14 June 2009 | Annapolis, MD
11 June 2009
10 June 2009 | Little Creek Marina, Norfolk, VA, USA
04 June 2009 | Little Creek Marina, Norfolk, VA, USA
31 May 2009 | Little Creek Marina, Norfolk, VA, USA
29 May 2009 | Little Creek Marina, Norfolk, VA, USA
26 May 2009 | Little Creek Marina, Norfolk, VA, USA
25 May 2009 | Little Creek Marina, Norfolk, VA, USA
13 May 2009 | through 21-May-2009
13 May 2009 | through 21-May-2009
12 May 2009 | St George's Town, Bermuda
11 May 2009 | St George's Town, Bermuda
07 May 2009 | St George's Town, Bermuda
04 May 2009 | St George's Town, Bermuda
21 April 2009 | through 02-May-2009

Passage from Culebra to St. Martin

17 December 2008 | Anse Longue, St. Martin
CURRENT LOCATION: Anchored overnight just off the southwest corner of St. Martin (flying the Q flag)
18 03.318' N, 063 08.795' W

Tuesday, December 16:

After publishing a blog, I roamed around the boat to see if there was anything else to address before our eventual departure. I just needed to deflate and stow the dinghy, and we would be ready. With that chore done, I retired to the cockpit with a paperback novel, intending to while away the day lost in a good book.

As I sat there trying to get into the story, I couldn't help but get distracted by the weather around me. Winds were gusty (not fun for sailing), but Prudence kept inching her bow ever more northward as she anchor-sailed on her mooring. And in order to sail eastward, here in the tradewind belt, a north wind is a rare gift, not to be wasted.

So, by the time our conversation turned to what we should have for lunch, I broached the topic of departure. "I know we talked about leaving tomorrow morning, but look at the way this wind is approaching due north," I expressed to Sheryl. "We could leave today or tomorrow," she replied, "I don't have a strong opinion either way." While her mouth indicated no preference, her eyes said something else. Something I could read because I was feeling it too. Her eyes shouted, "Leave today!?! That would make it REAL, and not just some theoretical plan. That's a little scary." We were both scared.

We sat a while and talked openly about our trepidation. It was understandable, after having not sailed for nearly 10 months we were going to turn right through the cut and head out into the big blue ocean (so to speak). As Captain Ron would say, 'If anything is going to happen, it is going to happen out there,' away from the safety nest of Culebra's sheltered harbors. Fear has a way of holding some people back; however, it is different for me. As I explained to Sheryl, given the final choice of today or tomorrow, I choose today. It is better for me because of my inclination toward worry. An imminent departure tomorrow morning was sure to give me a restless night's sleep (not something you want on the eve of a long passage). Better to take advantage of my current well-rested state today, resulting from a 'surprise' departure, as opposed to the anxiety buildup an overnight wait would entail.

So, we agreed. After a hot lunch and some final stowing, we started up the engine. Before untying the mooring line, we raised the main and staysail and were sailing away from Dakity as the late afternoon sunshine shimmered on the water.

We engaged the engine to guide us through the cut and around the outer reefs of Culebra. Once clear of those dangers, we unfurled the genoa and shut down the engine. Looking back at our adopted home for these past months, I framed a beautiful mental photograph which I will carry with me for a long while: Green hills lined with bright sandy beaches meet a rainbow of blue hues turning white upon the reefs as the backdrop to a trail of bubbling wake leading away from the deeper and deeper blue waters off our stern.

With only a couple of hours left before darkness settles upon us, one of our first chores was to rig our windvane steering system (which we call SUE). SUE is a bit finicky, but once you get her adjusted, she will keep you on course, relative to the wind, with no worries. SUE is a marvel of engineering, using a light wooden paddle to 'feel' the wind...


...and a strong rudder in the water to power the steering lines which turn the wheel...


...it is an elegant machine to observe in action. The unfortunate thing is that it came with the boat and has no instructions or directions. Trial and error had it operational in short order the last time we used it, and we were hopeful that the same would be true tonight. However, it took a few more 'errors' on this occasion and a bit of frustration mounted between us as we tried to work it out. The situation was not helped at all by the big waves and confused seas, a part of the forecast we had purposefully played down as we rationalized and justified our decision to depart today. Now, though, it was much more than just words on paper, it was a wall of water slapping us on the stern and the feel of the boat sliding sideways to do the twist as we tried fruitlessly to adjust the temperamental SUE.

Finally, we got her working and as this valued helmsman took control of the boat, I apologized to Sheryl for the way I had expressed my frustration during the process and promised to do better as the journey continued. We sailed past Sail Rock and south of St. Thomas in the dwindling twilight. The radio came alive with announcements of numerous cruise ships leaving Charlotte Amalie and these floating cities broke away from the island to pursue paths to their varied next ports of call. Several of the brightly-lit behemoths turned to intersect our path, and one came close enough that we had to slow down to let it get comfortably in front of us as it crossed our bow.

