Goodbye BVIs

Had a lovely afternoon bobbing (with beer) at Cooper Island and had a quiet night on board watching the sun go down over the Sir Francis Drake Channel.

Up early in the morning and we set sail for Virgin Gorda – supposed to be blowing 19 knots maximum according to three different forecasters – so we got out in the channel and set our sails. We know they usually underestimate and with some squalls around we reefed in to start with. Good job we did!  Within 15 minutes of leaving Cooper we are screaming along at 8+ knots and get hit by a 29 knot gust…  We quickly luffed up and put more reefs in… Finally settled down and had a great beat up the channel and decided to go outside the Dogs up to Virgin Gorda.  Fantastic sail – without idiots! – and managed it in four big tacks.

Went through the reef into North Sound and radioed Leverick for info on our slip. Oh no – they have put us stern to with finger pontoons and pilings. Our least favourite position as Morphie has significant prop walk and only just fits into the gap… Anyway…went alongside the fuel dock and filled up… and persuaded them to give us another slip. OK still stern to but at least no piling in the way. We got ready and reversed Morphie into position. This was difficult with the strong wind but Richard managed to get her in with no damage to marina staff, crew, pontoon or boat – so good job!

After getting settled we headed off to the laundry and to catch up with friends and family online. At the same time we were writing lists of things to do to get ready for the run to St Martin if the weather window continued to look favourable. Bumped into Michael Bean – who does the famous Happy Arrrrrrrrrrr pirate show at Leverick – and chatted to him for a while about how his charity work is going. The story goes that he was shipwrecked in Haiti and the people showed his so much kindness that he decided that he would help them when in a position to do so, so he set up his charity, Pirates with a Porpoise, and has raised enough money to build a school in Haiti which currently has 171 pupils and each child gets a free hot meal a day. Fantastic guy!  Anyway – to cut a long story short – we donated our original mainsail which he will pass on to the local fishermen to adapt for their boats. Richard didn’t want to drag the main with us because of weight – we have kept a spare genoa intact – and to make a donation to such a good cause worked for us. Anyway….hugs all round…and back to boat jobs.

After laundry we rushed back on board – quickly got cleaned up and changed – and headed out to watch the pirate show. Great time was had by all as usual – and listening to his mad frog call Whoop Whoop made me smile, remembering the girls trip out here and how my angel crew really got into the show that night. Long story….but you know who you are!    Anyway…if we go on Friday we have a very long day ahead of us…so early to bed after dinner ashore of fish and chips.

Up early Friday morning….checked the forecast and yes, the window was holding…so we are going.  Blast off – at last – we are going to start our down island adventure!!!!  Hurrah… So we get the boat ready, including liferaft; grab bag; charging and testing all hand-held additional electronics; making snacks and hot drinks for our insulated cups etc etc and checking all kit was working fine – as well as making sure that everything is stowed for the overnight passage. I also spent some time going through charts and pilot books to do the passage plan. Having got everything sorted in my head, go through it with Richard and double check my thoughts. He’s happy so we plug the waypoints into the plotters.

Eventually by midday we head off into Gun Creek to check out of the BVI. What!!!???!!! The customs and immigration office is closed… Back at 1.30pm. Oh no – so we just have to sit it out and wait. Eventually – at 1.40 pm (not that I was clock watching) – they arrive and we check out. The guy asked me to remove my sunglasses – fair enough, but I’m blind within them as they are prescription glasses – but that didn’t matter so I had to relinquish control of all the docs to Richard to sort out while I stood there looking blankly into blurry objects! Oh well….job done…and back round the corner to Morphie. Earlier we had moved her out of the slip and onto a mooring ball. Final check round – final preparation – and we’re off. 10 minutes later than planned at 4.10 pm – good going.

We motored out of the North Sound for the last time and passed through the passage behind Prickly Pear and Necker Island…looking at the reconstruction efforts going on at the top of the hill to replace the big house that got burnt down after being struck by lightning. The small house has pagodas and Sir Richard even has his own desert island – although the palm trees are fake apparently!!!!

