St. Martin

Bermuda to St Martin Day 9:

The last day has been just as exciting as the last few but all in a good way. First of all, I made it! I didn’t have to abandon the plan of going to St. Maarten either which I’m distinctly pleased about. It was close. I ended up having about 5 miles of space to windward of Anguilla to play with. That’s not a lot when you consider that I started struggling to make it when I was still 200-odd miles away. A difference in course of two degrees would have meant that I missed it altogether (over 200 miles, a course difference of one degree would displace you at the other end by tan of 1 multiplied by 200, or 3.5 miles……. I think).

Last night was pretty rough again to the extent that I ended up setting the storm jib instead of the little bit of genoa that I had. I didn’t really need to as the storm jib was really too small. It was only blowing about 25 knots sustained but gusting 35 in the squalls. It was good practice though. The main thing is that the plan for setting it does work, and I learned a lot of things that can be improved upon when setting it in the future, like that I need to cut the sheets down so that they are only just long enough (I keep them permanently attached to the storm jib) and that the hanks need to be pushed up above the thick bit of dyneema where the splice is in order for it to slide up the stay without jamming. Also that the thick bit of dyneema works very well to keep the hanks down and the sail on deck until the time that I want to set it. For those who are interested, here is a description of the set up (written for sailors) in italics, as it’s the kind of information that I enjoy reading about from other sailors:

When at sea I have an inner-headstay that attaches just aft of the main headstay and about three quarters of the way up the mast. This is opposed by a set of running backstays. There is also another set of runners opposing a baby stay. These are recent additions and work very well indeed to keep the mast in column and prevent pumping in a seaway. This inner headstay is made from dyneema and is set up well in advance. With it up I can’t tack or gybe without rolling the headsail but that’s ok as it’s rare to have to do this at sea (when I’ve had wind on this passage I’ve always been on a port tack). It has a loop in the end and reaches almost to the deck at the attachment point, which is a heavy-duty block. There’s another line that runs forward to this block from the cockpit (the foreguy for the pole, since I would never have my storm jib poled out (the seas would be too great for going directly downwind once a storm jib is necessary and I wouldn’t need the inner headstay if I were flying a symmetric chute or poling out the genoa), runs through it and ties onto the loop in the dyneema with a simple sheet bend. So now I have a dyneema line coming down from the mast, tied on to another line that runs through a block and back to the cockpit. That block has a becket on it.

The storm jib hanks on to the dyneema, the sheets run aft and the tack is tied via a 3-foot pennant made from strong line to the becket in the block. At the head of the sail is a snatch block. This snatches onto the dyneema and then the spinnaker hal’yard clips onto it. So, even though the spin hal’yard is much higher up on the mast that the inner headstay attachment point the block keeps the angle of pull on the sail in line with the dyneema stay. The storm jib is wooled just like you would wool a chute (before they changed the racing rules recently to ban wooling) to stop it filling prematurely. It works really well as far as I’ve found so far. Provided the inner headstay is set up well in advance it’s very easy, and if strong winds are expected you could even set the whole thing up and have the sail just sitting on the foredeck ready to go from the start.

Anyway, I went along like that through the night only making about 3 knots but going the right way and I was able to get some good sleep. The next day was really exciting. Only 60 miles from St. Martin now so I crowded on sail (by ‘crowding on I mean that I still had 2 reefs in the main and at most half the genoa out!) and powered along through a rough but very manageable sea in an attempt to make it to St. Martin that night. I wanted to round the North Eastern tip of Anguilla before nightfall, because Anguilla is very low-lying and St. Martin is very high, so you see St. Martin first over the top of Anguilla and could easily run into Anguilla at night as you wouldn’t see it until you’re right on top of it. I do have a chart plotter but I don’t like to rely on them. I have been very led astray by GPS units in the past so I still like to take bearings on landmarks and generally do things in a very old-fashioned way, but it’s not possible to look at the chart plotter, plot on a paper chart (I still use these primarily as I find it quicker, easier and more reliable than the chart plotters), identify landmarks, take bearings and steer at the same time and by this point the tiller pilot was making some very nasty grinding noises and wandering back and forth through about 40 degrees (that tiller pilot has been absolutely amazing under the circumstances. It’s about 20 years old, uses very little power and was absolutely rock solid until I abused it the other day by trying to get it to power downwind in a heavy squall and thought I’d help it out by turning the wheel myself. Not a good idea it turns out ?).

Anyway, I made it around that tip of Anguilla about half an hour before sunset and was anchored in Marigot Bay surrounded by super yachts by 2130 having managed to retrieve the anchor from the locker (the cause of all my woes at the start of the voyage!) and shackle that onto the bow as I was hove-to briefly just outside the bay. It felt exceptionally good when that anchor hit the bottom, and miraculously the wind stayed with me despite it being from the ESE so I didn’t even have to turn on the motor. I was sure that I would have gusts and lulls at best with the high mountains of St. Martin in the way but fortunately that was not the case. Strange – I’ve experienced almost dead calm here in the Caribbean from blanketing caused by a mountain range (St. Lucia) over 40 miles to windward of me in the past, but this time the wind was beautifully consistent despite the land being in much closer proximity.

Anyway, I’m now sitting in a cafe in Marigot. It’s a Sunday so I can’t be productive and start haemorrhaging all of my money yet, but the Ti Punch is not too bad and the ground has just about stopped moving beneath my feet ?


View of Bob anchored in Marigot Bay, including very large courtesy flag and 'quarantine' flag flying before I had checked in. View of Bob anchored in Marigot Bay, including very large courtesy flag and ‘quarantine’ flag flying before I had checked in this morning.

View from Bob anchored in Marigot BayView from Bob anchored in Marigot Bay

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