Yes, that is right, I said "slow down." It was marvelous, we were under sail and averaging close to 6 knots. The NNE winds were perfect to drive us along the rhum line as long as we remained close hauled. SUE makes this a fairly easy point of sail, while the main work for us (in addition to keeping on the lookout for cruise ships) is to make sail adjustments.

Before long, our full genoa proved to be too much for the increasing winds. We furled it partially and continued on with a single reef in the main and full staysail. This sail plan would carry us through the night which saw continuous fluctuation of winds between extremes of 6 knots and 24 knots (and every value in between). With minor adjustments to SUE and occasional changes to sail trim, we kept moving through the night, galloping over the waves with a comfortable motion at a very nice 5-knot average overall speed.

Boat traffic continued to be a constant concern throughout the evening, and after a dozen or so we lost count of the number of cruise ships sighted. Only two approached close enough to force us to turn on the radar, monitor their specific proximity, and take evasive actions. With one, we simply fell off the wind an additional 90 degrees and allowed them to pass. The second, a relatively small (~200-300 feet) passenger ship with 5 big masts and no sails flying, approached us from behind. The lighting of those skeletal masts was a little eerie as it rapidly drew near and almost ran us down. We barely had time to switch on the engine (next time, we've got to remember to turn the radar off first in order to give enough power to the starter) and motor to windward to clear its path. There is nothing like coming within a quarter-mile of a big boat moving at 20-30 knots in the middle of a dark night to get your heart beating at 2:00AM.

We watched the lights of St. Thomas, St. John, and the British Virgin Islands slide slowly along our port side before sunrise found us in the Anegada (Sombrero) Passage.

Wednesday, December 17:


Our high-tech approach to navigation does not involve an electronic chart plotter. Instead, we keep a paper chart in the cockpit and plot our position (lat and long courtesy of GPS) with a pencil at the top of each hour. Above, I have circled each of those position points and connected the dots. As you can clearly see, there was no zigging and zagging across the Oh-My-God-a Passage. Our journey would take us all the way from Culebra to St. Martin on a single tack.

The new day brought generally calm winds (nothing over 15 knots) so we shook the reef out of the main and completely unfurled the genoa. The seas were large and rather scary looking, but the period was about 10 seconds, so we rose and fell gently with each 12-foot wave. Although there were times when we wished that there were a bit more wind (4-7 knots of wind makes it hard for SUE to keep on track), we maintained an average speed of 4 knots or better throughout most of the day. Daylight saw an end to the parade of cruise ships, so we were able to relax and enjoy the ride.

The daylight hours always seem to pass by much more quickly than the nighttime and it seemed amazingly soon that we could see the grey mass of St. Martin appear above the water line along the horizon. Of course, it took an additional 7 hours between first sighting and finally putting down an anchor off its shore. The last hour was the most exciting.

With sunset closing in fast, we knew that we could not make it into Marigot Bay before darkness settled in; however, Sheryl had found an alternate overnight anchorage on the southwest corner of the island. It would be suitable in settled weather, and the winds were calm. We could only hope that the big ocean swell did not make the anchorage untenable. Most important to us at this moment was making it there before it got dark. We almost succeeded.

Seven nautical miles out, we started the engine. With the power assist and full sails, we screamed along at nearly 7 knots. Meanwhile, over our shoulders, the sun sank rapidly. Also, as if this wasn't enough excitement, a parade of cruise ships began pouring out of the Dutch side of St. Maarten and turning in our direction. By the time we were two nautical miles out, the world had turned to black and white. One nautical mile off the coast, we dropped the sails and strained our eyes to see if there was anything in the water before us.

Three-quarters of a mile offshore, I spotted the breakers. Just barely visible in the thickening blackness and sounding much too close. We were in 35-feet of water and Sheryl said, "Close enough." We circled up into the wind and dropped all 200-feet of chain into the water. Immediately, a sense of accomplishment settled in and we began to relax a bit. Our anchor spot was very rolly, but we felt safe and secure. Safe enough that after a quick dinner from a soup can, we were both out like proverbial lights. Our sleep was so deep that I woke several hours later to discover that it had been lightly raining for a little while and I was covered with water. I moved around the boat and closed all the hatches and portlights. Despite the soaking and my movement around the boat, Sheryl never woke up. That is an unusually sound sleep. 130 nautical miles of sailing in 28 hours will do that to you.

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Vessel Name: Prudence
We are Doug & Sheryl, owners and crew of the sailing vessel Prudence.

This blog starts in 2005, when we initially had the idea to quit our jobs and live on a sailboat while we cruised to the Caribbean. At that time we had never owned a boat and had no experience sailing. [...]