Our planned departure from Curacao was with a little bit of mixed feelings as we were not sure where we would be able to sail to. The Dominican Republic was due north for us, but we hoped to reach the British Virgin Islands which were more North East – so it really depended on the actual wind direction and the sea currents to define in which direction we could actually sail. It could be almost anywhere !
The weather forecast indicated an easterly wind which would make a north easterly sail quite difficult and the ocean currents were going to be either against us or pushing us to the west.This means that to sail to the BVI's, which are in a direction of 31 degrees from us, we would have to sail in a direction of 50-60 degrees to reach our destination and for this the wind should be a south easterly, coming from 135 degrees.
In addition, the expected wave height was from 1.5 to 2.5 metres, so this would also make sailing into the wind (for 5 days) to be more difficult and uncomfortable. As we were already into December, we knew that the wind strengths would pick up and conditions could be even worse if we waited too long. This was the best weather window we could expect for this time of year.
In the back of our minds there is also the “longer-term” plan that affects everything we do in the season ahead. If we sail too far west, then it is more difficult to return to our hurricane season “safe haven” in the south east of the Caribbean. Our options for this include, Trinidad & Tobago, Bonaire and Curacao.
We could continue further west and enjoy Guatemala for hurricane season, but the only easy place to go to from there would be through the Panama Canal and into the South Pacific – and we are not quite ready for this just yet.
With all of these thoughts and choices in our mind, we knew we did not have the right answer, but a great starting point would be the BVI’s and from there we could work out the rest a little later. We even thought that there maybe sufficient interest between the Dominican Republic and the BVI’s to keep us busy for the season.
Heading off on our 5-day journey, 500 nautical mile first sail of the season was therefore with many mixed feelings and unanswered questions.
We had to motor against the wind and current as we left Willemstad and headed for the gap between the Islands of Curacao and Bonaire. Once we were clear of the Bonaire headland, we hoisted the sails and picked up an excellent south easterly wind that allowed us to sail in a north easterly direction towards the BVI’s – our journey was starting well.
The expected ocean current to be generally to the west, but also at times to be in our favour. Throughout our sail this current was either against us or pushing us west by up to 30 degrees. The 2 meters high swell pushed us another 5-10 degrees further west. Our south easterly wind was the minimum we needed to be able to counter the effects of the current and swell to be able to reach our planned destination.
With a fresh breeze of 15 -25 kts, a reefed mainsail and our small self-tacking jib we cut deep into the waves which continually splashed over the boat, washing the teak decks for 4 days. Our cockpit area was occasionally drenched, but mostly we remained dry on our little boat as we snuggled up as close as possible to the sprayhood.
After 3 days the weather began to ease and the wave heights decreased to make sailing much easier. Continuing to sail as close as possible to the wind, we were making good progress to our newly decided and confirmed destination of “Jost van Dyke” on the BVI’s.
Arriving after 5 days sail and 511 nautical miles sailing, we were a little tired but very happy to have arrived at our destination with a great sense of achievement.
Surprisingly however, our sail did not go without incident. The first indications that something was wrong was when an alarm on our chart plotter went off. The first time it was just for a split second and we could not see what the error was. Over the next few days the alarm became more insistent and it appeared that our Automatic Identification System (AIS) was working intermittently.
Unfortunately, the fault was also bringing down the rest of the instruments to the point where only the GPS was working. In the end we had no autopilot, no wind speed, no boat speed, no depth.
Fortunately, Cay Electronics on Tortola (The BVI’s main Island) is a Raymarine dealer and a qualified installer – so they promised to help us find a solution, which was comforting to know.
After a long afternoon of fault finding (at $125/hr) their time slot for us ran out and no solution was yet evident. “We have another slot in 5 days time – can you come back again?” they asked. At this point it seemed to them that there was a “Backbone” problem on the data network and we would have to replace this item.
Well, actually we had no option and luckily there was space in Nanny Cay Marina for us to return to – we just had to occupy ourselves without a working navigation system for 5 days.
We know that sailing is not just depending on instruments, but knowing the wind and its affects by looking at the little wind vane at the top of the mast and feeling the direction of wind in your face. We were therefore not concerned to sail for a few days “without instruments” and it was actually quite good to get back to the basics.
