The plan was to have a nice relaxing 250+ mile sail from St Martin down to Grenada. No drama. No storms. No issues. A first was we were going to sail from St Martin to St Kitts, a short sail, and then do an overnight passage to St Lucia. The rest of the voyages would then be short day hops from one island to the next down the Caribbean Island chain to Grenada.
Hurricane season started nearly a month ago so we needed to get out of the main danger areas. Grenada has only been hit with a few hurricanes EVER whereas the rest of the Caribbean witnesses much more activity.
Joining us on our journey was our friend, Becky Royal.
We met Becky in Charleston during our year stay, to put our daughter, Sienna, into school. Becky was Sienna’s First Grade teacher. We initially thought we’d have Sienna do a 1/2 year of school and then move on but the connection between Sienna and her teacher was special.
Homeschooling wasn’t going as well as we had hoped and a year in ‘normal’ school with an exceptional teacher made a massive difference. Looking back, it was difficult for us to stay put for a year but on the other hand, it was monumental for our daughters’ development. Furthermore, we gained several friends, including Becky, that we all hold close to our hearts.
Becky sailed with us from Charleston to Bermuda so she knew Britican well. Being a teacher and suffering from a recent bought of pneumonia, Becky was looking for a couple of weeks of rest and recovering.
Things started out restful for all of us but that was short lived.
After spending a weekend with our friends from sailing vessel Pierina and sailing vessel Arrluuk, learning what life on a deserted island was like, Becky arrived. With the help of our friend, Tim (and his big tender), we collected Becky from the airport and brought her to Britican by boat.
In the evening we went out to dinner for one last goodbye with our friends in the town. The kids had their table and the adults had ours. We enjoyed a bit of wine, some frozen Mojitos, and excellent pizza. Interestingly, we met Pierina and Arluuk a year ago and we’ve probably said good-bye to them around five times each!
The cruising life is very fluid. You often say good-bye not knowing when you’ll see friends again. No – it doesn’t get any easier to say farewell. We all just say, ‘see you later.’ That seems to make things a bit more palatable.
While eating dinner never did I think that our upcoming voyage would be challenging.
I felt so calm, safe and as if life was flowing easily. Never did I speculate that we’d be in major winds and take on water. I assumed our voyage south would be similar to the trip north. Watch our video, A Spontaneous Sail To St Martin.
At some point between the weekend with friends and Becky’s arrival, we decided to go to St Bart’s instead of St Kitts. It made more sense to go to St Kitt’s because it would reduce our overnight passage by six or so hours, however, we had never been to St Bart’s.
With so many people recommending the French Island of Saint Barthelemy we thought it would be a shame not to stop in and see it.
As an aside, our lose plan was to island hop back to Grenada taking a couple of weeks to do it. If, however, reports came out with any tropical weather disturbances the plan was to sail non-stop to the bottom of Grenada (and further if necessary). For us, it would take two to three days from St Martin – plenty of time to reach safe waters before a storm could hit.
Cruisers always have a plan A, B, and C (and sometimes more!).
The next morning we weighed anchor, motored to the top of St Martin and sailed across to St Bart’s. It was a quick but bumpy passage. Becky didn’t feel too well but at least the trip was short.
We anchored in the harbor, dropped the dingy and went to land. The plan was to stay one night so Simon booked us in and out at the same time. Not all countries allow you to do that. If you’re only going to stay for one night it’s worth asking if you can do it – booking in and out at the same time will save you a trip to Customs & Immigration.
Our first reaction to St Bart’s was very positive – and that reaction didn’t change. The harbor area is clean, modern and looks like something you’d find in Europe. I felt like I was in Porto Cervo (Sardinia) or a small Marbella (Spain). There were beautiful bars, restaurants, and lovely boutiques.
Unbelievably the contrast between St Martin’s hurricane damage and St Bart’s couldn’t be more pronounced.
St Martin still looks like a bomb went off that leveled the island. St Bart’s looks immaculate with only a few areas with new construction projects.
We all fell in love with the beauty of the harbor. Everything was nice on the eye – the natural and man-made elements. Most of the rooftops are orange and the outside walls are white. The shop windows showcase colorful art, eclectic dresses or fine wines and very expensive jam spread sets.
And there seemed to be two sets of people. The men were the easiest to contrast. There were the very refined guys that wore fancy Italian shoes, white tight trousers, and a long button-down shirt with some sort of designer emblem (rolled up to the elbow). Their hair was a bit long and messy but in an artistically manicured way.
And then there were the guys that looked like they’ve been left in the sun for way too long. Their clothes were sun bleached, skin dry and tough and their hair was in a state of complete bleached disarray.
So there were the wealthy inhabitants and the salty sea dogs.
Of course, there were others too but it was fun to watch these two types of men as you enjoyed a glass of wine in one of the open-air bars or restaurants.
And for us, Christmas came early! Upon our wonderings, we discovered a quiet and tucked away canvas and upholstery garage.
