as I found out when I went to an eye doctor in Fort de France. I went there because the vision on my right eye had gotten suddenly bad.
He prescripted me some pills to be taken over a period of three months visit consultations at the doctor every 4 weeks.
I thought thanks god it “only” a oedem and not a retina ablation. But an oedem was scary enough for me to decide that I did not want to leave the reach of medical support for several weeks as it would have been necessary to sail back to Europe.
Thirdly crewing is one of the biggest problems on such a trip. To be honest, I would only do another ocean crossing with good friends or relatives with whom I have sailed before and know how they behave on a boat and equally if not more important with whom I have a lot in common and we should not run out of topics to talk about. The most important thing on such an ocean crossing it to have something to entertain you and your crew and topics to talk about are among the most important.
And because none of my friends who I would take along on such a trip had the time to take several weeks of holiday, I skipped that idea and also to sail single handed was never an option for me because I think I would be bored to death.
But I am really looking forward to sail the European waters from the English Channel to the Dutch coast and through the Netherlands with another stop over in Amsterdam and in the cosy small cities on the shores of the Ijsselmeer.