Exody - May 2nd - Countdown to ARC USA
Anchored in Long Bay, Virgin Gorda, we are sheltering from the persistent rain under a grey sky but pleased to have found a beach anchorage to ourselves in the BVI, the destination apparently most heavily populated in the world with charter boats! It is a delightful archipelago that I first visited briefly in 1980 when nearby Tortola was the agreed delivery/handover point for my first sailing yacht purchase.
We now have just five days to go until the beginning of ARC USA. This will take us from here to Portsmouth, near Norfolk Virginia via Bermuda. Since completing World ARC on 9th April, just over three weeks ago, we both took time for flying family 'pitstops' to the UK and Trinidad respectively - quite a culture - (and for me a climate) -shock. Back on board Exody at Rodney Bay St Lucia ten days ago, we spent two solid days getting things back together after the internal repair and varnishing work that had been done by Messrs Vision and Pride. It's good to have the worst of the woodwork recovered close to its former glory after both a physical beating from nearly two years as a liveaboard and a solar beating through windows and hatches. We are mostly pleased with their work but it just shows up how much is still to be done cum re-fit time!
Our cruise northward from St Lucia started on Saturday 23rd with a good 120 mile overnight sail, first in the lee of Martinique and then Dominica, both islands blanketing the trade winds and requiring engine use for a few hours. First stop was Les Saintes, an attractive small archipelago just to the south and part of French department, Guadeloupe, where we picked up a mooring just next to a popular snorkel site over a wrecked fishing boat. It was Sunday so many daytrippers came snorkelling - arriving by swimming, canoeing, dinghying. Ashore Monday we realised we were in France - fresh baguettes and croissants at the boulangerie, cafe at the cafe, and a general sense of style in the boutiques.
Tuesday 26th we set off at 05.00 for the 85 miles to Antigua, motoring again in the lee of Guadeloupe but then enjoying a great beam reach sail with favourable current, bringing us to the historic Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour well before sunset. Although busy for Antigua Sailing Week, we found a spot to anchor, dinghied across the harbour for a sundowner and retreated to the boat to maximise our distance from the noise of the night's reggae concert. Spotted an Exody sistership 'Rhumb' being hauled out - recently completed the ARC - only about 50 odd Starlight 39's built so good to see. Ashore to clear-in Wednesday morning, we anxiously watched Exody drag toward the mangroves and hastened back just in time. Invited by locally resident and keen sailing friend Bernie to join him for lunch at the lay-day dinghy racing on Pigeon Beach, we upped anchor and took Exody the couple of miles around to Falmouth Harbour anchoring off the beach amidst the loud music, the race commentaries and much beach-partying. Wrist bands for the VIP tent magically appeared and we soon enjoyed a great barbecue, catching up with Bernie and also with Caroline who crews with him and had also been on Aretha in World ARC- a small world! Thursday we dinghied ashore early and walked across to Nelson's Dockyard to see Bernie's Team Taz - 20 crew (ideally each 200 lbs) required for a 52 foot racer. Great respect for a very different type of sailing! Later we watched many of the 100-odd registered racing yachts of all shapes and sizes return to Falmouth before our evening departure for Sint Maarten.
The downwind 80 mile passage was fairly slow under genoa alone and we anchored at Simpson's Bay around noon, just an hour ahead of our long time (ie 1980-1982) Trinidad sailing buddies now on Hallberg Rassy 39, Ventus - Anthony, Michael and Mike with new (to us anyway) crew Nadine. We anchored just outside the lifting bridge to the lagoon and within sight and earshot of the busy international airport. It was amazing how 35 years just slipped away as the reminiscences and familiar anecdotes were shared easily over drinks and a meal ashore. Saturday saw us and Ventus twice visiting the large chandleries inbetween mutual boat visitations comparing 39-footers over tea then rum and wine. Sunday we dinghied the two miles through the lagoon to check out the French side of the island, Saint Martin. Finding virtually everything firmly closed - Mayday holiday on top of Sunday tradition. Yet we managed to find lunch,(Euros on this side, US Dollars the other), a small chinese supermarket, and on the way back a gas station for the outboard tank - well located to service both vessels and cars. The massive Simpsons Bay lagoon is noted as the largest 'garage' for superyachts in the Caribbean so it was interesting to observe yet another side to this boating game, perhaps with even deeper pockets than the racers!
Once again we departed a little before sunset on May 1st for our last 80 mile sail of this mini-cruise, again mainly downwind and down current across the Anegada Passage. The winds were very light so engine was on again for five hours before we could make 4-5 knots under genoa alone in the early hours. Throughout the night lightning bursts like tracers in the sky surrounding us, but thankfully at a distance. Made our landfall here at Virgin Gorda just after dawn, passing close by Branson's Necker Island and anchoring at Gun Creek for breakfast before clearing in. We passed Ayama on the way in, located Hugur on the AIS, heard Garlix on the radio and met Starblazer at Customs- so the remnants of the World ARC family are about to reconvene- some for ARC USA, some for ARC Europe.