Tuesday, 27 January 2015


West End, Tortola

We sailed the 90 miles from St Maarten to Tortola overnight, leaving in the afternoon, and arriving around dawn. Wind was F3-4 all the way, from dead behind. Many people tack downwind in their cats in such conditions. I prefer to sail directly dead downwind, with as much sail up as will keep the boat going at a decent speed. In this case, the genoa poled out at one side, and the big jib on the other. I hank them to the one forestay, interleaving the hanks which I have numbered with a marker pen so that they go on in the right order. On the end of the halyard, I attach a block, with a short piece of rope over the moving part. I tie the heads of the two sails to each end of the short bit of rope, and hoist the sails. The block ensures I can tighten the luff of each sail evenly. We sailed that way the whole night, without needing adjustment. It's probably as much sail area as a spinnaker, but it has the advantage that I can drop all sail within a couple of seconds by opening the halyard clutch if a squall came.

I was woken at midnight by a shout - my daughter had spotted dolphins. I was in a deep sleep, and have seen dolphins many times (though none at all coming across the Atlantic, and very few in the Caribbean) and might have preferred not to have been woken. But it was my daughter, who was clearly delighted, and I indulged her. Good job! The dolphins were very large and slim, I think a species I haven't seen before. But we could only see their silhouettes, because the sole source of light was a crescent moon approaching the horizon in front of us. So the dolphins were leaping high - 3-4 feet out of the water - in the silvery yellow reflection of the moon in the sea. Quite beautiful.

On arrival, we found the anchorage full of moorings, and the charge written in the mooring balls as $30/night. We are used to anchoring for free now, and we eventually found a good spot, right at the end of the bay. Taking advantage of our shallow draught and the fact that this bay is so sheltered there is virtually no swell, we anchored pretty much on the beach, setting a stern anchor to keep us off in case of a wind shift.

Don't need to dive to check this anchor. It's fine.

Clearing in was a long and tedious process - 5 copies of one form - and three other long forms, and a charge of $20.19 for the privelege. We had to specify a date of departure too, though we hadn't settled on that, and of course, the weather always needs checking before choosing a departure time. I said we'd stay 2 days, though the place is very attractive and we could do with more time off sailing, but we have someone to collect in Dominican Republic soon, so we need to crack on. And the reason we are here in this port is because it is a very short ferry trip from the British Virgen Islands to the US Virgin Islands. I need to take that ferry, as in the process I will get a 3 month entry permit to the US, which will allow me into Florida later on the trip (We are not allowed to simply sail into America, the Land of the Free - we have to arrive with a commercial carrier). When I was asked what we would be doing here, I laughed, and only just managed to refrain from telling the official that we had sailed hundreds of miles to this beautiful place, and I would be spending most of my time here dealing with clearing in, clearing out, and getting a visa. I found out that the very short ferry trip - a couple of miles - is $55!

We had official difficulties at St Barths too. We cleared in using their self service computer system programmed by an idiot. When we came to clear out, we found that inputting our username/password didn't pull up the details we'd already put in, and we needed our passports to repeat the process. The passports were on the boat, and it would have taken over an hour to get them, so we gave up, and sailed out without clearance (which we have done on some other islands usually without repercussions). But in St Maarten, we weren't allowed to clear in because of the lack of clearing out papers from the last port. So we sailed out of the Dutch side of the island (which was a cruise ship dock, taking up to 4 ships a day, filling the streets with lumbering tourists being targetted by the local huscksters selling all sorts of crap at high prices and filling the anchorage with jet skis and trip boats) and round to the French side which was much pleasanter. There we met the most officious official so far, who only let people into his office one at a time, locking others out and telling them to wait. Inside, he filled in the same computer form we'd used in St Barths, until he asked for our clearance papers for the last port. Not having them brought proceedings to a halt, until at last he called his superior, who told him to clear us in anyway. Phew! I see what the Americans mean when they complain about government officials, though if we had a bigger more integrated government involvement we might get what we have in Europe - the freedom to come and go across most of a continent without any forms to fill or charges made.

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