Offshore Sailing in June – Getting Out of the Danger Zone

Boat insurance and hurricane zones are interesting topics among cruising sailors. Irma and Maria’s devastation in the Caribbean last year have created even more buzz. We discussed the cost of policies, coverage of policies, and hurricane season geographic restrictions. Many factors affect marine insurance quotes – value of boat, experience of skipper and crew, cruising area, and location of boat during hurricane season. The carrier we selected required Mira to be north of Fernandina Beach, FL between June 1 and November 1.

So, since Mira was still in Nassau at the end of May, we needed to sail her very quickly north to be compliant with our insurance.  Glenn asked his friends Glen and Jim to join him on the multi-day overnight passage from Nassau to Brunswick, GA.  Pam was perfectly happy to sit this one out!

The guys and Mira had great conditions for the passage and their route worked exactly how they planned. Head northwest from Nassau then head north along the Florida coast to ride the Gulf Stream current for as long as possible. They left Nassau at 3 pm on Friday and arrived 3 am on Monday morning –  450 nautical miles.

Mira’s typical cruising speed is 6-7 knots (1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour). We don’t go anywhere rapidly. But, when Mira caught the northward current of the Gulf Stream she was booking at 10 knots!!

Freshly caught fish always makes for a spectacular dinner on board!
No words for the sunsets at sea
Days on passage fall into rhythm.
Endless blue ocean as far as you can see.
Glenn, Glen, and Jim arrival in Brunswick

A couple of weeks later, Glenn and Jim helped Glen move his boat north also. Sirenité left Brunswick Landing about 10 am on a Sunday morning and arrived Wednesday morning around 8 am. 515 nautical miles in less than 3 days. Beautiful sailing conditions with following winds, except the last day and night, taking the turn west towards Norfolk from offshore, Sirenité faced building northwest winds gusting to 30 knots which made for a little uncomfortable ride.

Beautiful Sirenité – a Privilege 49′ catamaran

Two fish caught at the same time – one from each pontoon!!

Days offshore – spent sleeping and reflecting.

Pam happily heading off to play tennis while the boys are enjoying their offshore sailing!

Nassau – our refuge from Tropical Storm Alberto

Tropical storm Alberto first appeared in our weather forecasts as a numbered storm about 10 days before it hit. The various weather models gave it a 30% chance of hitting the Bahamas directly, and Mira was near Staniel Cay in the Exumas. So, the captain made an executive decision to head for a protected marina on the northeast side of New Providence Island (Nassau) to prepare.

Sadly, Alberto was projected to hit at the same time that Patrick was due to join us and Kelly to sail on Mira for his Memorial Day vacation. So we shifted everything to Nassau and made the most of it!

Beautiful Nassau Harbor sunset before the storm.

A graceful spotted ray appeared almost every day next to Mira.

We spent our only sunny day at the new Baha Mar resort at the northern end of New Providence Island. Beautiful beach and amazing pools and food.

And, we made friends with birds.
And, we jumped off stone grottos.

On the rainy days, we explored old Nassau – loved our stop at Watling’s rum distillery.

Reminisced at the Ocean Club and its gardens on Paradise Island. Glenn and I had celebrated a milestone birthday there many years before.

And, we managed to have a yummy sushi dinner too!

Video Tour of Mira – Inside and Out!

Finally, a video tour of Mira (for those requesting “..less Glenn and more boat” 🙂 ) – exterior and interior. We had a chance to straighten Mira for guests in Charleston and decided to take the opportunity to film her. She has been our live-aboard home since January, and has far exceeded our expectations in all categories!

Bahamas Bound!

After enjoying several weeks hopping around the British Virgin Islands, it was time to move on. We really wanted to spend some time exploring the Bahamas and see the gatorade blue shades of water and white sugar sand beaches.

