Notwithstanding the temptation of the cruiser’s Super Bowl gathering at Saba Rock on Sunday afternoon, today’s weather window for the 85 mile passage from Virgin Gorda to St. Marten is too good to pass up. The anchor is up in North Sound at 4:45 PM. Our departure is timed to place us in St. Marten shortly after sunrise on Monday morning. Our course takes us north through the well-marked North Sound channel, then east into Necker Passage, avoiding the lobster pots with the aid of the late afternoon sun. At sunset, we clear Parajos Point, the easternmost land mass of Virgin Gorda.
Since the wind is from the east and our course to St. Marten is 109 degrees true, we are destined to motorsail the entire distance to our destination. The swell, taken together with 3 to 4 foot seas creates an awkward pitching and rolling motion on the relatively shallow water of the coastal shelf surrounding Virgin Gorda. As the water depth increases to 4,000 feet, the motion dissipates and Cutter Loose settles into a comfortable stride. The wind speed tonight ranges from 5 to 8 knots and the star-studded sky is dark and perfectly clear…ideal conditions for a crossing of the Anegada Passage.
Following our normal procedure on overnight passages, we stand one hour watches. While off watch, it is possible to stretch out in the cockpit and enjoy a cat nap. A mug of hot tea helps to revive the senses when returning to the helm at the top of the hour. Tonight there is a knot of current setting Cutter Loose to the north. We must steer a course to the south of our destination to compensate for the set. It is reassuring to have the chart plotters back in service in order to minimize our cross-track error and keep us on course for Marigot Bay on the north coast of St. Marten.
On radar, we have been tracking three other eastbound sailboats tonight, all of which are unknown to us but traveling to the same destination. Because there are no major ports along our route, we are expecting a quiet night with light traffic. To our surprise, the 998 foot cargo ship Cape Frontier is southbound through the Anegada Passage bound for Columbia. Her light pattern is clearly visible off our port bow at a range of 8 miles. AIS data on the navigation chart plotter indicates that Cape Frontier is making 20 knots. On her current course, she will intersect with Cutter Loose with less than a quarter of a mile of clearance…too close for comfort. After several conversations on VHF 16 in an effort to overcome the language barrier, the night watch on Cape Frontier agrees to alter course, instructing us to maintain our current course and speed. This black behemoth in the night crosses our bow within three-quarters of a mile. An hour later, another 900 foot southbound cargo ship passes a few miles astern. So much for the quiet evening we anticipated. We are thankful that our chart plotters are functioning again. They are our eyes and ears, especially during an overnight passage.
Shortly after midnight, an eerie orange glow begins to emerge from the eastern horizon. It is the rising smiley face moon, giving the appearance of a juicy slice of cantaloupe being served up on a watery platter. Low in the sky, the moon glow reflects off the crests of the waves. It is a gorgeous beginning to a new day.
Barely perceptible at first, a series of four flashing red lights appear on the eastern horizon. Still 20 miles from St. Martin, we are seeing navigational aids mounted high in the mountain tops above Marigot. First light comes at 5:30 AM, revealing the intricate land features of St. Martin. For a brief period, we are blinded by the sunrise on final approach to the harbor. At 7:50 AM, the anchor is down in Marigot Bay and the yellow quarantine flag is raised to the spreaders. Customs can wait for a few hours. It is time to enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before going ashore.