Many people would be excited to visit a church, walk around a museum or stand tall on the top of a cliff all to enjoy the experience of something new.
For cruisers, however, we always have a list of jobs that need to be done and items that need to be purchased.
When we walk around a new place we’re half enjoying the sights and smells of something new AND we’re desperately trying to source ways to fix things on the boat.
Our latest big priority item was our cockpit cushions. We think the canvas is original so that dates them to 2003. They finally became so worn that one of the cushions gained a rip.
As fate would have it, St Bart’s has a well-known upholstery shop, Alcatraz, having the Sumbrella (special outdoor canvas) that we wanted. AND the owner said she could make all our cushion covers within two days. AND then our genset just happen to blow up.
Two days…Ummmm, that means we need to book back into St Bart’s.
In the end, we stayed for three days and left with a new set of beautiful cushions, a repaired genset, and great memories of a very cool island.
Due to our unintended longer stay in St Bart’s, we had to make up some time. We decided to pass St Kitts and sail all the way down to St Lucia, a 260 miles sail, an estimated 40 hours.
As day broke, we pulled up the anchor and headed south. The anchorage in Gustavia Harbor was very rocky. I’m not sure if many people stay very long?! And you have to pay to anchor too! It’s $17 euros to anchor and only $25 euros to go along the town wall (off-season rates). If you ever plan a visit, make sure to go on the wall if you can. You’ll enjoy a better sleep that way.
Our daytime sail was a bit sporty.
The waves were rather big but it was okay. Becky didn’t feel too good but she usually takes around 24 hours to get her sea legs.
For some miraculous reason, I’ve lost my ability to get seasick. For over five years I’ve felt like absolute crap on passages but in January of this past year, something changed. I put it down to realizing that fear is a choice and I’ve decided not to be fearful anymore.
But that’s another story that I’ll have to write to you later.
As the day progressed we all laid about on the new cushions working hard to avoid the sun. I fell asleep along the aft port corner of the cockpit while enjoying an amazing dream.
And then I was doused with 100 gallons of seawater waking with a gargled salt water scream. What a way to wake up! We hit a wave wrong and the water sprayed up along the side of the boat and dumped itself all over me. Considering it was so bumpy I wasn’t going to chance my luck and take a shower down below.
There is something strangely satisfying about living with the combination of salt covered skin while simmering in your own sweat.
I know it sounds disgusting but I suppose it’s a secret badge of honor I feel. There’s a part of me that’s suffering. My body feels gross – especially when my hair is full of salt. But as I cover half of myself in a towel, the half that the Bimini isn’t blocking the sun, and I sweat I smile inside thinking, ‘yeah – I AM a salty sea dog!’
And then I laugh a bit more (inside my head) when I think of all the people that dream of being a cruiser. I think, ‘if they only knew how much it sucks sometimes they’d never ever do it.’
Aside from laying about, the four of us watched movies, read books, played games on our phones and some of us ate some food. Becky lived on pre-made toasted baguette pieces (a popular item sold on French islands). And the rest of us had a bit of cheese and salami. It was certainly a trip where we just had to grab what we could and try our best to eat it without falling out of our seat.
For dinner, Simon took out one of our pre-made frozen meals.
I made a sausage pasta bake a while back. All he had to do was put it in a pan, cover it in cheese and bake it. Having a hot meal for dinner on a long passage makes a world of a difference. It’s warm, comforting and a tiny slice of bliss especially when the conditions are not so great.
By the time it was dark, I was laying on the lower side of the boat cockpit and Simon was sitting above me keeping watch. Becky was down below sleeping in one of her odd positions to help prevent movement as much as possible. I say ‘odd’ because one time I found her on our 2-seater sofa curled up like a greyhound. I thought ‘how can someone curl up so tightly AND fall asleep!’ Hehehehe.
I fell asleep. I don’t know how but I did.
Around 10 pm I heard Simon say, ‘Kim.’ and I thought, ‘Noooooooooooo!’ And then the words that I didn’t want to hear followed, ‘Do you mind taking over. I’m starting to get tired.’
As I tried to force the sleep away from me it dawned on me that we were in quite a major sea state. With the headsail on the second reef (meaning that we had the tiniest amount of headsail out possible) and the mainsail with one reef in we were heeled way over. We were close-hauled or sailing very close to the wind – if we went a degree or two closer we’d be in the no-sail zone. And the waves were hitting us on the beam (side of the boat) – mostly in the side and upper corner.
I then looked at the wind. It was at 45 knots. 45 KNOTS! That’s a bit windy. When I see 30 knots I reef everything and think it’s time to really pay attention. With 45 knots it’s a rather serious amount of wind to keep an eye on. Ideally, we should have put another reef in the main but there’s no way in hell anyone was going on deck in this weather so we live with it…If it gets to be too much we spill wind off the main and that will level us out a bit.
But was the 45 knots a gust?
