From Saint Martin to Martinique; sailing in times of Corona virus…

Three months and a pandemic later, Gladan was finally able to move again! I have to admit leaving Saint Martin was tough….After spending so long in the same bay (Grand Case), we knew and loved every inch of it, became friendly with the locals and had our pet barracuda “Barry”, hiding under our hulls and making a daily appearance to say hi.

Dandi and James towed by us on their canoe. They showed us the best places where to catch fish in Grand Case…. !!

Before leaving for good, we managed to move from Grand Case to Orient Bay, a wonderful place and number 1 destination for kite surfers.

Simon and GC having a “friendly” race on their hobby cats

Now, Orient Bay is completely different from Grand Case. It is an upmarket touristy resorts with residences, bars, shops and restaurants. The scenery changes completely and the people around do too. Orient Bay has one of the longest beaches in Saint Martin and is quite exposed to the wind as it is on the East side of the island. Approaching the bay could be quite challenging if the weather is not settled as there are breakers forming at the entrance.

My favourite spot in the bay was the yellow beach by Îlet de Pinel. Waters are quite shallow here and anchoring might prove challenging, but if you find the courage to venture in, you’ll be highly rewarded. It is a very sheltered spot, the sea is flat as a lake and you’ll be met by hundreds of conchs when you land on the beach!

Yellow Beach

Because of the Covid 19 virus there were no tourists on the islet; we had it all to ourselves…except for a few iguanas and these friendly and funny looking mollusks!

A conch 🙂

Orient bay was great fun, especially for Gc and Simon who, after patiently waiting for the right weather window, managed to take kitesurfing lessons with Fred from http://www.gokitesurfing.com/ .

By the time Gc managed to stand on the board and actually surf on it for almost 1 minute, it was time to move southward :)!

With the hurricane season having officially started on 1st June, we were constantly on the lookout for islands whose borders would open soon. Towards the end of May, a post appeared on Saint Martin Facebook group saying that the French prefecture had approved a new decree that would allow boats to move freely between French islands, without having to quarantine.

We visited the beautiful little island of Tintamarre, only a few miles away from Orient Bay.

The news of the decree was out there but the authorities of the French islands didn’t seem to be aware of it. It took us some time and many phone calls to get assurance that moving from Saint Martin (French side) to Martinique, another French island, without stopping on the way we wouldn’t need to quarantine upon arrival.

Once we got confirmation from at least two different sources, we checked out of Saint Martin and prepared to sail 237 miles to Martinique.

We left Orient Bay on a Saturday at 4 am with a beautiful full moon and very confused waters. The first half day of sailing was very uncomfortable with steep waves coming from different directions and winds stronger than expected. Things started to improve once we passed St. Kitts and Nevis and Redonda island.

Once in the shadow of Monserrat the sea was much flatter, the wind a perfect 18/20 knots and the sun had just left space to a wonderful full moon fighting with the clouds to show its luminous face.

We could smell the sulphur from Monserrat’s active volcano and tried to keep away from the shore as much as possible not to be covered by its dust. Few squalls formed in the sky and travelled in our direction, but then, last minute, decided to spare us, leaving us to enjoy the beauty of the night with its silver coloured sea and the warm sea breeze.

Sailing with a full moon

Gc and I slept on the flybridge doing short shifts of 30 minutes each at first, then 1 hour, then 2 hours once daylight made its appearance around 5am. By then we had sailed to the southern tip of Guadaloupe.

The second day of navigation saw us sailing from Guadaloupe to Dominica, which being quite mountainous, was engulfed in clouds and difficult to spot. The weather was nice and we kept on sailing with two reefs on our main and the jib fully open. The highlight of the day was the to-date unknown fish we caught and unsuccessfully tried to identify.

This poor soul…whatever its kind… was delicious, thanks for feeding us!

The weather conditions started to deteriorate just before sunset, 30 miles from St. Pierre, Martinique; our final destination. We had the wind on the nose and the waves giving us a good, constant shake.

30 miles away from St. Pierre, Martinique..

We had to roll the sails in and motor all the way to St. Pierre where we got at 10.30 pm, tired and hungry. With only one great regret….We didn’t have any red wine onboard! We anchored in the dark, cooked some dinner and went to sleep.

Mount Pelee – St. Pierre. The volcano exploded in 1902 destroying the entire town and killing most of its inhabitants.

The day after we got in touch with Cross Ag (the coast guard) to inform them of our arrival and to ask permission to go ashore to check in. When they finally answered us, they said they’d send us an email with the health questionnaire to fill in and the instructions to follow re. quarantine.

St. Pierre, town centre

Quarantine? Quarantine?! What quarantine? The following 30 minutes were a whirlpool of thoughts and blame game.

