One of the most often repeated comments on Oh! is how wonderful the gentle rocking motion of the sea is as one drifts off to sleep…or more frequently, as one slowly awakens after a particularly long and deep sleep. Today was one of those latter sensations. I awoke to the tingling of tiny rain drops on my stomach that were falling through the overhead hatch above me. A gentle and refreshing way to begin the day. Combined with the soft cool air descending through the open hatch, I could tell it was a cloudy morning with very little wind and the gentle rocking implied calm seas. It was a perfect morning to treat myself to something I rarely do… simply relax and read a book while taking in the tranquility and beauty around me. It was special in so many ways.
Overhead the skies were an infinite variety of grey and silver as the sun highlighted the varying density of the clouds. The dark grey undersides revealed the location of towering cumulus clouds slowly collecting moisture that would no doubt at some point fall in a torrent of rain. The light misty rain that woke me was unusual, it was likely the mist falling at the edge of a nearby passing squall. The more common experience is for that mist to be quickly followed by a short but very heavy downpour. Those really heavy rains are a welcome power wash for Oh!. Breakfast was two hours of peaceful seclusion while anchored 150 meters off a deserted beach. There was no one in sight, just the comfort of a warm gentle breeze that was as Mary Poppins would say, “practically perfect in every way”.
Not long ago Happy Bay Beach had a resort behind it. However, it was destroyed by a hurricane and has not been rebuilt. Ironically, the buildings are not along the beach, but built along a hillside overlooking a tidal pool that sits between the beach and the resort. So…unlike a lot of the heavy damage inflicted elsewhere on St. Martin by storm surge and waves…this damage was caused by wind alone. Homes higher on the hill did not appear to suffer the same amount of damage and many are still occupied or rebuilt and once again look brand new.
The localized heavy destruction at Happy Bay Beach may have been the result of the small tornados that can form in the eye wall of a hurricane. As if force 5 hurricane winds weren’t enough force, the tornados would add the extra dimension of a sudden and massive pressure drop literally causing buildings to blow apart from the air pressure trapped inside them. I don’t know when the resort was destroyed, but the damages were clearly huge. There is still access to the beach by two foot paths leading down from the resort, but it is a fairly long walk into the resort plus the pathways to the beach, so few people make the effort. The beach is therefore only sparsely populated. The jets skis and inflatable tour operators seem to bring the most guests as they bring two to four tour groups per day with 8-20 people per group to enjoy the beach.
Oh! – did I mention how when it rains here it really pours, even hard enough to slow down those jet skis and inflatables that go roaring around. However, St. Martin has suffered tremendously from the hurricane 2 years ago, and it is good to see tourists slowly returning to the island. There is still so much that needs to be rebuilt and repaired and that requires money and jobs for the locals. So even a line of 10 heavy inflatables producing a lot of wake is something to celebrate. Every bit helps.
The result is that Happy Bay Beach is essentially deserted early in the morning and late in the afternoon. The tranquility is only disturbed when the inflatable tour groups arrive beginning around 10:30 am and make their 1/2 hour stops to allow the riders to enjoy some time on the beach to play in the surf or swim in the warm waters. After 4 pm there is only a few remaining sun bathers soaking up the last rays of sunshine before the bay once again becomes exclusive to Oh!.
I am slowly working my way through a book by Sandra Clayton titled, “A Thousand Miles From Anywhere”. It is a fascinating read for me because it chronicles Sandra and David’s experiences while making an Atlantic Passage from the Madeira Islands to Antigua in December of 1999. Essentially the same passage Oh! made exactly one year ago in 2018 and another passage I did in 2008. Her experiences and descriptions of the places they visited bring back vivid memories of Oh!’s journey through the Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands. However, there is a major difference, she also chronicles the mishaps and challenges of other yachts that were making the passage at the same time as they were. Sandra and David learned about the other yachts only by listening in on the SSB broadcast each morning called the “Big Fish Net”. Their boat was a 40 ft catamaran named “Voyageur” that was almost identical in size to Oh!. So I can relate to so many of her descriptions and experiences during the passage; yet on another level, they were in a very different world. The reason is new technology Oh! has, and older yet still valuable technology that Voyageur had and Oh! does not have.
