Wrapping up our epic adventure sailing in the Leeward Islands, here’s Sean Safdi’s well written and thorough trip report, reprinted from his original Travel Talk Online posting. Also, be sure to see the full Daily Logs, Photos, and Video.
Trip Report – SXM Bareboat Charter
#1329052 – 08/21/11 01:52 AM
This trip we sailed a Moorings Beneteau 43.3 monohull out of the Moorings base at Oyster Pond, St. Martin in the Leeward Islands. Our boat, “Oyster”, was from the Moorings “exclusive” line and appeared almost new, although it still exhibited some of the wear typical on any charter boat (two of the blocks on the traveler failed our first day out). Overall we enjoyed the layout of the boat, with three cabins and three heads and a relatively spacious saloon (although everyone commented on the lack of storage space for provisions, due largely to the space occupied by the shore-power AC unit). Storage space notwithstanding, there was plenty of room for our crew of 6. The cockpit was fine with dual helms and a brand new electronics package including a top of the line chartplotter. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, the fridge on this boat worked better than pretty much any boat we’ve had in the past. The Yanmar 54hp engine was in brand new condition and performed flawlessly. The sails on this boat had far less wear than other boats we’ve chartered, and the boat sailed superbly to windward.
The Moorings base at Captain Oliver’s Marina at Oyster Pond is fine, although the shoreside facilities could use a serious upgrade. During our visit, the showers were out of operation entirely. There are a couple restaurant options within the marina complex (one upscale and one more casual) and some other options within walking distance. There is no major grocery for provisioning within walking distance; you will have to take a taxi. The base’s location is well-situated for accessing the most popular cruising grounds, but it is not close to the international airport. Expect a 45 minute to 1hr taxi ride. The Moorings had a taxi waiting for us on our arrival at the airport, which we were not expecting. The staff at the Moorings base was excellent as usual, and the chart and boat briefing were very thorough. Moorings is always willing to accommodate our requests such as providing us with an extra cooler for our drinks. In terms of provisioning, we chose to provision on our own upon arrival, but we did have the Moorings provision the majority of our beverages (soft drinks, beer, and gallon jugs of water). Much easier than having to lug those heavy items back from the grocery. We also always opt for the “charter starter kit”, which includes condiments, paper towels, trash bags, charcoal, etc.
We arrived on Friday, August 5, too late in the afternoon to do the chart and boat briefing that day. The Moorings had the boat ready for us at the dock, with our beverage provisioning already onboard and the shore-power AC cranking. With the benefit of the AC, we had a comfortable first night aboard the boat.
The following morning, we did the chart and boat briefing, topped off the water tanks, took care of a few last-minute issues, and departed the base by about 11:30 in 20-25kt winds and 8-9ft seas! We raised the main with a single reef before leaving the protection of the harbor, and the Moorings sent a pilot boat to guide us out into the ocean. It was a pretty wild ride coming out of the channel directly into the big swell and high winds, and everyone was quickly drenched from the waves smashing over the bow. Doesn’t get any better than that! We were fortunate that the conditions were much calmer upon our return to base, but it is worth noting that Oyster Pond (along with Orient Bay) would be pretty hazardous to enter in much heavier conditions, with the wind and swell pushing you towards the reefs.
After clearing the channel we motored about a half mile offshore directly into the wind, and then set our course for Gustavia on St. Barthelemy, a sail of perhaps about 15nm. After arriving at Gustavia, we motored around for a bit looking for the best spot to anchor, and finally settled on the area just northwest of Fort Oscar and close enough for any easy dinghy ride into the inner harbor. Anchored with good holding in about 15ft of water. The harbor was pretty crowded for off-season, so I can only imagine how it must be in December or January. We cleared through customs and immigration, and had a great dinner at Eddy’s, a short walk from the waterfront.