Nope. We had 43 knots sustained for the whole night. I often comment that sailing in big seas is like being in a washing machine but this was more turbulent. It was like riding a bucking bronco that was on a surfboard heeled over while hearing loud crashing noises (waves hitting the hull) and being doused with salt water every few minutes.
My initial reaction was a familiar program. I almost got scared. But then I reminded myself that fear is a choice. Inside my head, I yelled, ‘I am free.’ The image of Lieutenant Dan at the top of a mast during a hurricane came to mind. Do you remember that scene from the movie Forest Gump?!
And then I had my strawberry moment.
A long time ago I listened to a mediation – I think it’s famous Buddhist meditation. The guru dude walks you through a situation where you get very relaxed and then you fall off a cliff and end up holding onto some roots. You can’t get up and below you are lions or tigers ready to eat you. (Great meditation – isn’t it?!)
And as you are facing imminent death you look over and there are strawberries. You then are instructed to eat them. They end up being the best strawberries you’ve ever had. And then the mediation ends.
When I first listened to this mediation I thought WTF (What The Freak?!). I didn’t get it. I really didn’t get it. But now I do.
As we were being tossed around in the open sea I looked up and had a very long moment of elation. There, in front of me, was Jupiter. She was huge and bright and spectacular. Next to here was my star sign Scorpion and then I saw Saturn and knew that the moon would be rising soon.
The Milky Way was there but Jupiter stole the show.
My world around me was bouncing all over the place but I stopped to eat a strawberry and found peace and calm when I would have never thought it possible. And then I got hit with another 100 gallons of seawater.
After a few hours, I woke Simon. We switched places. He went to the high side and I snuggled into the low side. I was so cold I had Simon get me a blanket and some socks.
It was easy to fall asleep yet hard to stay sleeping. If a wave wasn’t crashing loudly on the hull, the main sheet was banging when big waves reduced its hold. And there was a constant mist of seawater covering the only part of my exposed – my face. With 45 knots of wind, the waves blow sideways.
I slept on and off for a few hours and then around 3 am took over. I watched the sunrise. It would have been romantic if it wasn’t for the sea state. Around five or six I couldn’t stay awake anymore. Simon and I switched again. We were averaging eight to nine knots hitting 10 often so at least we were making progress.
And then we heard the words you never want to hear. Our daughter yelled up from the saloon, ‘Daddy, the bilge is going off.’
I immediately thought, ‘it’s bad conditions…surely a bit of water is coming in.’
And then Simon lifted the floorboards to find a lot of water. I started thinking of the Abandon Ship Procedure I created for our Britican Safety Manual and then told myself not to think ahead. Think about now.
So, we found water in the central part of the boat below the battery bank. Next was to rule out the engine or genset, both of which had been used. In the meantime, we tasted the water – it was salt, not fresh.
I went forward and found water below the forward hallway, noticed a leak in the starboard side window (a leak I knew about) and then found water under the forward cabin floorboards. I also found water under the forward Head sink. My gut instinct was that it was coming in near or around the forward Head (bathroom), a place where you can’t disassemble to get access to the hull structure!
I then went aft to lift floorboards.
No water in our back cabin, a little near the port saltwater intake but not much. The issue was near the Heads. We then started searching all the places where old leaks had been mended – no issues. All our stopcocks or through-hull fittings had been inspected so we didn’t think it was a fitting.
At this point, we couldn’t tell how fast the water was coming in. The bilge was coping and it wasn’t rushing like it doesn’t when an engine blows a hose. (Watch our Troubles In Trinidad to gain a perspective on engine failure).
My best guestimate is that water was coming in through the toe rail – an area where the hull and the top of the boat are sealed together with a piece of wood over it. OR…we have yet another hole in our teak deck.
When Oyster did our teak deck they drilled holes from the teak in through the top of the fiberglass and ceiling of the boat. What’s happened is that now that our teak has worn down, the holes that were originally filled with epoxy resin are opening up. The epoxy is falling out!
The issue we face, however, is that I think the hole might be above the Head…a place where we cannot get full access.
As we carried on Simon used our Shop-Vac to suck out water from all the compartments in the hope of seeing what was filling up first. We kept sailing.
Between the bilge pump and Simon Shop-Vacing we knew that water was coming in but not at a fast rate. We then leveled the boat out and put the engine on. The water started coming in even slower. From Martinique to St Lucia we motored the whole way in an effort to keep the boat level.
Less water was being splashed on the deck and the starboard side tow rail was no longer under the water.
The last three hours felt like three months.
We watched our controls count down the miles and time. Sienna kept saying, ‘how much longer?’ Out of the whole trip, I feel that those last 10 miles were the hardest. To pass the time we thought about what we were going to do once we got to the marina.
Becky wanted a cold Coca-Cola. Sienna wanted ice cream. Simon wanted to sleep and I wanted my glass of white wine. We all needed food but before that, we had to get on land first. We needed to feel some stability.
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