Repatriation from Sint-Maarten

After many ups and downs with airlines, authorities, and suppliers, it is finally clear that we can sail to Sint-Maarten. From time to time we have planned that Sofia and her family need to stay on the boat until we get out of the hurricane area, even consider crossing the Atlantic back to Europe. It is a real relief that we finally manage to arrange the mast repair and flight to Europe from the same island at about the same time. We get a lovely sailing to Sint-Maarten, almost straight into the sunset and then straight into a moonrise. The only unusual thing that happened on this sailing was that soon after we left Antigua we got a really big fish on the hook.

The fishing story

As soon as we reach deep water, over 100 m deep, it’s time to start fishing. Today we sail along the strip of sargasso seaweed that forms around all islands. The seaweed comes from the Atlantic Ocean and drifts with wind and current towards the Windward Islands here in the Caribbean. The seaweed that does not get stuck on an island drifts along the island’s front towards the strait between the islands. There it forms long stretches and in these stretches of seaweed, Mahi-Mahi likes to hunt out in deep water. So if there is sargasso and flying fish, then there is probably also the Mahi-Mahi. Today it was a lot of sargasso and flying fish. Johan has also fixed new fishing lures, so now there should be a catch!

There is a lot of seaweed on the bait today, and then it crackles in the fishing reel. Then we go up on the aft deck and clears the bait and it was at a time like that when the fish took the bait. Just as I start cranking the line to clear the bait from seaweed, I feel how the line is tensioned and it begins to creak in the fishing reel again. I have time to think, more seaweed! As the creak increases in frequency, I realize that it is a fish on the hook and begin to tighten the reel brake not to lose too much line. Johan had seen how a large fish jumped 50-60 m behind the boat and that’s about where my bait was.

The fish continue to pull out the line at a high rate and I have to tighten the brake even more so as not to lose too much line. Now the brake is so tight that it is not possible to pull the rope by hand without wearing gloves, but the fish can, so it must be quite large.

After 15-20 seconds of rushing, the fish calms down a bit and stops pulling out more line. But it rested just a little and after a while, it rushed again and pulled out even more line. After some such rushes, I see the fish swim at the surface of the front of a wave, about 100 m behind the boat. It is a BIG green-shimmering fish, certainly a Mahi-Mahi. It continues to pull out more and more line and now dives into the depth. The next break comes after 15 seconds or so. By pause, I mean that the fish does not pull out more line, but it does not yield at all. During the breaks, I try to regain some of the line I lost in the rush, but only get a few turns with the crank in each pumping. So at this stage, the Mahi-Mahi wins by 10-1 in each round (it takes 10 m line and I get 1 m back).

This is how it will go on for a long time, without Mahi-Mahi giving in. Sometimes it dives, sometimes it comes up to the surface, further and further behind the boat. By this time, the tip of the fishing rod has been colored yellow by the braided Dyneema line that sits on the reel. The rope is worn against the eyes of the fishing rod when the rope is tightened so hard and slides against the line rings on the rod.

The left arm that holds the rod is cramping and it hurts badly where the fishing rod is pressing in the stomach. Would need one of those holders you can support the rod against. I’m tired and want to get the fish up soon. It is at the surface and it begins to get seaweed on the line in front of the fish and it becomes even heavier to pump in. Think it might be time to try another tactic. I tighten the brake as much as possible and start pumping home. Gets home a few meters, before the fish make a jerk and is released from the hook.

It’s gone! Maybe I should have had more patience and tired the fish even more before it was time to wind it in. This was not the end I and Johan had envisioned. It was certainly a big Mahi-Mahi of 20 kg or so 😉

Simpsons Bay

We arrive at Simpsons Bay early in the morning and find an anchorage off the beach in the south. From there it is close to taking the dinghy to the Police dock at Simpson Bay Bridge. I will meet our agent there to provide passports and other documents needed at the Customs clearance at Sint-Maarten.

Sofia and Johan pack their stuff and we have lunch before it’s time for them to go to the airport. We feel both happy and sad at the same time. Glad they are finally coming home and sad as we will miss them aboard. I think they feel the same way. I need to make 2 turns to the Police dock with the dinghy to transport the whole family and the bags there. There they are picked up by a pre-booked taxi which takes them to the airport. There are more sailors going with the same plane, there are 6-7 cars waiting for passengers for the evacuation flight.

The first evening in Simpsons Bay we enjoy one of many fine sunsets here. This is special because the aircraft that Sofia, Johan, Sixten, and Klara are going to fly with will start soon after the sun is down. We sit in the cockpit and wait for the flight to start, we have to wait until eight in the evening before the plane leaves.

What we do during quarantine

When we are awake, we spend the time in quarantine at Sint-Maarten in the cockpit or in the water. We are allowed to leave the boat and take the dinghy to the Police dock, where we can throw away junk. As the swell goes into Simpsons Bay and hits the boat from the side, it rolls a lot all the time, day and night. In these situations, I would want to convert the boat to a catamaran, which does not roll this way.

We read, cook apple pie, gild the sundowner with champagne, look at weather forecasts to see how the weather develops in the Atlantic if we would be forced to sail to Europe. We stay updated on the possibilities of hauling out the boat on Grenada if Trinidad does not open its border in time. While we are here, it becomes possible to enter Grenada if you are going to store your boat there. We book a space at Clarks Court Boatyard and Marina. Nice, now we know we don’t have to sail to Europe. The US is closed to us since we do not have a visa there and we cannot get one now as the US does not issue new ones since the end of April.

