Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Passage

At 4:05 hours, we let the lines go, and started the dreaded voyage. Sir Francis Drake Channel was as calm as could be, no wind or waves. We passed the Round Rock in about an hour and half, and set our route at 118 degrees on the auto helm.

Slowly the swells started to come, but wind on the nose was never over 15 knots, apparent. We sat at the captain’s bench together and watched sun setting at our backs around 6:30 pm. Darkness came quickly, and we set the radar at three miles, to be alerted to the presence of any dangerous boats on our way. We observed that it was good to have such a gadget; it gave us entertainment, although we never saw a completely dark boat, except a sail boat which had a green light at the top of its mast, and nothing else. If we had not been alerted by radar, we might not have spotted it.

When I looked back, I saw the lights of a cruise ship reaching Round Rock. All the way to St Martin/Sint Maarten the ship was within visual distance with all its lights on and looking like a floating apartment complex, which gave us some comfort.

Later on two more appeared at our backs, and started following the first one. We figured that two of the ships were the ones we had seen at Road Harbour, almost following us. The third one could have started in Charlotte Amalie, USVI or some similar port. But all were headed to Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten (the Dutch side at the southern part), waiting to dock at 7: am sharp.

The hardest part of the night passage is the need to be alert and functioning all night long. Although I did not feel comfortable being alone at the helm, I urged Al several times to take a break. He only took half an hour, while I had to sleep twice, for an hour or so each time. Al is used to staying up all night from his guard duty at our yacht club in Ottawa. I had sometimes accompanied him at the club, but every time ended up sleeping in our old power boat. Last night on the way, we reminisced about those nights, how I would drive to Macdonald’s early in the morning to bring him breakfast, before going to work by my bike; while he would stay on to finish his shift.

During the passage, Al claimed that the Caribbean Ocean could not be calmer than last night. Perhaps, but the swells rocked the boat like clock-work with an occasional shake, which even made standing up an ordeal, let alone walking. We had our life jackets on for a while, but they felt too heavy, so we took them off. I got hysterical if Al walked about without holding on, so I did most of the foot-work. But mostly we sat together and looked at the numerous lights passing by.

At 11:30 hours, we saw a red glow in the distance. It took us several seconds to realize that it was the rising moon, which was almost half, but full of light; the threat of darkness vanished, and it changed our mood.

After my second nap, which was around 4:00 am, Al showed me the lights ahead of us; we were able to distinguish Anguilla to the port and St Martin, which was dead on.

I think Al was most nervous in the subsequent two hour period until the dawn. He complained that he could not distinguish the lights for the boats, which appeared on the radar, from the ones on land. Both of us peeled our eyes several times to make sure we were not on the collision course with a ghost boat. Al set the radar so sensitive that it gave the echoes of the waves as numerous spots in front of us, but they were not persistent like the echoes from the boats. I thought he was over-reacting, but who knows, he might have a point.

I was afraid that the sun would be in our eyes while entering Marigot Bay, St Martin (the French side on the northern half). The sailing guide to St. Martin warns about two steel mooring buoys at the entrance and urges the readers to always come there in daylight.

When we cleared “the Bluff” at the southern tip of the wide bay, where Marigot village is located, the sun rose in front of us behind some clouds, so it was not in our eyes. We entered the bay, but for the life of us could not spot the buoys. Perhaps the authorities got rid of them lately, since they seemed to present a problem.

The bay was full of hundreds of different sized boats, but we were able to find a good spot, and anchored. The shallow water was incredibly clean, we could clearly see from the bow, that the anchor had securely stuck into the sand, no need to dive to check.

Thank God, the dreaded part of our odyssey was over. One of the guides says that there was no need for him to give any advice on the passages after this one, since most of them were short and straight forward sailing in the southerly direction, presumably a breeze. We shall see how it is going to be for us.

1 comment:

  1. I wish your dreams come true Capt.Al & Admrl.Nel .
    Have a nice time at St.Maarten.