44' Luxury Catamaran Mustang Sally

Doug, Wendy and Mustang Sally cruise the Virgin Islands. Follow along on their adventures meeting funky local characters and visiting hot spots and hidden treasures with links to our favorites websites and additional interesting information.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Big Swell

The Big Swell

After the Barrie gang left us we had 10 days to relax and get ourselves to St. Martin where we would provision the cat again for our next guests, which would be a gang of 6 coming to enjoy beautiful St. Martin and St. Barths from various parts of north east US.

We thought we would have lots of time to get some tasks done in St Martin prior to our guest’s arrival but the weather this winter in the Caribbean has been rough. High winds (30-40 knots regularly) with lots of rain, torrential rain. As a result, we waited for a weather window to cross the Anegada passage(passage between British Virgins and St Martin, a.k.a. the “O My Godda” passage, as it can be very rough) for 6 days before we felt it would be comfortable passage to sail to St Martin from the BVI. The Anegada passage is only a 90 nautical miles crossing from the most northerly island of the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda, which is usually a 12 hour trip depending on winds and how fast a boat can sail/motor. However, the prevailing winds are out of the east here in the Caribbean and we are also heading east, so the wind is right on our nose, making sailing pretty much impossible. Because the winds had been so strong for so long, the waves also out of the east were pretty sizable at 10- 12’, and to add to this, there was a large swell (8’) running out of the north. These things on their own are not so bad but together are a recipe for a miserable crossing with very confused seas….something I personally am not fond of. So we waited……finally, when we left, the seas had lied down and the winds dropped to 12-15 knots. We had an uneventful crossing but, unfortunately, it was a motor the whole way.

We arrived in Philipsburg harbor on the Dutch side and spent the next few days enjoying the fabulous shopping and the great bars. What fun to behave like a tourist! We also provisioned the boat for our guests with fresh fish, thick slabs of meat and lots and LOTS of wine and French cheeses and baguette. Yum!

Our guests came aboard Mustang Sally at noon on Saturday, tucked their bags into their cabins, got comfortable and we enjoyed a lovely lunch before we lifted the anchor and set sail (motor sail, we were heading east again!) to the beautiful Anse de Columbier (Columbier Bay)western side of the island of St Barths. After a few hours of enjoying the sail we took a mooring ball and our guests were more than happy to have a swim, take advantage of our water toys, relax, and enjoy themselves.

The next day after a big breakfast we sailed to Grande Saline beach. Just another incredibly beautiful beach, where the sand is white and the water azure blue….and some people are NAKED!! Oh the French!! LOL! Everyone took the opportunity to walk the beach, enjoy a swim and snorkel and then lunch before we had a lovely downwind sail to Gustavia Harbour, the charming little main town of St. Barths.

Next day after a quick stroll of Gustavia and the millionaire’s row of mega yachts tied stern to along the quay we sailed to Ile de Forchue, one of my favourite places. Once we were securely tied to the mooring ball everyone enjoyed a refreshing snorkel and some kayaking while Fred, the local barracuda kept an eye on us and begged for scraps from the back of the cat, just like a neighbourhood dog. Not much later 3 of our guests, the adventurous, Eric, his lovely bride, Judy and their good friend, Jobie, decided to hike to the top of one of the large hills on the island (in the hot baking sun!), while Greg, his better half, Mary Beth and Jobie’s husband Mike stayed behind to enjoy cocktails and play Scrabble. We stayed at Ile de Forchue over nite and enjoyed the isolation and “Marslike” desolation of the island, caused by goats which ate all of the vegetation and then starved to death, leaving only red rubble in their wake.

We set sail early the next morning to sail around the southern tip of St. Martin headed for the French side of island to the capital of Marigot where we checked back in to the country and then head up the northwest coast of St Martin, planning stops at Friars Bay, Grand Case, the secluded Tintamarre, Ile de Pinel and finally Orient Beach.

After checking in with customs, we anchored in Friars Bay, looking forward to a fun nite with our guests…. that is until the French coast guard pulled alongside our cat with a strong suggestion (not really a suggestion if you’re readin’ my mail) to move into the lagoon for protection due to a 20 foot swell out of the north which was to arrive that nite and would steadily build over the course of the next 3-4 days. A swell of that magnitude is similar to a small tsunami and could cause severe damage to shorelines and any buildings, boats or people near the coast. There had never been a swell this size in 42 years! Swells are caused by large storms on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Large waves form and roll unheeded to the south, getting bigger as they go. Once they reach more shallow waters, such as the coastlines of the Caribbean islands they become huge as they no longer have the depth of the water to roll in. The French bridge, which is on a schedule to open, was opened early and often to let boat traffic into the lagoon regardless of the delay to car traffic. All boats were directed to the lagoon and all water activities were banned, coastal roads were closed and buildings all along the beaches and coasts were boarded up with some low lying areas completely evacuated. We considered ourselves very lucky to have been in St. Martin when this occurred as the lagoon is considered one of the safest places to be in all of the Caribbean in severe weather.

Unfortunately tho, this meant that the remainder of our guests stay aboard Mustang Sally would be in the lagoon. Not a great place to swim due to the great number of anchored boats and certainly not a very pretty place with more of an industrial feel, as there are many rusted out hulks of work boats. For safety reasons tho, we had to make the best of situation, which we did, by listening to music, playing Scrabble, reading books, engaging in some serious discussion and some not so serious, soaking up sun on the trampolines and eating lots of good food, not to mention imbibing in some of that wine mentioned earlier. We never felt the effects of the swell in the lagoon other than murkier water than normal, but instead, heard and read about the damage. The swell peaked at 13’ in St. Martin which was significant enough to cause some damage but thankfully not as much as was feared if the swell had reached 20’. Other more northerly islands suffered more damage than St. Martin.

We felt sad to see our guests go at the end of their stay with us and although our travel plans to show them all of the beautiful sites were scuttled we still had a great time with them and hope to see them back again so we can show them more than just the lagoon or perhaps other islands.

Till next time….. fair winds.



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