Scroll down for a full gallery of photos from the first half of Leg 2.
Superbowl Sunday! In the French West Indies, nobody cares! And neither do I! I’m writing from a small waterfront cafe in St. Barth’s, enjoying a delightful cappuccino and having just finished a buttery croissant. We’re midway through the second passage of 2016, bound this afternoon for Antigua. All but one of the six crew from Isbjorn is ashore now, walking off our mild hangovers from Le Select last night (otherwise known as Cheeseburger in Paradise, where legend has it Buffett wrote the song).
Greg is on a mission to the airport to try and retrieve his bags that the airline lost on his way to St Thomas. He’s been in the same t-shirt and pair of board shorts he bought at the tourist shop in Road Town ever since we left. Note to Mia and I to remind future crew members not to check any bags!
Contrary to the first leg bound for Grenada, this leg, improvised at the last minute to salvage a neat trip for the crew, got off to an awesome start and has been going splendidly. Greg, Ryan (from Leg 1), Andy (an old friend from high school) and Mike rounded out our crew, and Clint is still here as mate (otherwise known as the ‘Wanker on the Anchor’). We’re six dudes now, and missing the charming female influence of Cissi…my ukulele playing is missing her accompaniment!
We left Road Town the other night just after dark, after a healthy portion of Ryan’s famous lentil soup. I normally don’t like leaving in the dark after a long day of boat work, but the forecast was so good - and so odd - that we had to make a run for it. A small low pressure system was working it’s way east, and all day Friday waiting for Greg to arrive from the Ferry, the wind was blowing from the north over the BVI, almost northwest.
‘You could almost fly a kite across Sombrero Passage!’ said my friend Ted, who lives on his boat at Nanny Cay.
The forecast called for the northerly winds to diminish by midnight, followed by a period of flat calm as the center of the low moved overhead, then an abrupt wind shift to the south as the low moved off to the west. Normally low pressure is associated with bad weather, but in this case it was really just an anomaly in the Trade Winds. We sailed off the anchor in Road Town under a blanket of stars in a gentle northerly, swapping out the small genoa for the big one at the last minute by the light of the foredeck light. I admit to being a bit gun shy after out beating towards Grenada last time out, so was hesitant to put the big headsail back up, but it turned out to be the right call.
After clearing the Road Town channel we passed by an anchored three-masted tall ship, her sails furled on the yards and her spars lit up by soft yellow spotlights making for a magical sight as we ghosted by in the lee of Tortola. Once into Sir Francis Drake channel we were able to lay Rock Island Passage - the same passage we entered after the breakdowns of Leg 1 - and pointed the bow towards Ile Fourche. It was 9pm when we cleared Ginger Island Light and were back in the ocean.
And what a difference from Leg 1! The northerly slowly petered out as the night went along, but Isbjorn’s big, powerful rig let us ghost along at 4-5 knots in only 6 knots of breeze, close-reaching. We wrote in the log that for the first time since departing the Chesapeake, Isbjorn had her full suit of sails flying, with the large genoa pulling us into the night. The northerly had blown all of the humidity out of the air, so the night sky was crystal clear. We enjoyed the best star gazing of the trip so far under a new moon. And dammit we deserved it after all that hard work to put the boat back together!
In hindsight, I’m thankful for the misfortune we had on Leg 1. I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished in such short order to put the boat back together again. She’s now in better shape than ever with the new furler and new mainsail on the way, and the confidence boost I got from the work we put in has given me a new attitude about the business in general. Only a week ago I was ready to sell the boat and buy back Arcturus and just go invisible, quit this ocean sailing thing for good. I’m back on top now and think I needed that little blow to give myself some perspective. Clint made a post on Facebook right before we departed the BVI, which made me really proud:
‘After a emotional yet educational first leg, we are ready for round two. A very persistent and we'll connected captain has gotten everything ship-shape and ready to go. Leaving from Tortola tonight and HEADING TOWARDS Antigua.’
I had my confidence back and was excited to go offshore again.
On my watch with Greg from 0000-0300, the wind finally shut down. We rolled the genoa and fired up the diesel to motorsail on through the night. This was fine with Clint, who falls asleep to the purr of the engine, bringing back memories of his Atlantic crossing with us on Arcturus.
The calm lasted about six hours, and by Ryan’s watch at 0600 we were sailing again, but this time on the opposite tack. The wind was south, almost southwest after the passage of the little low, and we were actually reaching towards the Leeward Islands, and on port tack! For those used to Trade Wind sailing down in these parts, this is practically unheard of, and statistically impossible according to the pilot charts. We enjoyed the anomaly.
Around lunchtime, after passing north of Saba and getting a glimpse all the way down to St. Kitts in the clear air, Ile Fourth rose up over the horizon. Normally the picturesque little cove inside the horseshoe of the Martian landscape ashore is protected from the Trades, but now it was almost open to the south wind. We sailed in close to shore to get the lay of the land, then tacked back to sea again to prepare to attempt to sail onto the mooring ball to the south of the cove and upwind of another small steel French boat, our only company that day.
On the final approach, we rolled the genoa and came in slowly under the mainsail. Andy feathered the mainsheet for me to scrub some speed, Ryan, Greg and Mike were on the bow with mooring lines and a boathook and Clint was taking photos of the whole process. We made a textbook landing onto the mooring, rounding up into the wind and slacking the mainsheet, carrying our momentum just enough to stop the bow on top of the mooring ball giving the guys on the foredeck an easy opportunity to secure the lines. It’s the first time I’d attempted the feat on Isbjorn.
We tidied up the boat and immediately the rest of the crew jumped overboard for a swim. After lunch, everyone passed out, Mike and Greg sleeping until well after dark, not having had much rest during the overnight passage just cause they were so excited to be there!
We’d planned a sunrise hike up to the peak of Ile Fourche for the next morning, and 5 o’clock came early. We piled six guys into the four-man dinghy and went ashore with our headlamps lighting the way, climbing the nearest peak under the faint glow of a tiny sliver of moon. Huge thunderheads well offshore lit up the pre-dawn sky with lightning high in the clouds, and as the sun came up, isolated rain showers out in the Atlantic dotted the horizon. We remained atop that first peak until sunrise, each of us taking in the beauty of the place individually before climbing down again and summiting the peak to the south to get some cool photos of Isbjorn in the anchorage below.
Yesterday afternoon we sailed across the short channel into Gustavia, named for the Swedish King Gustav. St. Barth’s is the only Caribbean island ever to have belonged to the Swedes, and the street names and place names still reflect that heritage. Today it’s decidedly French, and oozes culture around every corner.
‘Just leave me here guys,’ Ryan said this morning, sipping on his espresso and nibbling a croissant. ‘I think I’ll stay for a few weeks.’
Though only 90 miles from the BVI, it couldn’t be further from the mass-tourism culture of those islands, and after three weeks over there, it’s a fantastic change of scenery for us all.
This afternoon we’ll set sail again, bound for the north shore of Antigua. It’s 75 miles in a straight shot, but the easterly Trades have set in again, so it’ll be an almost dead beat to windward to get there, so we’re estimating we’ll actually cover about 120 miles through the water tacking upwind. We hope to arrive by tomorrow afternoon in time to clear customs and get Ryan to the airport on the morning of the 9th. Greg, Mike and Andy stay until the 11th, so we’ll cruise down around the coast of Antigua with them and end up in Falmouth Harbor where Clint and I will spend the next days getting Isbjorn ready for the Caribbean 600 race. Check out the photos below!