We've had a rather exciting time during the last few days in Martinique as Tropical Storm Chantal blew through the islands on Tuesday! We have just untangled the boat from the mangroves where we had tied ourselves onto the mangrove roots in a spiderweb of lines and anchors to protect the boat from the 50+ kn winds. Paul has written a few detailed reports in his Tech Blog about how we set up the boat for the storm and how we fared as Chantal vented her fury, so I refer you to those for the Tropical Storm update:
Tropical Storm Arrives
Securing in a Mangrove
Tropical Storm Chantal is coming
My newsletter is about our cruising adventures preceding the storm as we sailed to some lovely places on the the south and east coasts of Martinique.
Anchored off the seaside village of Ste. Anne. Photo by Sheryl Shard
Ste. Anne & Marin
After sailing down the west coast of Martinique (see previous newsletter) we arrived at the south coast at the seaside town of Ste. Anne.
There is an enormous anchorage here which is the outer harbour of Marin, the yachting capital of the Eastern Caribbean. Every kind of yachting facility and service can be found in Marin and its inner harbour, Cul de Sac Marin, is also huge with over 1,000 boats there.
Better yet, it's a huge hurricane hole with several mangrove creeks running off it so for summer cruising during Hurricane Season it's a nice place to be close to.
Outside in the anchorage off Ste. Anne, which is a quiet little town built around the village church, there are many lovely white sand beaches and the atmosphere is relaxed yet festive with numerous beach bars.
Ste. Anne has lovely clear water for swimming and snorkelling.
In Ste. Anne there are a couple of small grocery stores, a vegetable and fish market, a post office and bank that both have ATM's, several internet cafes that frequently aren't working, a couple of really good dinghy docks with free garbage disposal at the main pier, and many boutiques and souvenir shops for fun shopping.
We have been spent many nice days at anchor here while we work on our latest assignments taking breaks to go snorkelling and enjoying beautiful sunsets in the evening.
When we need more supplies or a visit to a chandlery we just raise anchor and in 15 minutes are in Marin where we can fill our water tanks at the fuel dock at the huge marina there and anchor while we run to several good grocery stores, phone centres, etc. When our chores are done it's an easy run back to peaceful Ste. Anne.
When we left the island of St. Maaretn/St Martin in June we felt as if it was the end of the season with yachts migrating back to Europe, north to the US and Canada, and south to Grenada and Trinidad for Hurricane Season. But here in Martinique the season is on-going. Marin has numerous active charter fleets and lots of places around the island to cruise to, local boating families are now on summer holidays, and the French live-aboard cruisers are basing themselves here as they do annual maintenance or get seasonal work to improve their cruising funds. (I will write more about Working While Cruising in a future Life On Board article.)
When we arrived in Ste. Anne on June 20th we were greeted by a group of French sailors that we had shared a dock with in Rabat, Morocco, 6 months previously.
Jean-Noel saves the day in Rabat, Morocco, by swimming lines across the harbour to the opposite pontoon. This is where we first met and are now having a reunion in Martinique on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean - and dealing with another storm together!
We had ridden out a bad storm with them in Rabat (related to weather weirdness following Hurricane Sandy) where Jean-Noel of Julie 1re swam across the harbour to the opposite pontoon to secure our boats from the strong crosswinds that had broken the pontoon in several places.
Our French friends had been sailing together in a casual flotilla of 3 or 4 boats and, while we sailed west from Morocco to the Canary Islands and across to the Caribbean, their route to the Caribbean had been to continue south visiting more ports along the west coast of Morocco before heading offshore to the Cape Verde Islands, then Senegal, then French Guyana from where they jumped off for the islands of the Caribbean. This seems to be the preferred route of French-speaking sailors just as our route is preferred transatlantic route for most English-speaking sailors (with some overlaps in the Cape Verde Islands for example.) Language and cultural familiarity seem to be the determining factors in these choices as well as wind and currents.
Babette and Jean- Noel, French friends aboard SY Julie 1re.
Our friends were making Martinique their base while they worked for the season. Babette, a nurse, had gotten contract work for several months filling in for women on maternity leave, etc. Her husband, Jean-Noel, an engineer, was working at the shipyard in Marin as well as doing yacht deliveries. And Virginie of SY Marjalou was working as a waitress at a local restaurant while her husband David made repairs and modifications to their boat, their fulltime home, for the coming winter sailing season. All were enjoying the break and the sociability of their new jobs in a new community. Working is fun if it is part of an adventure!