My first thought, believe it or not, was that we didn’t have any red wine onboard!!! How would we survive 14 days without any?! Then I realised we didn’t have that much provisioning either… I quickly went to check the cupboards and found enough pasta for us to last more than a fortnight! Gc’s theory being “if you have pasta and rice in storage you won’t die of starvation”….which he happily remind me of every time we go to the supermarket and I complain about the content of our shopping baskets!

St Pierre, with Gladan resting peacefully after 2 long days of sailing!

Before losing hope, we explained to the authorities that we were told we wouldn’t need to quarantine and that’s why we had travelled 237 miles without ever stopping, and that we were very disappointed to find out the opposite. It took some convincing, but eventually we were given some good news; we wouldn’t need to quarantine and we could go ashore to check in!

After a big sigh of relief, we quickly went ashore, checked in and bought some Bordeaux! You never know what to expect in these difficult times…

Planning the Great Escape!

As all sailors cruising in the Caribbean are very aware of, hurricane season officially starts on 1st June and runs through November 30th – with August and September being the worst months.

This is such a recurrent topic amongst boaters that when meeting new fellow sailors we’d normally end up sharing ‘hurricane plans’ before even getting to know their names!

Now that June is just around the corner this topic is more and more on our minds -especially because according to recent weather forecasts, this year is going to be a particularly bad one for hurricanes – not that it’s been any good in other fields so far…!!

Judging from the sea surface temperature, which is a few degrees higher than average, and other meaningful signs, forecasters have come to the conclusion that this year there might be up to 20 named storms which would make 2020 the second most active season on record in terms of the number of storms! How lucky!! Out of this 20 named storms, 3 to 5  might become really scary hurricanes, as in category 5 scary hurricanes, the likes of Irma and Kathrina just to be clear… !

Which is why we need to rush out of here before the end of the month…

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Doing research for the great escape!

Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but in the current situation with all borders closed and islands trying to protect their inhabitants from new comers potentially spreading the virus, things have become rather complicated.

At the moment we are considering 4 possibilities, although I should mention that we are not particularly picky right now and would be more than happy to go anywhere…as long as it’s far away from hurricanes :)! :

1. Grenada. This would be the easiest option for us. It’s only 365 nautical miles from here which means less than 3 days of non stop sailing to get there. Easy! A lot of sailors take their boats to Grenada, which is considered quite safe, especially if you haul out and leave the boat on the hard in a marina. Some insurance companies don’t cover boats in Grenada as it’s not south enough to be out of the hurricane belt. In the past 100 years, though, only four hurricanes have hit Grenada, which makes it safe enough compared to islands like Saint Martin which has been hit 16 times. The last hurricane to hit Grenada was Emily, in 2005, only one year after Ivan which in 2004 caused a lot of damage to the island and killed 39 people.

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Saint Martin to Grenada

2. ABC. The ABC are the Dutch islands opposite the Venezuelan coast. They’re Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, often referred to as the ABC islands. Despite their position – so close to Venezuela which is a total NO GO – they appear to be safe islands with very friendly people and a quiet lifestyle. They are roughly 500 nautical miles away from us, which means less than 4 days of non stop navigation. Not too bad!

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Saint Martin to ABC Islands

3. Colombia, Santa Marta. That’s 760 nautical miles from us which translates into 5 and half days of non stop sailing. Still quite good! Santa Marta is a new marina with excellent facilities to accommodate yachtsmen. It is reported to be a safe town to visit and a great place from which to explore the wonderful hinterland of Colombia with its snow-capped mountains, natural parks and beautiful white sand beaches. Amazing restaurants, street performers and the cheapest diesel in the Caribbean are other good reasons to go there!

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Saint Martin to Santa Marta – Colombia

4. Guatemala – Rio Dulce. 1500 miles away from us which means 10 days of non stop navigation, if we’re not allowed to stop anywhere else on the way. So…quite far! But it might be very well worth it. Our neighbours here in Saint Martin mentioned that they’ve spent the past 10 years in a place called Ram Marina, which they highly recommend. The river is situated on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, just south of the second-largest reef in the world off Belize (I would love to snorkel there!!) and has earned a reputation as a number one refuge in the western Caribbean, with 1000 yachts staying there for hurricane season from June to December. Magical scenery, low cost of life, fresh fruits and vegetables and an intense social life (at least in ‘normal times’) with regular boat jumbles, film nights and organised outings to hot springs, jungle treks and local Maya ruins might make Rio Dulce the best hurricane hole!

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Saint Martin to Rio Dulce – Guatemala

We’ve sent out emails to all of these places and are now waiting for answers, hoping they’ll come soon! The only alternative to a safe haven would be constantly checking the weather forecast and move away from any hurricanes heading towards us… To be honest, playing cat and mouse with a category 5 hurricane isn’t exatcly my idea of fun sailing in the Caribbean’s! Fingers crossed!