The passage wasn’t a huge one like an Atlantic or Pacific crossing, nor was it a notoriously rough one. However, Dave and I are not used to doing overnights. Therefore, it was a big decision to skip Barbuda and St Barthelemy and go straight from Falmouth to Sint Maarten. We figured it would be a 20 hour trip if we averaged 5 knots. We had a weather window and decided to go for it. Otherwise, we might have needed to wait another week. Antigua had already charmed us into staying for 5 weeks. We planned on leaving at 3:00 in the morning with an arrival to Simpson Bay around 11:00 at night. Normally, we would not attempt a night arrival, but we have already been there and have tracks to follow. Also, Simpson Bay is wide open and easily accessed.
The anchor was raised and we were underway by 3:30. Unbelievably, we had nearly a full moon. I think this was our first overnight with a full moon. What a difference the moon phase makes! We could always see the horizon and could even pick out fishing pot markers in the water. The timing was great for Dave and he didn’t feel nauseous at all. It seemed like the sun was coming up in no time… Maybe because I went back to sleep. We were already quite a ways offshore by the time the sun peeked over Antigua behind us. I had to zoom in to get a picture that showed the land. There wasn’t any wind, so we had to motor.
Shortly after daylight broke, a light breeze picked up. It wasn’t enough for the jib, so we continued to motor. After a couple more hours, it seemed that the wind wasn’t going to pick up. Dave suggested we break out the big sail. “The main?” I asked, thinking it wouldn’t do us any good downwind in such a light breeze. “No, the gennaker!” Hmmm, why not? We had a long sail ahead of us and there were no crazy waves to make it difficult to set it up at the bow, only 6 to 8 foot swells spaced well apart. So we connected the tack/furler to the bowsprit and unfolded the bowsprit. I ran the working sheet from the clew to the cockpit and Dave connected the spinnaker halyard to the head. All ready, Dave raised the halyard and I secured the bowsprit in position. Then I pulled the working sheet and Dave released the furling line. Whoosh, out she went in all her glory, this huge beautiful sail that goes well past our shrouds. And just like that, we were sailing. We turned off the engines and settled in for a slow but comfortable (and quiet) sail that ranged from 4 to 6 knots. Beautiful!
I put out the fishing line on our trawling pole right away, but hadn’t had a bite all morning. Finally, I got a bite, a good one! I pulled on it to set the hook and it jumped out of the water like a dorado (mahi mahi) would. As I reeled it in, it jumped a couple more times. I finally got it near the boat and this beautiful dorado jumped, twisted, and threw the hook off! I stood there stunned. I already planned fresh mahi mahi for lunch in my mind. Oh well, nothing to do but check the hook and lure and put it back out. Dave also put out the Cuban yoyo at this time, since the fish were now biting. It didn’t take long for Dave to hook a fish. He brought it in and we released a small barracuda. Barracuda are supposed to be delicious and safe if under 5 lbs, but we are not sure it is worth the risk.
As the day progressed, Dave caught another barracuda on the Cuban yoyo. That makes about 6 barracuda he’s caught on the yoyo. He has not caught anything else on it. I have a theory, but our son is the fishing expert in the family so I may be full of malarky. The Cuban yoyo has a relatively short, though very strong, line on it. The line needs to be strong because you cannot let a fish take some slack. You also don’t really need to set the hook, because at the end of the line, it sets itself as it springs. Okay, so why only barracuda? The only fish I’ve seen brave enough to hang close to our boat are barracuda. Maybe if we put a longer line on the yoyo and get some distance from the boat something else will hit it. Yes, that does mean a lot more line to bring in hand over hand, but what is the point of using a line that only catches fish we will never keep? This guy went back in the water, too. Fortunately, in the cruiser’s fishing tournament that George on Wild Cat is running, barracuda count and Dave and I have cinched the lead. I think he should only count keeper fish, though. Meanwhile, the sail was still going great on the gennaker, but the afternoon wind was starting to pick up. I was starting to see regular white caps that looked like about 15 knots of true wind to me. Our apparent wind (since we were sailing downwind) was at 10-11 knots. I decided to watch it closely for a bit, since the gennaker is a light wind sail and we have no experience with it. How much wind would it take? Will too much wind tear the sail? Could we use the motors to decrease the apparent wind further when we decided to furl it?
Hours went by and I only heard one sound that may have come from the fishing pole. All the action was happening on the yoyo. I got suspicious and decided to reel it in. That sound I might have heard? Yeah, that was something biting through the lure skirt and the line holding the hook. Now missing both eyes and more than 3/4 of its skirt, Dave and I made the tough decisions to retire our lucky lure. Our edible fish catching days may be at an end. When Dave heard me reeling in the line, he got up and I shared my concerns about the gennaker. He agreed we should probably furl it in. The furling line is very thin and hard to hold, but Dave used one of the mast winches to gain purchase and quickly furled in 2/3 of the sail. Then it just stopped furling. Every time he would pull a little in, it would go back out before he could adjust his hold. Looking at the top of the sail, it didn’t look like the top was furling at all. This also happened when I tried out the sail 2 years ago with Jeff and Jean from Two Can Sail. We ended up dropping the halyard and stuffing the sail into its bag. Dave and I had to do the same thing. We suspect there is something wrong at the head of the sail (maybe the swivel?) that is preventing it from furling. Dave didn’t think it was too much wind. He had furled up the biggest part after all. We will have to look into this later. At least we were able to continue sailing on the main and jib. Nice!
We changed the lure on the fishing pole. I chose a blue and white one that I didn’t have much faith in. Barracuda like shiny objects and it seemed shiny to me, but we tried it anyway. Within an hour, we had a bite! The line whizzed through the reel. Something was running with it! Our first thoughts were that it was a tuna. They are the best fighters. As I reeled it in, it fought then was easy. Fought then easy again. Small tuna were like this if I could get them skipping across the surface. We were still hopeful. I got it to the boat and Dave pulled the fish out of the water by the line. It was a huge barracuda, around four feet long and very heavy. Darn! This was our last fish of the sail, too. Night came quickly and our underwater lights are not working right now — one of the reasons for the trip to St Martin.
I was at the helm when we arrived at St Martin. A cruise ship left port as I passed Phillipsburgh moving about 6 knots and lit up like a city. I saw two shadows quickly pass in front of it and looked at the AIS. There were two sailing boats going the same direction as me but at 16.2 knots! We were moving at about 5.5 knots with 10-15 knots of wind. Then the two boats, in what seemed like a synchronized manner, turned to go right in front of me. I called out to Dave that I was concerned. The boats quickly sped up to over 32 knots!!! I told Dave to nevermind; they would be out of my way long before I got there. I noticed the names of the boats: Phaedo 3 and Sailing Concise 10. As it turned out, these were trimarans that were in the RORC Caribbean 600 and I nearly went right through their race! They were so amazingly fast with such little wind. It was quite exciting to see, sort of. They were just shadows in the night. Phaedo 3 set a new record that night and we almost took part in it. I realize now that we passed Phaedo 3 at the dock every time we dinghied into English Harbour in Antigua. Anyway, Dave took over at the helm and we pulled into Simpson Bay. We dropped anchor for the night and entered the lagoon in the morning bridge opening. We’ve spent so much time here, it almost felt like homecoming.