We headed up to “Virgin Gorda” on the North Eastern edge of the BVI’s, which was only 20 miles away. We did not count on some quite rough conditions which came from the effects of the huge storm that battered the east coast of the USA just before Christmas. We felt that we were in a wind tunnel at our first mooring ball as the wind blew in from the open ocean. The following day we moved to be in the shade of the island and we finally were able to relax and enjoy the beauty and benefits of the “Bitter End Beach Club”.
We returned to Nanny Cay for our ongoing equipment troubleshooting needs. This left us with another 8 hours of cost, plus a new AIS, a new GPS and some replacement aerial wiring. (the backbone was untouched though). It was an expensive exercise, but an enormous concern was removed to have a problem solved and a system that is working well - we are back to the modern days of sailing now ! Though I did not learn as much as when I replaced the Mastervolt equipment, I like to think I do know much more about the Raymarine system than I did before.
Whilst at Nanny Cay and the services around us, we took the opportunity to replace the windows of our spray hood which became quite opaque after 3 months on the hard in Curacao. The new windows are fab now with amazing visibility, something we have never had since we had them originally made.
Whilst in Nanny Cay, we decided to take a road trip around the island, only to discover that there is precious little to see, other than coming to rent a charter boat, - of which there are more than many !
Moving off from Nanny Cay where we were feeling quite comfortable and cozy and we headed for Norman Island where we picked up a mooring buoy over the Christmas weekend. It was beautiful and quiet, but once Christmas was over, it became a busy highway for day trippers to Pirate’s Bight, the caves and numerous snorkelling points. There is Pelican Rock, which is a favourite day mooring location for snorkelling – sometimes you could not see the rock for the catamarans around it !
We moved onto Peter Island where we dropped anchor for a change. The bay is quite quiet, with limited day trippers and the island itself is private, so there is no exploring to do on land. It is “allowed” to go on the beach, but no further, so we snorkel around the rocks. The sea is so calm that the paddle board finally came out again and it is a pleasure to paddle without a strong wind and a rough sea.
Turtles inhabit the bay and poke their heads out the water on a regular basis to say hello – or so I think. Many small fish swim in the shadow of our boat, occasionally scurrying out of the way of the larger predators that feed on them, leaping out the water to confuse them and save their skins. The larger kingfish are relentless and feed continuously on the smaller fish and give us quite some hours of real life entertainment.
Yesterday evening as we returned from the beach, I went via the rock for a quick last snorkel. I think I am always hopeful that a lobster may appear and want to be taken onto a luxury yacht for dinner but this is not the case. This evening, as I looked up I saw a large tarpon swim by. He was the first of the “Tarpon Reef Patrol” that came by and was followed by at least a dozen others. All of them were at least a meter long, giving me the eye as they passed by and seemed to suggest that
I should not approach too close. They are harmless to humans, (I think) but so many large fish together is quite an intimidating sight to a skinny human, on his own, far from the boat and in darkening waters as the sun was beginning to set. Taking a breath, I waited until the last one had swum by before I continued.
(The photo is not mine as of course, I did not have my camera with me at the time!)
These few days between the islands have been beautiful and really relaxing. Eating (pancakes), sleeping, fishing, snorkelling and paddle boarding at our leisure on a calm and sunny sea. This is what we have been searching for and are happy to have found a “perfect” spot.
Though “perfect”, we do have to share our private bay and private island with a few other luxury super-yachts. These ships that we share our space with range from the small 40m size up to the giants like the “Andromeda” 107m and the “Apho” at 110m. The Andromeda brought her own helicopter to join the fun and sits majestically with the smaller super-yachts close by. Interestingly, these super-yachts go for about US$250.000 to US$2.5m per week for rental, plus all charges like food, drink and diesel. There may be 8 to 16 guests and at least as many crew to look after them ! When he guests arrived for Apho only four guests were welcomed by 30 crew...
What is amusing for us is that these super-yachts set up their lunch time parties on the beach from their private island in the search for seclusion – only to have to share the beach with other super-yacht private lunches and poor nomads like ourselves that just happen to be there.
It is great to see the ship tenders bringing in pagodas, trampolines, volleyball nets and an array of brightly coloured plastic buckets and spades for the children and adults to play with.
In the end, from all walks of life we are equalised by the sea and the beach !
It is the end of 2023 and our heartfelt thanks for following us and our stories, I hope that we have managed to entertain you and put a smile on your faces. We wish you all a fantastic new year ahead.