Not having kept up the blog for some months it takes quite an effort to catch up – especially since obtaining wifi is such a performance – there are only so many coffees and cocktails that a man can drink just to get wifi. So I thought I would just skip forward.
Appropriately April Fools Day was spent doing the 167nm journey from Jolly Harbour, Antigua to Gorda Sound, Virgin Gorda. The passage is in two parts. First the channel that separates a number of islands. To the South lie St Kitts & Nevis; Sint Eustatia; Saba and to the North St Barthelemy; St Martin and Anguilla. Normally speaking at least two or three of these would be worth a visit. It breaks up the journey. But I have to get to USVI by 14 April for the shipping. The second half of the passage entails navigating the Anegada Passage – sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Oh-My-God-A” passage.
I had intended leaving on Thursday and crossing the Anegada Passage during Friday – but as I watched the weather data it became apparent that delaying one day would mean getting to the Anagada Passage on Saturday – a day with very light winds – which was a pity – but more importantly only 2m swells funnelling in from the Atlantic. It would mean motor sailing – but I chose that option rather than put the philosopher and the mathematician through hell on their first long trip out for months.
The picture below will give you an idea why the underwater profile and sea mounts cause such confused seas on the best of days. You get a minimum of 2m swells from the Atlantic, plus the waves caused by the wind from the SE plus the curling of currents caused by the underwater seamounts. You definitely don’t want to be here in bad weather.
We set off on Friday March 31st. The forecast was for E or SE winds – so it was no surprise when N winds greeted us as we left Jolly Harbour! To be fair to the computerised weather models, there is a wind and current effect for at least 20nm around each Island, which these models cannot take account of. So for the next few hours we went from close hauled to beam reach to broad reach and then dead run. A normal day at the office for a sailor.
I had also intended leaving at 3pm but boredom and an itch to get going meant we left at 11am – 4 hrs early. I knew that time difference would have to be adjusted somewhere to ensure that we did not arrive at our reef strewn destination in the middle of the night. Our destination was North Sound – one of the favourite anchorages for Sir Francis Drake – on the Island of the fat virgin – Virgin Gorda.
“…A fair easterly wind filled the square sails of more than 20 British warships surging westward three days out from Guadaloupe on November 8, 1595. Sir Francis Drake, a hero of Britannia and the scourge of Spain, could easily see the lush green hills of the present-day British Virgin Islands from the quarterdeck of the flagship Defiance. He knew he was getting close to battle, and he looked forward to it. Apart from his exploits against the Spanish, Drake was also famous as the first Englishman and only the second captain to circumnavigate the globe during an epic voyage between 1577 and 1580. Ferdinand Magellan was the first to circumnavigate in 1522. Drake’s achievement, which included claiming California for Britain, earned him a knighthood.
Drake was no stranger to the Caribbean, one of the most popular yacht charter destinations in the world. He had first sailed there in his late teens and in the years following those initial piratical adventures he had returned several times for more loot, plundering Spanish galleons and making himself wealthy. Drake was preoccupied with his latest objective: seizing the treasure aboard a galleon undergoing repairs in the Spanish stronghold at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
But in 1595 Drake had fallen out of favor with Queen Elizabeth. Several failed expeditions against the Spanish had seen to that. In his mid-fifties, Drake badly needed a victory. He had to capture the Spanish galleon at San Juan.
Soon Virgin Gorda came abeam. Ahead was North Sound, at the north end of the island, which today is home to the world-famous Bitter End Yacht Club and many other resorts. Guiding the warships through the channel into the picturesque bay would be challenging, but ultimately the fleet gathered inside and anchored “in a sounde in the Virgines northe northeast from Santa Cruse.” The anchorage was well protected and exquisitely beautiful. The fleet stayed for only one night while Drake and his co-commander planned the attack on San Juan…”
The first half of the journey went to plan – except for the Philosopher marking each nautical mile with a sick bag. I sent her below to sleep. She emerged from time to time over the next two days but over excitement drew her back to her bed on each occasion. Not to worry. The old Bentley and I were a good team. She did not react quickly to extremes of weather – and frankly, I didn’t react quickly to..well… anything.
The first day drew to a close – the wind dying to 3/5kts and the distant lights of the amazing Saba Island to help guide the helm.
Saba Island looks so small it could be mistaken for a container ship at night with a small necklace of lights strung along the top and down one side. It seemed like hours went by as we sailed towards Saba – actually it was hours at our grand speed of 3/4 kts. As the sea became pitch black and the sky littered with stars I wondered if my plan to cross the notorious Anagada Passage while it was calm would become a reality. I had been careful not to use words like notorious the day, before when I briefed the crew. Dawn broke at about 0700 and there was Saba, looming out of the sea, a truly formidable rocky remnant of an ancient volcano. But not as formidable as the people who colonised it. They said no one could inhabit it – so some early white and black settlers proved them wrong by building two settlements. The lower one can be reach by a flight of stone steps from the rocky bay where it is virtually impossible to land a boat – virtually – but they did it. They said the two settlements could not be joined by a road – so a local man took a correspondence course on road building and started to build one – after 21 years of hard labour the road was completed. They said that you couldn’t build an airstrip – so again the locals built one by hand and a mad French pilot landed on it to prove it could be done – the airstrip starts and ends on a cliff edge.
Eventually Saba became owned by the Dutch West Indies Company and today it’s claim to fame is that at 887 metres (2,910 ft) its the highest point of the entire Netherlands. As we sailed passed I saluted out of respect for such a magnificent symbol of human spirit.
…more next time….