Many of our cruising friends with shallow-draft yachts had waxed poetic about cruising the east coast of Martinique that is wild and natural and full of quiet coves and bays that you often have to yourself. But the east coast is the windward side of the island which is open to the ocean swells of the Atlantic. This means you have to wait for calm conditions to sail safely into these anchorages since you enter with seas behind you. Many of them have bars at the entrance which can be dangerous in large seas and because of this you must cruise here fully provisioned with food and water in case the weather turns suddenly and you get trapped here for a few days.
Courtesy Navionics Mobile
So last Saturday. July 6, we finally got the conditions we were looking for and raised anchor from Ste Anne to spend the weekend in quiet solitude – or so we thought! It was an absolutely beautiful blue-sky day and as we headed around Point Dunkerque to sail past the gorgeous stretches of white sand beaches on the south coast there was a parade of charter yachts, speed boats and jet skies headed the same way! Uh oh. Was everyone taking advantage of the weather and heading for the east coast for the weekend too?!
However, when we reached Anse des Salines we saw that they all stopped there since there was a huge beach festival going on. The largest raft-up of small power boats we'd every seen, probably more than 50 boats (later we saw that stern moorings had been laid out to make this safe) was strung out in front of the beach with probably another 50 or so yachts anchored further out. Music was blaring, people were dancing on the beach, bubble machines were filling the air with sparkling bubbles and foam, and lots of Martinique rum was being consumed – at 1030 in the morning! What was up? We had to stop and get the story. Turns out it was Mercury Day, the island's biggest beach party sponsored by the company Mercury that manufactures outboard motors.
After partying for a couple of hours we said goodbye to new friends and continued on around the corner to the east coast.
What a change in scenery! It was rough and wild exposed to the Atlantic swells.
But today it was lovely and we had no problem navigating into Baie des Anglais.
However when we got into the anchorage we discovered it was now a nature reserve and anchoring no longer allowed in certain areas. But moorings had been laid and we joined 2 catamarans there for the night. We always dive on moorings to make sure they are safe and these looked well maintained.
We had a very pleasant weekend there and the Mercury Day party provided quite a contrast to the peacefulness of Baie des Anglais.
But then we got word that Tropical Storm Chantal was on the way ETA Tuesday so we headed back to the safety of Marin on Sunday afternoon.
The weather was still great and we had a lovely downwind sail back to Marin past the south coast beaches and right into the harbour.
What a weekend!
Sheryl and Paul
Aboard SV Distant Shores II
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The time arrived at the end of April to conclude our winter respite in the British Virgin Islands and begin the next leg of our voyage - heading south through the Caribbean island chain so that, come summertime which is hurricane season, we would be out of the hurricane belt.
The area of high risk for hurricanes in the Caribbean region, as defined by our yacht insurance company Pantaenius Yacht Insurance, is East of 98°W and West of 60°W, and between the Latitudes 10°N and 30.5°N. The “Named Tropical Storm Clause” in our insurance goes into effect from July 1st to November 15th. Different insurance companies have different limitations so check this out if planning to sail or store your boat in the Caribbean during the summer and autumn months.
Paul at Pipe Creek, Bahamas
Another option for avoiding hurricanes in the summer would be to sail north through the islands of the Bahamas, one of our favourite cruising grounds as you may have determined by the number of Bahamas Distant Shores episodes we have filmed there, and then north to the Chesapeake Bay, another great cruising ground on the east coast of the USA that we have documented in the show. (Maine and the Canadian Maritimes are other appealing summer destinations for many sailors that cruise in the Caribbean for the winter, as is the Great Loop, a route exploring inland waterways of the USA and Canada.)
Travelling through the Erie Canal, Chesapeake Bay and Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Distant Shores Season 6
We have made the trip up from the Caribbean to the Bahamas, the Chesapeake Bay and home to Canada through the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and Trent-Severn Waterway in the past and, since next season we are are planning to cruise the western Caribbean, going north would mean a long journey retracing our steps back to the Caribbean in the fall. So we have decided to take the boat south for Hurricane Season this year and explore more of the leeward and windward islands along the way.
