Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Real Sailing Starts

Al checked and re-checked the weather, and decided that the window of 10-15 knots winds and 1-2 meters of waves would let us get to St Kitts (St Christopher)/Nevis, where we could wait for another one if need be, before we venture into the longer passage to Guadeloupe, which is about 64 miles. There is a small island almost in the middle, called Montserrat, which has an on-and-off active volcano. We have to check the situation with the volcano as well as the weather before leaving Nevis.

Anyway, we weighed anchor around 7:20 am in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, and motored out of the harbour. There is one hazard about a mile off of the bay, called Proselyte Reef, and I insisted that we passed from the right side, against Al’s protests. Apparently his GPS on the telephone did not show it as a hazard, so he was first reluctant, but when we came close, he saw that the beacon marking the hazard was showing our side as safe. The reason I insisted was the waypoint shown on the map being out there, and he had entered it into our tree GPS devices, then turned around and tried to disregard it, because we could see the silhouette of Statia right through. Not when I am around. Ten minutes later we filled our sails and had a very pleasant sail, with steady winds of about 10-14 knots on the beam, with small gusts. We did an average of 5 miles an hour, and reached the north edge of Statia around 1:00 pm.

From almost halfway up, I saw two square objects above sea level close to the shore of Statia, and thought that they were the big buoys mentioned in the guide book; but Al disagreed. When he looked with binoculars, he thought he saw a ship with several masts, like the mega sail-yacht we had seen in Philipsburg. When we came closer, it became clear that the square objects were the supports of the pipeline sticking out of the shore into the sea, the masts turned out to be their poles.

Statia appears to be the major hub for oil distribution for the Caribbean region or the Dutch West Indies. The above water pipeline is connected to tens of mega silos/tanks on the shore and high up on the cliffs. The northern bay was littered with ten oil tankers, possibly have already emptied their cargo or waiting to be filled, since as far as I could see they were empty. Yacht tourism is not Statia’s major concern; however, they cater to divers, since their waters are full of ships-wrecks, the main attractions for divers. It is incredible how close to shore those ships had sunk; I hope most of their crews had been able to swim to shore.

We dropped our sails, since I wanted to be able to see the hazards in the sea; like mooring balls for divers, small buoys for fishing nets, gigantic buoys for merchant ships/tankers etc. In addition, I thought we were in the lee of the island. I was wrong, and Al complained that we had jumped the gun and missed a half hour of the free ride we had from the wind. Oh well, next time we would keep the sails up longer.

We reached Oranjestaad, St Estatius in about half an hour, and caught a mooring ball very close to the beach. The water looked very clean, but we had to clear in to customs before any swimming. We came to the door of the Port Authority and asked what to do to the islander lady manning the security point, a little later than 2:00 pm. She told us to wait and called some people, but could get no one. She told us to come back the next morning around 8:30-9:00 am, to clear in and out at the same time. I saw on the door for the Immigration/Customs office that their office hours started at 8:00 am.

Since we had some time to kill in the afternoon, we started walking on the road parallel to shore, peppered with some restaurants. Then we saw a steep cobbled road climbing up to the cliffs above, where the fort was located. The guide book calls the street Slave Road, winding up to the fort. So we did our culture visit, admired the view, and saw almost all the village in about an hour, and returned to Ruyam II.

The next morning we were at custom office door at 8:00 o’clock, and after filling multiple forms, visiting three different officers and paying $23.00 dollars, we were ready to roll towards St Christopher (St Kitts) at 9:00 am.

1 comment: