Friends and Anemones
Trip Start Dec 09, 2006
217Trip End Ongoing
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The dual nation island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten (French/Dutch) is about 94 nm straight line ESE from St. John, and the typical winter trade winds are from the ENE to E – resulting in sailing conditions a bit too far upwind to sail comfortably on a direct route to St. Martin from the Virgin Islands. This means we would have to wait for a temporary change in the weather pattern to permit better sailing conditions to head eastbound. Specifically, we needed to wait for a cold front off the North American continent to disturb the normal weather pattern enough to cause the wind to shift more to the north or some other weather disturbance to cause the easterly winds to lessen from their typical winter speeds of around 20 knots.
No such change was in the near term forecasts for early February. So we needed to be patient and bide our time until more favorable conditions would arrive. We didn't need to be in St. Martin until February 19 when friends Bob and Beckie, the first of our visitors, would arrive for a visit. Our weather guru, Chris Parker, was predicting some wind speed moderation in the long range forecast, so we just needed to hang around beautiful St. John long enough for this to occur. What could be better than that?
We wanted to return to Hurricane Hole for more mangrove snorkeling after first experiencing that treat with Ken and Joan during their visit; this seemed the perfect opportunity while waiting for better weather for the transit to St. Martin. We had been in contact with friends Mike and Suzi cruising on Catana 431 Awakening and convinced them to join us. On February 7 we got underway for this destination.
The Hurricane Hole moorings are for day use only, so we knew we would have to scout for a nearby overnight anchorage and we had no interest in anchoring in the adjacent crowded Coral Harbor we were familiar with. We attempted a few times to set the hook in an area of Hurricane Hole just outside the protected National Park boundary. When that didn’t work, we headed for nearby Round Bay, within the huge Coral Bay area of eastern St. John, which is within dinghy distance of the Hurricane Hole mangroves. We were fortunate to find a generous patch of shallow sand for anchoring. The following morning we snorkeled in Round Bay at an interesting reef area within swimming distance of the boat. Not long after, Mike and Suzi arrived and we had a fun reunion dinner with them aboard Pas de Deux.
We snorkeled the mangroves with Mike and Suzi each of the following two days and had a great time with them. They are both experienced divers and adept at pointing out creatures underwater that the average snorkeler might miss or not recognize. They would depart on February 10, but not before we had a chance to describe the St. Martin racing regattas we planned to enter. Since they were planning to head in that direction on their route further southbound we coaxed them to consider entering Awakening or joining us as crew. We hoped to see them again at St. Martin.
On Saturday, February 11 it looked like the weather was improving to allow planning a passage to St. Martin on the following Monday. In feast or famine style, the trade winds were finally forecast to slacken from several weeks of east at 15-25 to southeast at <10. Light weather was forecast all week, favorable for making eastbound passages, and we decided to get going earlier rather than later in this period to be able to have a few days in St. Martin before Bob and Beckie's arrival on the 19th. Not perfect sailing weather, but safe and doable.
In order to clear out of the USVI prior to departure we took a two mile dinghy ride from our anchorage in Round Bay to Coral Harbor and then rode the "dollar bus" to Cruz Bay, ten miles by road to the west end of the island (“dollar bus” is a generic Caribbean term for any public bus that typically charges only a dollar or something nominal to go anywhere on the island). In Cruz Bay we would visit US Customs/Immigration to determine whether we could obtain clearance documents to reflect a Monday departure from the USVI. Regardless of the outcome, the bus ride was an experience. The road connecting the furthest east to furthest west points of St. John travels along the mountainous spine of the island and is no interstate highway. Upon exiting the bus in Cruz Bay, Donna expressed her admiration to the skilled driver as a way of thanking him for our safe arrival.
Unfortunately, we learned US Customs/Immigration only tolerates a 24-hour window for exit clearance meaning our only option then was to return the next day, on Sunday, for documents allowing a Monday departure. Since public buses don't run on Sundays, cab fare would be wickedly expensive, and bringing the boat to Cruz Bay itself would be backtracking too much from our outbound route, we decided to do a same-day clearance on Monday (in and out) nearby in the BVI. Unlike St. Martin, the BVI does not require any exit clearance documents from the US (other than a passport) to clear in and out when arriving from the USVI (one of those friendly nation benefits). Confused? It's all part of cruising....
Not to be denied another visit to Hurricane Hole to snorkel those fabulous mangroves (can you tell we like it there?) we departed Round Bay early Sunday and picked up a day use mooring ball in the mangrove cove with an east facing mangrove shoreline. We would snorkel the mangrove in the early morning when sunlight would shine under the overhanging mangrove branches and better illuminate all the colorful critters. We were not disappointed. Our pictures do not do it justice.
After our morning swim we departed Hurricane Hole for Leinster Bay on the north shore of St. John to spend the night and make phone calls to family members while this USVI location still afforded AT&T cell phone coverage. We wanted to let them know we could be reached by radio email once we departed the following morning, February 13, for the long day and night passage to St. Martin. We were surprised to find that from our mooring we could not pick up AT&T coverage even though we were quite close to the coast. Instead we were picking up a BVI signal. At Donna’s suggestion, we climbed into the dinghy and went a short distance into adjacent Mary Creek hoping that would bring us closer to a more populated area of the island nearby. We did in fact pick up the AT&T signal there and lingered, floating in the dinghy, placing calls to all of our family members while we enjoyed watching pelicans diving within feet of us in the food-filled shoreline mangroves.
Our visit to the single island/dual nation of St. Martin/Sint Maarten (French/Dutch) had been longed planned and included participating in two racing regattas, hosting five visitors, and taking delivery of a new dinghy ordered several months earlier. The duty-free status of the island meant we could purchase a dinghy significantly cheaper here than elsewhere. The two regattas were the Around St. Maarten Multihull Regatta taking place February 25 and the internationally renowned St. Maarten Heineken Regatta running March 1 – 4. We had participated in the Around St. Maarten Multihull Regatta last year.
Our visitors would include Catana 471 Our White Magic owners Bob and wife Beckie, Pas de Deux reliable delivery crew member and newly Master licensed Captain Wally, and long-time friends Paul and wife Linda. They would not all be with us at once. The choreography of their visits revolved around the regatta dates. Bob and Beckie would arrive first on February 19 and enjoy some island time with us (hopefully making a trip to nearby Saba) and then Wally would join all of us for the first regatta. After the first regatta was over Bob and Beckie would depart, Paul would arrive the same day, and Wally and Paul would crew with us for the Heineken Regatta. Following that, Wally would depart and Linda would arrive the same day to enjoy a vacation that would hopefully include a trip to Barbuda before she and Paul would return home on March 17. From start to finish we would have guests for 28 straight days. It would be a busy and fun time. Serious Fun….
But first, we had to get to St. Martin….