After talking to other cruisers about the current state of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic post-hurricanes, we decided to skip that traditional sailing path to the Bahamas. Most cruisers sail from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to the Turks and Caicos to the Bahamas. Hopping from country to country –  with just a few overnight sails – fairly easy to do with a crew of two.  But, we decided to sail straight from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in a single passage – skipping PR, DR and T&C in between. Since we would be sailing without stopping for 5 days (impossible to anchor in 3 miles of ocean 🙂 – we wanted an additional crew member to help keep watch. Thanks to Neil and Shawn’s introduction  – we met their cruising captain buddy, Jim. It was a perfect match!

Jim had many years of sailing experience that he was willing to share with us – as well as endless mechanical “MacGuvyer” problem-solving skills.

Mira, with her expanded crew, left the BVI mid-April and sailed for 5 days and 4 nights. Every day was different. Winds 25-30 knots from behind us with 10 foot waves and intermittent squalls greeted us for our first two days out. Winds and waves decreased by the third day – and, we motor sailed with our big screecher headsail out. The 4th day dawned bright and sunny and flat calm – motoring that day. And, the 5th day had fairly strong winds on our beam – a bit of a rambunctious and bouncy sailing day. We all agreed that this is the best and worst part about offshore sailing.

It’s always a good day when you catch dinner!

Our route took us from St. Thomas west across the top of the northern coast of Puerto Rico to northwest along the top end of Dominican Republic and then south of the Turks & Caicos and north of Acklins Island (one of the Out Islands of the Bahamas) to north around the top end of Long Island in the Bahamas.

Our route above in blue

Glenn on watch with Jim. Clear skies and following seas!
Thoroughly enjoying napping while they are helming.

As we rounded the top end of Long Island, we got our first glimpse of the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. Our first anchorage in four nights, we were literally in shock. No need to dive on the anchor – you could see it from the bow! So very beautiful!

The next day, we docked Mira at Emerald Bay Marina on the island of Great Exuma – just north of George Town. We usually plan a short marina stay after a long passage – giving us time to rest, take advantage of endless water, and thoroughly clean Mira – inside and out.

Glenn and I enjoyed several relaxing days on Great Exuma. We visited George Town – some say the Mecca for cruisers in the Bahamas. Hundreds of sailboats spend the winter in the huge Elizabeth Harbour – enjoying social and athletic activities of all sorts – many marine facilities – as well as an international airport close by.

Elizabeth Harbour – George Town, Great Exuma

The Grand Isle Resort – adjacent to the Emerald Bay Marina – offers day passes to marina guests. We were able to experience the beautiful blue waters and white sand beaches up close and personal – just as gorgeous as advertised!

Dinner on the beach at the Shoreline Beach Club.

Our time on Great Exuma Island was brief as were were eager to explore the long Exuma island chain to the north.

 

British Virgin Islands – snorkeling, sailing, & relaxing – always beautiful!

Since January, Glenn and I have mostly puddle-jumped our way north up the Caribbean chain of islands from Grenada. Our sails have ranged from 4 to 10 hours during daylight only.  The sail from Saint Martin to Tortola in the BVI was 92 nautical miles and took us about 14 hours. Glenn and I did it alone – alternating sleeping and taking watch at the helm. I was nervous, but Glenn was excited. He spent a lot of time analyzing the weather and winds, and felt good about our travel window.  In addition, our good sailing friend, Glen, who is single-handing his Privilege 49, Sirenitie, was going to buddy-boat with us.

Sirenitie – our buddy boat for the passage

We raised anchor at 1:30 am on March 20 from Marigot Bay in Saint Martin. I am not yet comfortable being alone at the helm during the night – so, Glenn took the helm to start, and I went back to bed.  I relieved him at sunrise, so he could get some sleep.  It was a beautiful motor sail – the winds were light, but that was fine with us for our first long sail alone! We arrived in Soper’s Hole, Tortola, around 3:00 pm, exhausted but happy.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 other smaller islands and cays. The islands have a population of about 28,000 with approximately 23,500 living on Tortola. The islanders are British citizens as of 2002.  These islands are well known for their delightful sailing opportunities. The islands are close together providing line of sight navigation and usually, fairly consistent trade winds. There are beautiful, serene anchorages and snorkeling opportunities around every corner.