The following morning we were up early for a longer sail (about 25nm) down to the Dutch island of St. Eustatius (Statia). The winds were still quite brisk, but fortunately had calmed down more to the 18-22kts range rather than 20-25kts. Seas were also down a bit. Had a fantastic beam reach under reefed main and jib, and arrived at Statia far earlier than we had anticipated.
On the northwestern tip of Statia, there is a large depot where oil tankers drop off oil from South America (mostly Venezuela we were told) and other ships pick up the oil to transport it far and wide. The area is marked by a giant oil tanker buoy about a mile offshore, and you should stay well to seaward of this buoy as you are coming up or down the coast. It was pretty surreal sailing through a giant field of anchored tankers waiting to pick up or drop off their load. Just to the south of this area was our destination, Oranje Baai and the capital, Oranjestad.
Take note…there are no mooring balls at Oranjestad! Contrary to 2010-2011 edition of the cruising guide, and what we were told during our chart briefing, the mooring balls that were previously in place here were removed due to the excessive cost of their upkeep. We were not the only boat that came in and searched a good amount of time for the elusive mooring balls. Confusing the matter are the myriad of smaller mooring balls put in place by the locals, but don’t pick these up because they are private and likely won’t hold your boat! The good news is that the anchoring is easy and the holding is good anywhere behind the protection of the breakwater.
Statia was a real highlight of the trip for us, and we enjoyed the quiet, off the beaten track feel after coming from bustling St. Martin and St. Barths. Don’t come here for the beaches, but the diving, historical sites, and natural beauty are all spectacular. After clearing customs and immigration, we went ashore to walk up the hill to the town. Oranjestad feels like something out of old world Europe rather than the Caribbean — many beautifully restored homes. Fort Oranje is also worth a visit and has a great history, including the famous “first salute” to the United States.
The following morning, we arranged a two tank dive with Golden Rock Dive Center, and we were not disappointed! Golden Rock is a great operation and the diving located immediately outside the anchorage is not to be missed. We did one wreck and one reef dive, and wished we could have stayed longer to do more diving — the reefs here are really in great shape compared to elsewhere in the Caribbean. In the afternoon we took a taxi tour overland to get some views of the “Quill” volcano.
The next morning, though we wished we had time to continue south, we cleared out of Statia and headed back north to St. Barths, picking up a marine park mooring ball for the night (free of charge) at Anse de Colombier, on the western tip of the island. Anse de Columbier is a beautiful, well protected anchorage with a great beach and a secluded feel. Do not miss the half hour walk to Anse des Flamandes — the trail is cut into hills and cliffs along the water and is quite beautiful. Be sure to take sturdy shoes.
The next morning, we did two more dives with St. Barth Plongee. Based out of Gustavia, they happily came to pick us up at Anse de Columbier. After returning to the boat, we motored a short distance over to the small island of Ile Fourchue, where we picked up another park mooring for the night. Ile Fourche is another great stop for those who enjoy seclusion. We shared the anchorage with just a couple other boats, and we ventured ashore to explore and had the entire island to ourselves. Hiking the peaks on Ile Fourche was a real highlight — with amazing views towards both St. Barths and St. Martin and down into the anchorage. There are no real beaches here, but the rugged island is definitely worth exploring. We placed our trip geocache, the “Oyster CrewCache”, at the foot of a rocky outcropping. While ashore, we also noticed a dinghy being pounded against the rocky coastline on the windward side of the island — we reasoned that the dinghy must have escaped its owner in St. Barths and floated the short distance across to Ile Fourche. We tried to rescue the dinghy and managed to get the engine started and the boat backed out into deeper water — only to have the outboard fail. We tossed the anchor over the side and spent about 45 minutes attempting to restart the outboard before we gave up and paddled back in to shore between the rocks. Hopefully the owner finds their dinghy — it looked brand new!