The first leg of our journey south from the BVI was to sail back across the Anegada Passage to the Dutch/French island of St Maarten/St Martin, a passage of about 90 nm. In February we did this in the opposite direction, going St Maarten to the BVI, which is generally a nice downwind sail with the current in your favour as well. (See Feb 26/13 newsletter).
But going the other way, from BVI to St Maarten, is a whole different story since you are sailing into the trade winds and with the 1 to 1.5 knot current against you, so you need to plan the eastbound journey a bit more carefully. As cruising sailors we are blessed with hundreds of great sailing days in a year so the general strategy for this passage is to wait for calm conditions, motorsail into it topping up your batteries as you go, and Get It Done. From St Maarten heading south through the island chain your angle of sail is better and you can expect days of great beam-reach sailing with regular trade winds blowing from the east.
Checking the weather forecast on WindGURU we saw light wind conditions predicted for Thursday April 25 and Friday April 26. On Friday, the wind was predicted to be slightly more ENE rather than E and since we were going to set sail from North Sound in Virgin Gorda at the most northern end of the BVI we would have not-bad angle on an ENE wind. If we left very early on Friday morning there was a good chance we'd be able to make the 12-hour passage under sail, at least for part of the day. (Of course you could skip St Maarten altogether and sail southeast to islands further down the chain to avoid a headwind bash but St Maarten is a great place to stock up on provisions, fuel, and chandlery items before sailing down-island so we really wanted to stop there.)
The Cruising Guide to the BVI by Nancy and Simon Scott have a good section on options for sailing south from the BVI to the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.
A new customs office in the BVI has recently opened in North Sound (also called Gorda Sound) at Gun Creek just across the sound from where we were anchored off Saba Rock so in the late afternoon on Thursday April 25 we motored over to Gun Creek, anchored off the customs quay, and cleared out of the BVI. You can clear out 12 hours before your planned departure.
Early the next morning, Friday April 26, we were up at 4:30 a.m. and raised anchor at 5:30 a.m. just as the sun was rising and the full moon was setting over Virgin Gorda, a beautiful farewell image of the BVI.
Heading out of the sound into Necker Passage we noticed there were 3 other yachts in our wake. We wouldn't be alone out in the Anegada Passage.
Necker Passage takes you out past Necker Island, the multi-million dollar private resort belonging to Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines and other Virgin Group corporations.
We were soon out into open water, mainsail raised and self-tacking jib ready to unfurl but the wind never did set in from the ENE. It was light and on the nose, due E, the whole day. Motorsailing it was to be. It was a very clear day and Virgin Gorda didn't disappear off our stern until mid-morning. We each stood our watches listening to audio books on our iPhones to pass the time and watching the many sea birds and passing ships. The Anegada Passage is a gateway to the Caribbean for ocean-going ships travelling to and from the rest of the world.
At the half-way point we passed sailboats heading in the opposite direction and the blue skies began to get cloudy. Then the radar started to show patches of squalls developing and by the afternoon we were getting scattered shower – brief and cooling.
However, just after sighting St Maarten on the horizon in the late afternoon, we got a series of big squalls. No worries. The heavy rain gave the boat a good cleaning washing all the salt off the decks.
At the same time as the squalls passed we noticed an incredible feeding frenzy going on. Hundreds of sea birds were diving on fish at the surface all around us. Now we're not very good at fishing but we thought if we put out a line in this location we couldn't go wrong. Over the years we've done a lot of fishing with the hand spear but not so much with a line. But now we're getting into it and found a great book to guide us, The Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing by Scott and Wendy Bannerot. We dropped our line but I guess we were a bit late doing it since no fish seemed interested in our lure. Oh well. Better luck next time.
Just after 5:00 p.m. the skies had cleared and we were rounding the south end of St Martin/St Maarten in sunshine under blue skies. By 5:30 p.m. we were dropping the hook in Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of the island just behind SV Banyan owned by Canadian friends, Dave and Alex, who had left the BVI the day before us.
That's the great thing about cruising. You meet so many great people on your travels and encounter them many times in many places. A welcome always awaits you.
Until next time,
Sheryl and Paul
Aboard SV Distant Shores II
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