- Voyageur had an SSB receive only radio – Oh! does not have any SSB radio
- Voyageur had to use a land based weather router to give them a weather forecast over SSB once per day, Oh! has satellite based PredictWind that allows me to get 5 detailed weather models whenever I need it.
- Voyageur had access to the SSB cruisers net called Big Fish Net that allowed them to listen in on the experiences of other vessels, despite never having actually met any of those yachts. Oh! has no such capability and can only communicate with other yachts who I have already met and with whom we had exchanged Iridium Go contact information.
- Oh! has full 2 way voice, text, and email capability for instant communication via Iridium Go satellite, or for short ranges of up to 15-20 miles Oh! has a VHF; Voyageur only had VHF. Even their SSB was receive only.
To summarize, one little box ( the Iridium Go!) that is smaller than a pound of butter and attached to a satellite antenna changed so much; and the lack of an SSB on Oh! doesn’t go unnoticed either – it is the open link to other yachts. I now wonder how many yachts crossing the Atlantic at the same time I did, may have had completely different voyages than Oh! experienced. In that sense, maybe ignorance was bliss.
It is fascinating to read how these few differences in the ability to communicate at sea and Voyageur’s inability to get first hand weather information impacted their daily lives and experiences while crossing a vast expanse of ocean. Their experiences were very different to the three trans-Atlantic crossings and numerous shorter ocean passages I have completed. Yet my experiences are only 8-18 years apart from theirs and at exactly the same time of year, over the same seas. It is amazing how technology has evolved and changed ocean passages on small yachts. A lot of that impact is detailed in my article about my own solo trans-Atlantic passage. Here is a link to it.
In the book Sandra documents the mishaps and issues multiple yachts were dealing with at the time of their crossing. There were several torn sails due to squalls, a dismasting, engine issues and a yacht so disabled that it needed to be towed the hundreds of miles to complete its trans-Atlantic crossing. Plus there were numerous problems with trying to interpret weather forecasts via static SSB communications and an on going struggle to find wind while relying on a land based weather forecasters daily briefing. Ocean voyaging is very different today, but there is a cost. SSB is free once installed, but that will cost about $6000 USD to install. In contrast, Iridium GO! is only $1350USD, but you need a satellite feed that runs about $1800 per year, plus a $250 PredictWind annual subscription. For my money the only choice is IridiumGo! Plus it is portable and you can take it hiking, motorcycling, cycling or even in your life raft if you ever need to. You can’t do that with the SSB – it’s fixed to your boat and when you really need it (like when you have to take to your life raft), it is probably making its way to several thousand feet below you in saltwater.
By the time Sandra and David arrived in Antigua after their 2255 nmi. voyage, they were ready for a warm Caribbean welcome and some rest. Unfortunately they get a Colonial British welcome that I have seen and experienced multiple times in the former British islands. I guess that part of an Atlantic crossing that arrives in Antigua has not changed.
Sandra has a very witty and engaging writing style and her book is well worth reading for anyone interested in cruising by sailboat. She has two other books in her series that I will look forward to reading as well.
Dolphins Under My Bed and,
Turtles In My Wake.
Just after lunch the familiar tone of a What’s App message rang. It was Farley from Outdoor World Yamaha letting me know they had my Yamaha outboard engine up and running again. Yahoo! My prompt efforts to clean the carb, cylinder and contaminated oil out after it had been swamped and sent for a most unfortunate head down swim in the ocean had paid off. All they needed to do was put in a new spark plug, clean and service an electrical component and do another more thorough flush of the oil system – and it runs! Great news and wonderful way to start a New Year.
To celebrate I took the paddle board out to get some exercise and along the way spotted a giant yellow and orange Iguana sunning itself in the trees along the shore. The late afternoon sun made it appear to glow and it could easily be seen sunning itself in the tree from the far end of the beach. I had never seen one that colour before, it was so brilliant. It was probably about 1.5 meters long from head to tip of its tail and completely indifferent to me as I approached for a picture. Iguanas are really fascinating, just watch out for their tails – they will whack you with it as if it were a whip!
Now- back to that book.
Cheers, from Oh!