6.26.14 – Sailing away from Virgin Gorda was a bittersweet moment. The islands we called home for an entire month slowly disappeared into a fuzzy haze on the horizon. The Saharan Dust layer was keeping the storms at bay as we set out for what seemed to be a beautiful day at sea.
Our new friends on Four Coconuts were 3 nautical miles behind us. We kept in radio contact checking in with each other every few hours, though most of the time we were out of sight. Just a few miles off shore, a dreadful feeling of uneasiness began to form in the pit of our stomachs. The waves got bigger and the fetch got shorter. We immediately recalled our first encounter with the Caribbean 2-step back along the Southern shores of Puerto Rico. We knew it would only get worse before it got better.
On a course 40-degrees Southwest to Saba we entered what is notoriously called the “OH-MY-GOD-A” (Anegada) Passage. It’s a straight in the Caribbean with some depths reaching more than 6,000 feet. Crazy currents flow through from the Atlantic as they feed into the Caribbean Sea and it’s not uncommon for waves to be slamming against the hull from three different directions.
“It felt as if we were riding a mechanical bull in a big blue pen”
It felt as if we were riding a mechanical bull in a big blue pen, slowly rocking forward followed by a quick jerk to the side in a wicked attempt to throw us from every spot we sat in. Around and around and up and down. The engine rumbled as the bull bucked on. This was the first time I had ever really felt seasick, even with medication. Seas were only 3-5′ but very disorganized.
The sails were tight to the wind, 18 knots off our port bow. Spending the last month in the BVIs definitely softened us a bit after playing in the sun and taking easy hour long sails between the islands, dinghy in tow and snorkel gear in hand.
5 foot seas aren’t even considered rough weather. Theyre just uncomfortable – especially on a 24 hour beat to Windward. Our rough passages from the Bahamas South, across the Thorny Path to Windward and the Puerto Rico pummeling all seemed so long ago. In reality it had only been 5 months since we left the dock in Florida starting out on this journey with absolutely zero sailing experience at all.
Heeled over and bucking back and forth, we calmly remember how green Peter and I are and how much more this boat can take than us. She’s a strong vessel built to cross oceans. By that point we wouldn’t have been able to remember that if we had taped it to eachother’s foreheads.
It was a terrible 30 hour long passage. We tacked up over the shoals near Saba labeled “TO BE AVOIDED” then crossed back down to the leeward side of the massive rock. Four Coconuts tried to warn us of the nasty wind gusts shearing off the island, but we couldn’t make out what they were saying on the radio. Suddenly, a blast of 35 knots hit us under full sail. Nothing like a burst of adrenaline…
Just after passing Saba, Peter insisted on putting the fishing lines out. “REALLY?” I grumbled. We were both exhausted and darkness was fast approaching. Our destination of a hopefully calm anchorage in Sint Eustatius (or Statia) was still 15 nm away. Any delays with fishing would surely put us there after dark.
Not 20 minutes later, ZINNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGG!!! Peter hooked his first billfish!! A beautiful sailfish appeared on the surface as he fought the line. I quickly began to slow down the boat, check the charts, set the autopilot and grab the camera. It was a quick fight. As he reached down and grabbed the leader line to release it, the sailfish shook off before I could snap any more photos. Enough excitement for one day, we thought.
Still getting beat up by the Caribbean 2-step, we tacked all the way to Statia. Motorsailing as best we could, it still wasn’t enough to get us there before dark. 10 pm we finally neared Gallows Bai. Our radar screen warned us of the mooring field full of tankers. Their lights were deceiving and it helped to have a visual on each of them using AIS and radar.
Little did we know, there were dozens of steel oil drums floating amidst the tankers, invisible in the dark. These are mammoth sized mooring balls for the big ships and they float at water level, undetectable by radar. Even at 5 knots, it would be like hitting a shipping container if we accidentally ran into one. After safely making our way past the tankers we approached a small little anchorage toward the far end of town. We used our spotlight and weaved between some sleeping sailboats as we searched for an open mooring ball and picked one up on the first try.
Happy to be tied up, we had to accept the fact that our 30-hour passage wasn’t over. The anchorage was terribly rolly and just as uncomfortable as the passage itself. NOT what you want to experience after trying to hold your cookies in for hours on end. The dogs were happy to have a potty break and eat dinner. Peter and I managed to wolf down some cheese and crackers before going to bed. We left the mizzen sail up for stability, which helped dramatically. Saba would have been more exposed to the ocean swell so even though our conditions were less than desireable, they could have been much worse.
We spent Friday night and Saturday night on a ball and did not drop the dinghy to go to shore. We flew the Q flag and took our chances. Supposedly, moorings are $10/night on the honor system. You go pay on shore. Maybe it was because of the weekend, but no one came out to greet us so we didn’t pay. We were too tired to launch the dinghy when we didn’t plan on staying here more than a day.
Four Coconuts was feeling much more ambitious than us and took their kids on a hike to the top of the crater. Their boat is the catamaran with red sail covers in the photo, just to the left of us.
Though we didn’t go exploring on land, we did get a glimpse of the historic beauty on this quaint little island.
To the right of the old war cannons is a dead palm tree. Is it just me… or does it look like a native tribe member standing up on the wall???
Our first sighting of island goats…
How amazingly peaceful would it be to live here??
We’re currently catching up on projects and waiting out the rest of Hurricane Season down in Grenada.
Stay tuned to read about our scariest moment yet!!