We come out by the point and into the ocean expecting the worst – they call the Anegada passage the Oh My Godda passage for a reason!  Apparently this is one of the most gruesome trips in the Caribbean chain and we have heard plenty of horror stories. The charts say that to sail this is a once in a lifetime opportunity – ie that the wind is virtually always on the nose – so expect to motor most of the way hard into the wind / waves. As a sail boat this is not what we like to do – but having listened to advice from those who have gone before – we are prepared for this eventuality, but hope to be able to sail some of the way….. Bye BVI – been lovely knowing you – but we are ready to move on.

We head into the wind – and yep, even though the forecast said there would be some north to the wind, making sailing an option, this was not a course that we could hold. So motoring it is then. Only about 80+ miles to go….. Lifejackets on, harnesses clipped to lifelines in the cockpit, and the sun starts to sink. Lovely….night sailing…..haven’t done this for a while – and this is the first time Richard and I have done it alone as we are usually with other crew on a variety of boats.

So what is all the fuss about then? The wind is about 15 knots (as forecast – at last!)…and the waves only about 2m high… Then after about 20 minutes in the moonlight – bang – a big wave hits us, over the coachroof and along the side soaking us both in the cockpit. Oh, so here we go then….. And this pattern continued every 20 minutes for the rest of the trip….. Colin the autopilot was doing an admirable job and we reached the first couple of waypoints pretty quickly. OK – so people want to know what this passage is like. For our UK sailing mates – think a rough English channel crossing… For our USVI sailing mates – think a rough Pilsbury Sound crossing for hours on end… For those who have no idea – then you are not missing much this time!

We had already decided that we were going to stay awake for the whole trip – perhaps taking cat naps in the cockpit as needed. No chance…with the pounding and the regular soaking from the waves… We were also doing this by the book – hourly log recordings and marking physical charts with our position. So we took it at turns at the helm – supervising Colin – on an hour on, an hour off, basis. Watching big ships was fun – especially with the AIS telling us who they were and what direction they were going. At one point we had a huge cruise ship, a trawler and a tanker all converging on us – and then, ping, the AIS went off!  Tried to reset it with the plotters still active but couldn’t get anything resolved. And we didn’t want to turn the plotters off completely to reset as we had concerns that they may not come back. So back to old-fashioned light spotting then…. Loads and loads of ships were coming and going. Feels like being in the English channel and in the middle of the shipping lane…… Oh well – been there before!  Also our bow steaming lights decided not to work even though we had changed the bulb and all had been fine in Red Hook not that long ago… Luckily we could be seen as we had a tricolour installed on top of the mast as part of our cruising fit out. We could also turn on radar to look for blips that could be ships if we saw some vague lights….

Anyway…dodging ships became the focus of our night…and the wind started increasing and we started to get battered. By the time the sun came up we had large seas, rogue waves continuing to hit and soak us every 15 minutes, and the wind was howling at 28 knots with white water mist across the surface of the ocean. 

So the weather window closed down on us during the passage. Oh well, have been through worse… and enjoyed watching the sparkling of the phosporescence in the water behind the boat.  Not that bad – even though we arrived cold, tired, wet and the damn charts / pilot guide / GPS didn’t match at the most crucial part, arriving into Marigot Bay. But all that said, we were really both pleased with the way Morphie, Colin and ourselves coped with this trip – no working class language, never worried or concerned about our safety – good job!

Anyway….we got here safely, anchored in 7 feet of water below our keel, checked in (what a delight!), went ashore and let everyone know that we were safe as well as enjoying some fantastic French food and spent some Euros…and then back on board to sleep. In the end we were at passage for 18 hours and covered a measly 82 miles!

Oh yes…and the minute we anchored…guess what, the AIS came back all on its own!  Boats eh???  Tomorrow is the day to start exploring this new island as well as buying the last of the stuff we wanted from the chandleries – which, apparently, are the biggest in the Caribbean chain and duty-free to boot….

Bye for now…