Boarded By Customs But We Are 126 Miles Further East

We cleared out at the airport in Culebra on Sunday and moved around to the lovely Bahia De Almodovar which is just behind a reef for the last night. It was beautifully calm and being a Sunday, quiet with just 3 sailing boats there.

Passing The SE Tip Of St Thomas

The next morning we set off at 0615 to head into the easterly wind and current. We didn’t sail at all but continued to motor for 9 hours, passing south of St Thomas and St John until we arrived at Benures Bay on Norman Island, in the British Virgin Islands. This is another of our favourite bays and these days, a rare one devoid of mooring buoys in the BVIs. At 30-35 US $ a night, it is becoming a prohibitive cost to cruisers on a small budget but we did notice that they have filled Soldier Bay, next to Benures, with buoys and hope they don’t feel inclined to do the same in Benures. It’s a lovely bay with crystal clear water and plenty of room to anchor in the sand. The north-eastern tip is the most sheltered but it was very calm during our stay and we are looking forward to returning in May.

Passing South Of St John's

We hoped to catch up with Paul and Debra from ‘Tumi’ but they had passed by at lunchtime and didn’t see us there so continued into a neighbouring bay. We took a long time to travel the 45 miles, sometimes being stopped by strong headwinds around the tips of the islands and a current of over a knot against us. Our speed dropped to less than 3.5 knots at times.

Fortunately, my Kindle works well enough to read and laboriously send emails and I let them know we’d be in the BVI’s until 1000 on Tuesday morning. Next day they arrived before 0900 on the off chance as they hadn’t seen the email! It would have been annoying to have been so close and not met up. They came over for a few hours and it was good to see them again and catch up on the past couple of years, including their tough trip back east across the Atlantic in ‘Jay Jay’, before they sold her. We are both heading for the US and then Cuba, so we hope to meet them again in the autumn.

Lovely Benures Bay, Norman Island, BVIs

We left a couple of hours later than planned but had a good sail tacking up Drake’s Channel to leave the BVI’s via Virgin Gorda. We wanted to clear the islands before dusk and had to motor sail for a while to pick up speed and pass Necker Island. The forecast north of east winds did materialise and enabled us to sail for several hours during the night, with an apparent wind speed of around 17 knots. Beyzano was flying!

There were several fish pots just east of the BVI’s but clearly marked with bright orange buoys. Once we got into deeper water of 300 metres plus, they ceased but we were glad to have passed through the area in daylight.

During the night there were a few boats on passage to look out for and a long exchange on the VHF Radio between the US Coastguard and ‘Azura’ who was relaying messages from a motorboat with engine failure in need of a tow. It was unintentially quite amusing, as the US Coastguard didn’t realise what sort of ship ‘Azura’ is and asked them to tow the little boat. The Captain calmly explained they were a 115,000 tonne passenger liner and it might be more appropriate to find a more like for like sized vessel, as they were unable to tow!! It reminded me of a story, not sure if its true or not, of a US Naval ship demanding another ‘vessel’ give way to them. The light they had seen refused to move several times and finally gave this withering reply, ‘We are a lighthouse Sir, Your Call!’

Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten With The Busy Airport Beyond

Rob did the 2000-0100 watch and I then took over through to dawn. I love night passages, watching the millions of sparkling stars and the equally beautiful sparkling green phosphorescence. Quite magical.

We thought about heading for Anguilla but during the night decided to go to St Martin instead, to get some chandlery items. There is a big duty free Island Water World and Budget Marine in the Dutch side of St Martin, so we thought we’d stock up on US style gas bottles, cruising guides for the Bahamas and Cuba and 3 water containers.

The Happy Shopper!

Having anchored in 4 metres in Simpson Bay and cleared in for 47 US$/31 GBP, we rested a while and celebrated our safe passage of 118 miles with a sundowner. Soon after a Customs RIB with 5 Coastguards onboard approached us and 2 asked to board. I don’t think ‘No’ was an option! They were very pleasant but thoroughly inspected our flares and fire extinguishers for dates, checked the cupboards and even under our bed for drugs and money. Being boring and British, we didn’t have anything of interest, not even a gun. The fire extinguishers need to be checked every 2 years though and some of the flares are out of date but that’s why we are here, to buy new ones. So they checked all our documentation, advised we got new flares (luckily Rob had the latest Island Water World catalogue already out in the cockpit, so that was fine) chatted for a while about our travels and their work, until their colleagues picked them up again.

We are glad to have made the best of the north-easterly wind and sailed a long way east. Our next passage will be to Ile Fourchue for a couple of nights, then on to Antigua. Even if we have to tack, it won’t be too difficult to get there by March 25th, the day before my birthday but there are some north-easterly winds overnight on the 26th and into the following day, so we may delay until then. We aren’t going to arrive any sooner just because we need to leave by April 24th and I’m too tight to pay for another month’s cruising permit just for a day or two!

Our stay in Sint Maarten won’t be longer than a few days but we already have met some friends here to catch up with. David and Donna bought a 473 last year, named ‘Merlin’ and we have just had a long lunch in the Yacht Club. Good to see them again and glad to hear they will also be in Antigua for Classics.

There is a good Cruiser’s Net at 0730 on VHF Ch. 10 full of information, boat items for sale, weather and arrivals and departures. A good way of finding out who is here. Last year we vowed to explore the island during our next visit, so may well find a local bus to tour around. It also gets us off the boat, which is rolling a bit in the bay due to the wind being slightly south of east but we enjoy watching the planes and when the bridge opens, the huge super-yachts making their way into the lagoon.

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One Response to Boarded By Customs But We Are 126 Miles Further East

  1. Jo Fraser says:

    We’ve been hoarded a couple of times in the Med and they have always been very courteous and professional. Don’t know if you get Blue Water Sailing but they featured their favourite BVI anchorages, including Benures Bay!

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