Far from the maddening crowds yet just next door, maybe that is a good description of Friars Bay. I have always found it interesting how boaters seem to prefer crowded anchorages than being on their own. Somehow there must be a comfort in being where there are others. Maybe it is a default sense of security that the collective wisdom of a group of boats in a crowded anchorage conveys. A sense that it is some how safer or preferable to being where the crowds are verses alone, or with just one other boat sharing an entire bay. With the absence of others comes doubts and questions. Why is there no one here? What hidden dangers am I missing?
Certainly in areas where crime or piracy is an issue there can be safety in numbers. However, for most of the Lessor Antilles Islands in the Caribbean, those types of safety concerns are not really an issue. Also, for socializing it is always fun to be around other cruisers. However, when winds pipe up, anchored yachts can suddenly become dynamic in short order. The last thing I look for in high winds is a crowded anchorage. That is exactly the conditions we have had around St. Martin for the past 4 days and expect for the next six days. Winds gusting to as high as 40 kts accompanied with swell bending around headlands and into bays will make them rolly. Add to the above conditions the large wake from numerous large power boats plowing through the crowded anchorage at Marigot Bay and will simply be “nasty, rough, uncomfortable and simply fraught with risk”.
Fortunately, Oh! had spent the prior 6 days at a Happy Beach Bay and experienced an incredible bay – that no one stayed in. In settled conditions Happy Beach Bay is safe, and offers a great place to get away from the noise and crowds of Marigot Bay, or Grand Case.
However, for the kind of winds forecast over the next 5 days it was not a good choice and Oh! had to move. With the strong easterlies all the anchorages on the windward side of St. Martin were way outside my comfort range. Marigot Bay although could offer some protection if you could get well into the bay between the Fort St. Louis Marina and the town docks, but there would be dozens of yachts in close quarters trying to get into that area. Plus, if for whatever reason a yacht started to drag, there would be precious little time for any boats in the way to react. Added to that there is not much better protection from the strong winds even close in and it is even worse further back in the “pack”. So in these conditions Marigot Bay was well outside my risk comfort zone as well. Plus, it is noisy and not very…”scenic”.
So what to do? Below were my criteria for a safe anchorage to sit out the week long big blow.
- Reasonable protection from the winds the strong easterlies
- Protection from the swell
- Good holding in a sand bottom
- Few if any other boats
- Plenty of downwind room to safely drag if your anchor does let go.
- Somewhere that is pleasant to hunker down for a few days or a week where it is quiet and scenic even if the winds pipe up.
Sounds like I am asking for a lot. Surely if a bay that filled all of the above conditions existed it would most certainly be full of other boats right? Well, apparently not, Friar’s Bay fit every desired criteria.
Friars Bay is halfway between Marigot bay and Grand Case. It is actually directly south of Happy Beach Bay and about 3 times bigger…but boats rarely anchor there overnight. For Oh! it was a wish come true. For three days we were snug in the bay enjoying it as we watched dozens of boats go past enroute to Marigot, or Grand Case where it must be safer, just look at all the boats in those anchorages.
An added bonus was that we could go day out for short day sails and come back to our anchorage and “our spot” was still available…as well as any other spot in the bay for that matter.
Meanwhile, Oh! had calmer waters, great holding in just 3-4 meters of water, no noise, and most important, no immediate danger if Oh! dragged. The danger to Oh! of any neighbouring boats dragging was zero, since there were none. No headlands behind us, no other boats to impact, just 5 miles of shallow seas to drag the anchor across. Set and anchor alarm and enjoy a good nights sleep. Now… to me that is a safe anchorage in a big blow. Yes we had exposure to slightly higher winds, but all of the other risks and inconveniences where dramatically reduced or eliminated. The bigger question to me was why did one of the boats that passed Friars Bay go on to crowded anchorage with far more cumulative risks to weather the strong winds and choppy conditions? I can only assume it came down to 2 things:
- Comfort in being with the group of other yachts.
- The description of Friars Bay in the cruising guide was very short. Reading it I can understand how the bays positive characteristics might be easily over looked. The description suggested it can be exposed in N or NE swell and westerly or northerly winds. But the forecasts pretty much ruled those out.
Certainly a bay with only one yacht anchored in it, in what appeared to be high winds and a prolonged high wind forecast must not be safe. Better to follow the crowds.
We really enjoyed our stay in Friars Bay. There is a beautiful beach,with two quiet beach bars and some trails over the connecting headland to Happy Beach Bay. There’s a sailing sailing school and just enough activity during the day to make it interesting. We could easily swim ashore to do some beach yoga, or go for a late afternoon stroll along the beach. Then as the sun would sink low and the bay and beach empty… Oh! enjoyed a safe, quiet, exclusive anchorage to witness another spectacular sunset and a retire to a sound sleep. All while the wind was singing in the rigging, sometimes at a high pitch.
Friars Bay turned out to be ” practically perfect in every way”.