Thursday, June 4, 2015


We had a really nice going away/late Christmas party dinner at Sapphire Bar & Grill with our friends from Aqua Action Dive Center Sunday evening, June 1st.  We were lucky to have worked with and become like family with such a wonderful group of people.  I hope they can come visit us some time and go sailing on Salt Whistle with us!  We will miss them!  Thank you for everything Sam & Diane, Jim, Lisa, Sue & Randy, Rick & Deb, Bill & Summer, & Malakai!  We hope to see you again!

We said goodbye to St. Thomas on Tuesday, June 2nd and headed over to Great Cruz Bay, St. John to meet our friends Cassie & Jason for dinner.  It was nice to get to see them one last time before heading out.  We all worked together at Cruz Bay Watersports in St. John, and still kept in touch after we moved across the pond to St. Thomas.  They are divers and sailors with adventurous spirits, so chances are good we will see them again! 

Our plan was to head to the BVI (British Virgin Islands) the next morning, and check in at Gun Creek, Virgin Gorda.  There we would wait for our weather window to sail to St. Martin.  

We woke up bright and early, and were motoring out of Great Cruz Bay by 6:30am on Wednesday, June 3rd.  Skeeter did not sleep well at all, since it had rained that night and water was dripping on him all night long.  It was a beautiful morning, though, and without the rain there wouldn't have been a gorgeous rainbow.  

Great way to start the day!  Double rainbow!!

The seas were very calm, and even motoring directly into the wind was comfortable.  Having this kind of sea conditions is rare, and not to be taken for granted.

Bye-bye St. Thomas & St. John

As we were approaching Ram Head on the southeast corner of St. Thomas, a crazy idea occurred to us.  Maybe we should just keep going?!  Why bother going northeast to Virgin Gorda, dealing with the expensive customs/immigration fees, and possibly having to wait a long long time for our next weather window?  We had already spent time in the BVI, both working and visiting.  The seas were extremely calm and supposed to pick up the next day.  This WAS our weather window!  

Ram Head, St. John, USVI

Did we have enough fuel?  We did a conservative calculation of how much fuel we would need to make it to St. Martin, and realized we should have more than enough.  As we motored along the south shores of the British Virgin Islands we contemplated whether or not it was crazy to just go for it.  By the time we were south of Ginger Island, our decision was made.  We were gonna do it!  Skeeter was still barely in range of the AT&T towers, so we decided to send a quick email out to the family with our float plan so someone knew where we were in the unlikely chance that we had an emergency out at sea.

Leaving the Virgin Islands
We're going for it!  Heading out to open ocean...

We were towing our dinghy behind us and decided not to raise it onto the deck - it was calm enough.  That is a decision that in retrospect, we regret.  It just seemed like too much of a hassle at the time.  We initially calculated that we would have to motor through the night to get there, so we decided to take turns at the helm so the other could rest.  We did hourly shifts.  Prior to our shift we did space checks and entries into the logbook.  We checked the bilge, the engine, and the propeller shaft.  We also checked on Momo if he was down below, and made sure that nothing had fallen.  In our logbook we recorded the time, our GPS coordinates, our compass heading, RPM, speed, & sea/weather conditions.  Seas were as calm as 1 foot, and we never saw any waves bigger than 4 feet.  
Skeeter just finished his space checks & log book entry

When we were just over a third of the way, about 7 hours into our voyage, our engine starting choking and finally died.  Skeeter was at the helm, and I had fallen asleep.  I suddenly awoke to the sound of the engine dying and Skeeter saying, "Oh shit!"  We were dead in the water, almost completely out of sight of land.  Skeeter went down below to troubleshoot the problem, and I stayed on deck, trying to make sure the dinghy line didn't get wrapped under the keel or in the propeller.  Skeeter came back up, reporting that our fuel was bad.  The fuel filter was clogged with all kinds of particles.  Although we had enough fuel, we didn't account for the motion of the ocean stirring up the decades of crap that had settled to the bottom of our fuel tank. 

