It is midnight and the start of another day…just, really dark outside. Do you ever wonder why a day starts at midnight? I am sure there is some scientific reason, but somehow it escapes my still slowly energizing neurones. Anyway, it is a new day at least according to our calendar. But today is special as we should make landfall in St. Martin after our 1031 nmi. passage from Bermuda. After 7 days at sea the energy level and building excitement of making landfall is noticeable and welcome.
Our path has not been a straight line, it has the distinctive sharp changes in course that mark tacking points and days spent working to windward. I do not slavishly follow rhumb lines, or tracks to a distant waypoint that is set at our destination. Instead, I try hard to plot my course with respect to the winds and wave conditions that will give Oh! a safe and comfortable passage. As the photo below shows, that may require some abrupt changes in course, or a gradual bend to allow us to stay in moderate seas and favourable winds. Based on those parameters, by any measure our passage has been very successful.
We left Bermuda on the heals of a rapidly moving cold front that had us bouncing in the 2 ft chop at our anchorage. The simple procedure of docking at the customs long and open dock took several attempts due to the strong winds and intermittent heavy rain. However, within an hour the worst of the front had passed and we emerged from the customs office to find clearing skies and decreasing winds. All that remained to be done was to store our clearance and boat documents away on Oh!, then make a quick trip back to the customs agent with a chocolate bar wrapped in a red ribbon to wish her a Merry Christmas. Five minutes later Oh!’s engines were purring as we set out with a warm sun peeking through the clouds – a wonderful way to say goodbye to Bermuda.
Over the next 6 days the weather we encountered was almost identical to the Predict Wind forecasts we use…no surprises. There were several daylight learning opportunities for Oh!’s crew to gain experience on how to use the radar to follow approaching squalls and implement sail changes as required.
Three times we reduced sail and then watched from the comfort of the well protected helm as the winds accelerated and rains gave us a welcome boat wash. The same skills were used toward the end of the voyage to determine if approaching squalls at night posed any threat. Thankfully they did not and simply became great opportunities to refine new skills and apply them in real time.
As the days at sea passed and blended together the interaction of the sea and sky provided an endless variety of stunning vistas, sunrises and sunsets. The dynamic nature of the ever evolving view out the cabin windows or from the decks as each hour passed was a visual delight. An artist who paints seascapes and clouds would have seen a lifetime of material from which his work could be inspired.
It was wonderful passage that had the added bonus of the slowly rising warmth of the air and sea increasing with each passing day. One by one the layers of warm clothing and thick blankets that were so vital to stay warm in the Chesapeake Bay and during the passage to Bermuda, were packed away. Eventually, even the nights and winds from the squalls no longer felt cool. There was that warm penetrating heat that feels so good. Not a searing and scorching heat from the sun – it was more like the feeling you get when your favourite blanket is removed from a hot dryer and wrapped around you; a cuddling and comfortable warmth that was so welcome. It was a warmth I was truly wondering if I would ever experience again when the temperatures dipped below freezing point during November in the Chesapeake Bay.
Oh! has returned to the tropics and it feels great!
As I have experienced with many passages, the constant stresses and motion on Oh!, as well as the impact of waves and winds cause wear and tear. We experienced that one morning when it appeared the paddle boards had somehow worked themselves lose. They are stored on the deck of the port bow and are securely tied down with multiple lines. So it seemed strange to look at them waving and hopping into the air with each motion of the bow rising and falling in the seas. Closer inspection revealed it wasn’t the paddle board lines that had come lose, it was the trampoline. Sometime during the night one of the waves must have been strong enough to cause the corner tie down to fail and slowly the trampoline was unraveled from the cross beam and along the inside of the port hull. Fortunately, each corner of the trampoline had individual ties that would prevent it from completely untying itself. However, my challenge was to re-tie it before it could be damaged further. Also, we needed it re-tied if for some reason I needed to get to the roller fuller gear at the base of the Genoa. As it turned out, it was a relatively simple task – just very slow and lively as the waves doused me with warm salty water with each dip of the bows into a wave.
Lesson learned: even with independent corner ties, make sure the lacing lines around the sides of the trampoline are tied off every meter. That way an entire side cannot simply unravel if a line breaks. Another little detail – another lesson learned and another way to keep improving Oh!.
Then it was time for a warm fresh water shower at the port sugar scoop to wash off the dripping remains of the saltwater power wash I had received. That warm shower felt really great.
We arrived in Marigot Bay at 4 pm December 23 following a spectacular beam reach final day of sailing. The arrival was a perfect ending to another fun and rewarding passage. We even managed to get to Island Water World with just enough time to clear in. St. Martin on the French side is in this sailors opinion the best place to arrive in the Leeward Islands. The process is simple, fast and at just 2 euros it puts every other destination in the Caribbean to shame with how complex and expensive their clear in procedures and taxes are.
So… back to the part about Christmas – I wish everyone a warm and wonderful Christmas Holiday wherever you may be; and may you be looking forward with joy and excitement to what the New Year may bring for you.
Cheer’s from Oh! in St. Martin