After three weeks of living in the Simpson’s Bay lagoon, it was time to head west to the BVI’s. This marked the end of our time in the Leeward islands of the Caribbean and was to be the beginning of a more north-westerly route towards the USA. A distance of about 80 miles and a reluctance to risk arriving in the dark (after Bequia’s experience we vowed never again if it can be helped!) meant only one thing: a night sail. (Or getting up at crazy o’clock, which… no.)
The prospect of sailing at night can be daunting, and it obviously means you’re not going to get your full 8 hours of beauty sleep. It usually takes about three days to get your body into a routine where it sleeps for a few hours, then is up for a few hours, then sleeps again. I also think it takes a day or two to feel relaxed enough to allow yourself to sleep on a night passage- you know, to get used to the roll and movement of the boat on the water. So we didn’t expect to get a lot of shut-eye, but the weather gods were in our favour for once, the winds were very light (too light actually- we had to motor sail most of the way) and the swell was minimal. Being down below was just as comfortable as being at anchor- and considerably more comfortable than Gustavia’s anchorage.
Our original plan was to anchor outside the bridge (the last lift was at 4pm), have dinner, get a couple of hours sleep, then up for a midnight departure. However, as we passed underneath the bridge and entered the anchorage, we (okay, I) decided to just get going. Our main reservation was the prospect of arriving before it got light, but we needn’t have concerned ourselves: our arrival time was 9am in the end because of those light winds.
We didn’t get much sleep despite the comfortable motion of the boat, but our night watches were wonderfully uneventful. The sky was clear, the stars were bright and despite quite a few boats being on the move between St Martin and the BVI’s, navigation was a doddle.
The problem with night sailing is that it can be very difficult to discern distances when you see other vessels around you. We have AIS which means we transmit our position, our heading and our speed to anyone who has an AIS receiver, and, having a receiver ourselves, we can see the same information for any boats nearby who also have an AIS transmitter. This makes life very easy for obvious reasons. However, most boats who cruise the Caribbean don’t have AIS in my experience (totally understandable- sailing around here is generally a matter of short day sails) so we have to rely on their navigation lights.
In theory, you’re supposed to have a red light on your port side, a green light on your starboard, and a white light pointing astern. Therefore, if you can see just a red light, it means their port side is facing towards you. Same goes for the green. If you can see a white light, they’re heading away from you. The time to be paying close attention is when you see both green and red- that means the vessel is facing towards you, which can clearly be bad news if things get too close. And as I said, distances are incredibly hard to judge until something gets very close indeed. So, it can be a little stressful. Our rule onboard is if you’re unsure about anything- anything at all- get the other person up. However, this particular night was uneventful. Just the way we like it.
Arriving into the BVI’s was fun. We sailed past Necker Island, waved to Richard Branson, and found a beautiful spot to anchor in the lee of Prickly Pear island. Having read the cruising guide and looked at the charts, it looked as though finding a spot with no mooring buoys where we could anchor was going to be a challenge. However, there was loads of room unless you wanted to be close to one of the resorts (which we didn’t). After the constant background noise of the lagoon, this anchorage was utterly silent. Even putting our chain out seemed to spoil the serenity. Once we were settled, we kicked back in our cockpit, found an open wifi network with our booster (a rare but very happy occurrence) and marvelled that we were once again somewhere new and exotic.
See you next week (internet permitting)!