After a peaceful night on the mooring ball at Ile Fourche, we departed the following morning for a long sail to the British island of Anguilla. By this point in the trip, the wind had died down considerably and was averaging approximately 8-15kts, with some higher gusts. We sailed and motorsailed on a broad reach and a run around the southern end of Sint Maarten, past the beautiful blue water at Point Basse Terre, and north across the narrow channel and around the western tip of Anguilla. We then headed up the north coast of Anguilla and into Road Bay and Sandy Ground Village. Anguilla is a low-lying island with fine white sand beaches — the white sand gives the water beautiful shades of light blue and green. Road Bay is the main port of entry, but also a great stop in its own right, with a long beach and plenty of restaurant and bar options ashore. We anchored with about 4ft of water under the keel (setting the anchor was easy in the sandy bottom) and went ashore to clear in and pay the park fees. In the anchorage, we watched kids from the Anguilla Youth Sailing Club practicing some very impressive roll tacks on 420s. The club rented us a Hobbie Wave for an hour, and we had a fun time zipping through the anchorage and out into the open ocean. That night, we had dinner ashore and visited one of the local bars for live music.
The next morning, we got a leisurely start, went searching for another geocache, and then departed for Prickly Pear Cays around 11:00am. Prickly Pear Cays are a day-only anchorage within the marine park, with plenty of park mooring balls available. It took about an hour to reach Prickly Pear from Road Bay (heading north past Sandy Island), and we were very glad that we made the trip! Prickly Pear is a beautiful small island with a perfect beach on the north side of the island a little beach bar run by a very entertaining English expat. The sand and water here was some of, if not the finest that we encountered throughout the entire trip, and we regretted that we didn’t have more time to spend on the island. In the late afternoon, we motored back to our overnight anchorage at Crocus Bay. Crocus is a fine anchorage (and supposedly the only other permitted overnight anchorage), but anchoring room was a bit limited with the number of local boats and moorings in the bay. We finally found a spot, and holding (as it was throughout the entire trip) was very good on a sandy bottom.
The next morning we motored the very short distance to Little Bay to explore the caves onshore. Definitely take the time to stop here for an hour or two and explore the caves and rock formations. There are also a couple nice looking beaches tucked in between the rocks. After an hour or so exploring, the dive boat came to pick us up for our fifth and final dive of the trip — another wreck dive. We dove with Douglas Carty, a small operation based out of Road Bay. Though a small operation, Douglas was very professional and offered personalized service; we really enjoyed diving with him.
After returning from the dive, we quickly got underway and sailed up the north coast of Anguilla and through Scrub Island Pass. After coming through the pass, we headed back south to our next destination — Orient Bay on St. Martin. Orient Bay can be tricky to enter and (like Oyster Pond) not advisable to enter in high seas. We had good conditions with calm seas, and we carefully followed the instructions in the cruising guide to enter the bay through the reefs and anchor between Green Cay and the nude beach with only a few feet under the keel. The water in the anchorage is spectacular blue-green, although we encountered many jellyfish (seemingly the non-stinging variety). Orient Bay is a different experience and not necessarily our preferred type of anchorage — it was extremely crowded and touristy during the day, with jet skis and parasail boats flying through the anchorage. At night it cleared out a bit, but the restaurants on shore were still a bit touristy and overpriced. After some searching, we did find a nice bar with friendly waitstaff where we had a good dinner ashore. Even if you don’t like crowds, it may still be worth a visit to Orient Bay just for the experience.
The following morning, our last aboard the boat, we got an early start for our short trip down the coast to Oyster Pond. We pulled in to the dock, packed our bags, did the quick debrief with the Moorings, and were on our way back to the airport by noon — another great sailing vacation in the books!
Overall, we really enjoyed out cruise through the northern leeward islands. Highlights include the diving in Statia, secluded anchorages of Anse de Columbier and Ile Fourche on St. Barths, and the beaches on Anguilla. Moorings as always provided top-notch service and a great boat. We hope to explore these waters again some day.
Trip Photos [ed: Sean’s trip photos]