Båten först: The Boat Comes First

0900, Sunday morning January 24. Day 1 of our first charter of the year on Isbjorn and we’re moored in Waterlemon Bay off the north coast of St. John’s in the USVI. 

Clint and I flew down to St. Thomas and joined the boat on the 21st, just three days ago now (though it seems like much more). My dad had been here for the three weeks prior, cruising with some friends while Mia and I went to Toronto to speak at the Boat Show there. 

Our first crew arrived the same day we did, with Todd from Chicago turning up just in time for some happy hour snacks. He joined us for dinner at Tickle’s Pub in Crown Bay Marina, where we met the boat, then retired to a hotel in Lindbergh Bay for the night. Cicci, a friend of Mia’s from Sweden, arrived late that evening and joined Clint and I onboard the boat. Daniel showed up the next morning.

I sent Clint and Cicci to the big Pueblo grocery store down the street from Crown Bay to do the major provisioning while I did all sorts of myriad little projects before departure, the most important of which was a nice new haircut! It’s too warm in the Caribbean for shaggy hair, so I’m sporting the military look now!

Anyway, the real story I wanted to get to started when we finally left the dock. My goal was to just get out of Crown Bay before dark that day and go around the corner to anchor off Water Island. Technically the trip wasn’t supposed to start until the 23rd, but both Todd and Daniel we’re planning to arrive on the 22nd, so I offered that they could stay with us on the boat. We did make it out of the marina around 1600, but instead of going to Water Island I got tempted to sail out to Saba Island, dubbed ‘Isbjorn Island’ by Mia and I, since we’d been there a few times before and were always the only boat. Turns out there may have been a reason for that!

We anchored just before dark in 25’, but there was a huge swell curling around the corner from the northeast. What before was a peaceful, if not slightly rolly ‘nice spot,’ was now nearly untenable. The boat was safe, but huge breakers crashed onto the beach ashore. Only a few weeks ago Mia and I swam to that very beach in flat calm water. It was exceptionally rolly, and that evening none of us could get to sleep.

Finally, after waking up probably 8 times during the night to check on the boat, at 0415 I decided to bail. Clint was up too, so we roused the crew, hauled up the anchor and retreated over to Brewer’s Bay behind the airport just in time to get back to bed before the sun came up. We should have gone there in the first place. ‘Isbjorn Island’ was none too happy with our visit this time around - it was easily the most uncomfortable anchorage I’d ever been to.

Yesterday, after getting a few more hours of much-needed sleep, we briefed the crew on the basics of sailing Isbjorn, careful to go over winch safety as the loads on our Swan 48 are enormous. We hauled anchor again and prepared for a long, rough, wet slog to windward towards Soper’s Hole in the BVI, where we were to meet Ryan, our 4th crewmember. The guys did great, taking turns at the helm bashing to windward in 20 knots, spray flying over the dodger and Isbjorn crashing along at 6-7 knots. We had the small jib up and tucked one reef into the main as soon as we cleared the runway in Brewer’s Bay. The trade wind, thanks in part to ‘snowpacalyspe’ back home, is far in the southeast, almost south, so once we cleared St. Thomas we made it on one tack all the way through Current Rock behind Christmas Cove and on up to Thatch Island, where we tacked three times and sailed into Soper’s Hole, again just before dark around 1700.

There was not a mooring in sight. I should have known better, being the end of the day on a Saturday in high season down here. After circling the harbor several times, we finally found a somewhat suitable place to anchor among the anchored boats further out in the harbor, but it was 70-feet deep! Yikes! 

To make a long story short, sure enough, after dinner, just as I was explaining why I was so stressed and going to be unable to sleep yet again thanks to the gusty wind blowing down off the hills, the anchor broke loose and off we dragged. With some quick reactions by the crew we managed to bring up the big 88-pound Rocna safely. But now it was dark, and there were still no good places to go.

Finally I let my gut make the decision and we bailed on Soper’s Hole altogether. Since it was after 1800 by the time we initially got anchored, customs was closed, so we never actually cleared in. So last night around 10pm, after three more failed attempts at finding a safe place to anchor amongst the crowd, we pointed the bow southwest and ran down to Waterlemon Bay on St. John’s and found several mooring balls open and available in a very quiet little spot. Knowing the boat was finally safe, I knew I’d sleep well. We turned in around midnight and all of us slept instantly. 

The moral of this story is that the boat always has to come first. Mia and I realized this a long time ago, and first coined the Swedish term Båten först while sailing Arcturus across the North Sea to Sweden. I know this of course, but it’s not always the easiest decision to make, especially when you’re tired. I should have left ‘Isbjorn Island’ the minute we dropped anchor. But it was dark and we were tired, and I paid for that decision by not getting any sleep that night and finally moving the boat after all at four o’clock in the morning. 

Last night in Soper’s Hole was another ill-advised attempt at taking convenience over comfort. Ryan is meeting us in a few hours at Soper’s Hole and it would have been so much easier to wake up in the place we’d meet him. But anchoring amongst a crowd of boat’s in 70-feet was probably never going to work, and we should have had a Plan B in the first place.

Anyway, here we are, safe and happy, a good little lesson for all of the crew before we head offshore. Take care of the boat and the boat will take care of you.

Be sure to follow our progress south via the YB Tracker on 59-north.com/tracking.