One of our boat neighbors here on the anchorage is the English boat Kind of Blue with a lone single-arm man on board. While we have been here, he has prepared to sail alone across the Atlantic as soon as there is a suitable weather window. A few days before it’s time for us to leave, he picks up his anchor and begins his sailing across the Atlantic. We can follow him on the journey by means of the tracker he has on board. Most people sailing today have a satellite tracker that makes it possible to follow them on a tracking page on the internet. Our friends Malin and Kaj on Cross Ocean left the Caribbean a week ago and are heading for the Azores. They also have a tracker onboard and we follow them via the internet. Same with our friends at Lilla Anna 3 with Ola and Anette aboard and who will soon start their sailing across the Atlantic.

Time for rigg work

The bridge into the lagoon (Simpson Bay Bridge) opens at 9.30 and 14.30 for traffic into the lagoon. So in order for FKG Rigging to start working on the boat at 7.30 on Friday, we need to go into the dock the day before. We have anchored near the bridge and it is enough that we raise the anchor 15 minutes before the bridge opening. So shortly after 14 hours I contact the bridge guard over the VHF and request a bridge opening to go into the lagoon. The answer is not really what I expected.

No sir, that is not possible, we opens 9.00 and 14.00. You are welcome tomorrow.”

I contact FKG Rigging and tell them that the bridge has changed opening hours and that we did not come through today. It’s no problem, we can come tomorrow and they will do the job on Monday instead. Nice with flexible suppliers. But they may not have that much to do because they must have special permission for each job they should do.

The next day, we call the bridge guard in time and get permission to pass. To be sure not to miss, we raise the anchor half an hour before, and luckily it was. With about 2-3 meters left to lift, the winch can no longer cope and I can see how the anchor is stuck in a heavy chain. It is now that one would have one of those hooks that can be attached to the other chain so that the anchor can be released from the chain’s grip.

We have to hang the heavy chain in a rope on the bollard in the bow and then try to pry out the anchor. The problem is that we are running out of time and I do not want to go in the water to put a rope around the chain. Finally, I manage to get a rope around the chain using the boat hook. Then it is fairly easy to loosen the anchor and raise it. We also remove the rope around the heavy chain without incident. Now it is 4 minutes left to bridge opening and no other boats are going through. Full throttle up to the canal so they see that we are coming. Phu, now the bridge is opening and we can drive through after receiving the clearance from the Coast Guard that we have permission to enter the lagoon.

Inside the lagoon, FKG meets with a boat that will show us the way to their dock. Our chart does not at all correspond to how the fairway is marked in reality. Had we not had a guide, we would have had to find our way with the help of the plotter and the echo sounder. There are large areas on both sides of the fairway that turns several times. At FKG’s jetty are some boats that have been stuck here since Sint-Maarten introduced curfew almost 2 months ago. Can’t have been so fun, with no cooling breeze and no opportunity for bathing. It is a couple from Germany and one from Spain. Both boats will have their repairs completed the week we are at FKG. The German couple is going to Panama and the Spanish couple is going to Puerto Rico with their catamaran 4 Patas during the hurricane season.

I have written about the repairs of the mast in a separate article, Repairs on Sint-Maarten.

Ashore

After 2 weeks in quarantine, we are finally free to go ashore if we follow the rules that exist, at least 2 m distance to others, face mask among people outside and inside, curfew after nine in the evening. We can finally buy food, unfortunately, no restaurants are open. There is an open pizzeria, Pizza Italy, with a takeaway near where we land with dinghy (at Simpson Bay Yacht Club below the pharmacy). They have super good pizzas Napoli style, etc .. so tasty after 2 weeks of canned food.

The color of the window frames from Lewmar comes off, one thing we already discovered in Las Palmas. Hallberg-Rassy has confirmed that it is a manufacturing defect and thus a warranty case. They have ordered new window frames from Lewmar and they will be sent to Sint-Maarten, but the delivery could not be completed before the Corona outbreak. Now I’m trying to change so that they don’t send them to Sint-Maarten anymore, but unfortunately, it’s too late. It turns out that the frames have just been sent and are on their way here. Then just hope they arrive before we are forced to leave. We had to stay a week longer than planned to wait for the window frames.

We take a few walks in the area around Pelican Key and away towards the Causeway Bridge, but most of it is closed and there are no nice walking routes nearby either. The walkways along the beaches belong to different resorts and we are not welcome there. Sint-Maarten is probably the most exploited island we have visited so far. Here are good opportunities to repair the boat and get spare parts and travel to and from the Caribbean. The paradise feeling does not appear, at least not with us.

We also take the opportunity to shop for food, partly at Carrefour off the Causeway Bridge and partly at Market Garden at Pelican Key. It is a little further to go to Carrefour, but they have a bigger selection and we like their Gaspacho on paper packaging, cheap and super good. So for us, it was worth getting there. We put the dinghy at the quay at Port de Plaisance and walked across the parking lot towards the store, a 5-10 minute walk.

Up Next

In the next post, we sail all the way to Martinique and end up in a new quarantine waiting to continue south. We still have hope of being able to haul out Sally on Trinidad.

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