We were lucky to have such calm seas, because without an engine we were turning beam to the swell (sideways to the waves), getting tossed from side to side.  Thank goodness the waves were only about 3 foot tall!  Skeeter went down below and changed the fuel filter.  Luckily we have a dozen spare fuel filters.  Then he switched us over to the starboard tank.  Luckily we have 2 fuel tanks.  The starboard fuel tank was spotless, since the previous owners didn't ever use it.  We crossed our fingers and tried to start the engine again.  RPM's dropped once again, and the engine kept dying.  Skeeter figured out that we had air in the system and he bled the air out.  We hoped and prayed that there was enough fuel in the starboard tank to get us to St. Martin.  We didn't want to use the contaminated fuel and have to be dead in the water to change fuel filters every hour.    

Things seemed to be going pretty well for the next couple of hours.  We were completely out of sight of land by now.  We had some boobies (sea birds) following along with us, playing in the air current our boat was making and diving down into the water to catch fish.  There were massive floating islands of sarragassum sea weed, and we contemplated what sea creatures were living below them.  Baby sea turtles?  Dorado?  We were careful to navigate around the seaweed, though, since we didn't want to chance fouling our propeller. 

A huge floating island of Saragassum seaweed

At first Momo was reluctant to come outside, but once he realized he was safe in the cockpit, he relaxed.  We put his harness on him to help him feel safer, and when he started getting too comfortable (trying to go exploring outside of the cockpit) we put his leash on him too.  We decided against his life jacket, since he still isn't used to it.  He gets too stressed, and we wouldn't want to chance him freaking out and doing flip flops while underway.

Momo was reluctant to come outside at first, but he needed the fresh air
Momo wedged in the corner, taking a nap in the cockpit

 We navigated by the clouds (a surprisingly reliable method if winds are light), having fun coming up with what our navigational aid resembled: A giant sea horse pulling a sleigh, a witch's face, a dancing bear, a bucking bronco, a turtle, a sleeping cat, etc.  

Navigating toward the bucking bronco cloud

We only saw three other boats when we were in the middle of nowhere - two oil tankers and a cargo ship.  They were massive.  And one of them was on track to cross our path when our engine started misbehaving again.  I did not want to be dead in the water with a oil tanker coming straight for us.  Luckily the engine held out until the tanker passed.  
We were about 45 nautical miles away from St. Martin when we first spotted the Dutch island of Saba.  It is an impressive steep mountain, jutting straight out of the ocean past the clouds.  It was reassuring to see land on the horizon, given our fuel problems.  
We couldn't see St. Martin until just before sunset, about 33 nautical miles out.  It has big mountains, but not as tall as Saba.  We had a beautiful sunset, but the idea of the upcoming darkness was more unnerving than it should have been, since the engine's reliability was questionable.  
The beautiful sunset behind us

Would our engine make it with the fuel we had?  We didn't want to be bobbing around in the middle of nowhere in the dark.  And what if seas increased?  Or what if we were in the path of a big tanker who wasn't paying attention to what was in front of him?  I had heard stories about big ships finding pieces of sailboat attached to their ship days later when arriving at their dock.  We'd be so small compared to them that they wouldn't even notice if they pulverized us!  At least we had sails, so we didn't have to be completely immobile.  

Why, even after we switched tanks and changed the filter was the engine still losing RPM?  Skeeter deduced that the fuel in our starboard tank was kind of old, and our engine was probably struggling to get the compression ratio. Maybe? There also might have been a small air leak from the previous filter change.

After the sun went down it was far from dark.  It was somewhat overcast, so we couldn't see too many stars.  But we had a practically full moon, and it was lighting up the sky nicely, reflecting off of the clouds.  Once it got a bit darker and we were closer to our destination, we were able to navigate by the red lights up on the mountains of St. Martin, which were markers for the incoming airplanes.  Even though we could clearly see St. Martin, we still had a few more hours to go.  We finally pulled into Anse Marcel and dropped our anchor at 11:30 at night.  It was nice to have a detailed GPS map when navigating in the dark.  Depth perception is difficult at night, so navigating by sight at night is not an option.  Plus trying to guess water depth in a place you're not familiar with is simply not a good idea. 

So we made it, safe and sound!  A few scares, but we are here in St. Martin!  Our cruising life has officially begun! 

SUMMARY:  17 hours (630-2330), 110 nautical miles (126 miles), 2200 RPM, 6-7kts

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