Over the past years, we have chartered sailboats many times in the BVI.  Our family has wonderful memories of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and exploring almost every one of these islands. Special memories for the kids include learning to sail Hobie cats at the Bitter End Yacht Club and climbing the boulders at the Baths.

Sadly, our first look at the BVI post-Hurricane Irma was distressing.

 

A shout-out to my children for my delightful Mother’s Day present – a donation to the post-hurricane BVI relief fund! I can’t think of a better present – thank you all SO much!!!

But, during our two weeks in the BVI, we discovered that the waters are still just as blue and the sand is still blinding white, and the islands will recover from this latest tragedy. There are many signs of progress – lots of building and activity going on – on every island. Especially on Tortola and in the capital of Road Town, the streets and surrounding areas are clear of debris, but lots and lots of buildings are still heavily damaged. It will take time.

Meanwhile, we loved every minute of our time in the BVI.  It was a special treat for us to sail our own boat to all of our familiar anchorages – where we had only taken charter boats previously.

Mira and Sirenitie in the marina at Oil Nut Bay.

We jumped from island to island – sailing alongside Sirenitie with Glen and Marilyn. And later on in our visit, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Sam came to sail on Mira with us.

One of our first BVI stops is always The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are an unusual formation of large granite boulders. The sea washes in between the huge rocks, and pools have been created where shafts of light play on the water for a dramatic effect. A path weaves through the boulders – climbing and winding up and around – for a fun adventure. The beaches on either side of the boulders are beautiful with crashing waves and powdery white sand.

View of the Baths and the anchorage from the Top of the Baths resort.

Cathy and Sam enjoying the ride.

 

Our anchorage at the Bight on Norman Island. Sadly the iconic Willie T was destroyed in Hurricane Irma.
Lounging on Pirate’s Beach with Glen and Marilyn – a fun alternative to the Willie T on Norman.

 

Magnificent snorkeling at the Indians – just off Norman Island.

 

 

There’s always time for a rum punch after a long snorkeling trip!

We got a treat at anchor late one afternoon – mama and baby dolphins swimming right next to Mira.

 

We were “lucky” enough to find ourselves right in the middle of the one of the races in the BVI Spring Regatta. It was the offshore multihull class which includes Gunboats and catamarans over 60 ft. – they passed us like we were standing still!

Acting on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we discovered that Oil Nut Bay – an exclusive private resort that is normally off-limits to visitors – was allowing marina and day guests to use their amenities! Mira and Sirenitie flew over to take their spot in the lovely marina and Glenn, Pam, Glen and Marilyn spent some luxurious days – by the pool and beach and enjoying some pampering time!

Oil Nut Bay Resort

Beautiful end to our time in the BVI

St. Martin – boat work and staging for the BVI sail!

Mira next sailed to St. Martin from Saba – a short 4 hour sail, but a beautiful beam reach flying 9-10 knots the whole way – in late March.

We have sailed around St. Martin/St Maarten and St. Barts before, but we headed this way again for two reasons. One, Glenn needed a quiet anchorage to figure out why our generator wasn’t working, and two, it was the perfect spot to prepare for our first long overnight passage to Tortola in the BVI’s. We needed to check all of the boat systems and provision for the trip. St. Martin has wonderful grocery stores with delicious French products. I couldn’t wait to stock up!

We were unprepared for the devastation that still remained in French St. Martin from the massive hurricanes in September. We were speechless.

Luckily, the sunsets were still beautiful and the people were still French and the grocery stores were still stocked!
We anchored in Marigot Bay for a few nights until the lingering north swell prevented Glenn from working below decks – then, we retreated to Marigot Bay Marina – which is still recovering from hurricane damage, but served our needs well.
After replacing the generator boost pump, Glenn climbed the mast for the first time to inspect the rigging.
Thank goodness our friend, Glen, was there to man the winch!

 

Dinner the night before our overnight crossing to the BVI!