Trip Report, March 4 – 14, 2012
St. Marten and other Leeward Islands

This sailing adventure had 14 people on two bareboat sail boats. The report has been segmented by topic rather than chronologic. We had a sleepaboard the night of March 3, 2012, and sailed from the 4th to the 14th. This was the 12th annual trip we have organized.

Charter Company/Base
This was the first time using Horizon Yacht Charters and I was very interested to experience their service. It turned out the pre-arrival customer service, by Carlijn, was the best ever (after, over the years, having used Moorings/Sunsail – which was by far the worst – TMM, Barefoot and CYOA.) As the Captains and First Mates were arriving a day ahead of departure, and as the 2 boats were available, Horizon very nicely agreed to have both the chart and boat briefings on the day before the sleepaboard (they also agreed to let us put the provisions onboard before the sleepaboard.) The chart briefing was pretty routine in that we didn’t learn much we didn’t already know from the cruising guide (2010-2011 Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands, Chris Doyle.) That briefing could have been improved if it had covered all the steps needed before departure as, later, someone came down the dock and waved what turned out to be a boat inventory list for me to check through and then someone yelled to me that I needed to go to the office to get the “box” containing boat papers, binocs, courtesy flags, etc. The boat briefing was good and was greatly helped by using my own version of the “Boat Checklist” (found on TTOL under both Charter Boat Reviews and BVI People Talk.) Even then I missed checking the level of the dingy gas, which caused some frantic paddling a couple days later!

The Horizon base in Cole Bay, Simpson Bay Lagoon, isn’t the most scenic. It is located in a rather commercial district and their dock is right next to a boat graveyard. It does benefit from having the bar/restaurant Lagoonies right at the dock – which became our hangout. Being inside the lagoon, one of the issues we had anticipated was being in position to make the openings of the bridge between the lagoon and the ocean. As we had completed our briefings and provisioning the prior day we were able to make the 09:00 outward-bound opening. If we had needed to do the briefings, etc., on departure day, it would have been a challenge to make the next, 11:00, opening (after that it is 16:00.) When returning, we anchored in Simpson Bay the last night so we were in position to make the 09:30 inbound opening. The bridge’s limitation of egress and ingress to the charter base is a factor not faced when using charter companies based in an open harbor. The actual transit of the bridge channel was a minor piloting challenge (no more difficult, for instance, than navigating out of the TMM and Conch bases on Tortola.)

One of the interesting aspects of the base location is that it is right next to the North Sail loft. Given the boisterous conditions, each evening the crews of competitors in the Heineken Regatta came in with huge sails needing repair. These were the type sails requiring up to a half dozen people to carry! Then we could listen to the war stories about the wipe-out, knock down, etc., that destroyed the sail. (Do you know the difference between a fairy tale and a sailing story? A fairy tale starts with, “…once upon a time.” A sailing story starts with, “…so there we were.”)

The Boats
We chartered a 40 ft. Leopard cat, “Agility”, and a 49 ft. Jeanneau monohull, “Adventurer of the Sea.” We re-proved the old adage: if you want to go “sailing” get a monohull; if you want to go “cruising” get a catamaran. The mono clearly handled the large waves better than the cat, it pointed MANY degrees higher, and was faster on almost every point of sail. However, it had no dodger so the crew was wet and cold for much of the trip, when running the engine those below could hardly talk over the noise, the engine heat was sweltering and some of the bunks were barely wider than a single bed. The cat, on the other hand, slammed into the high waves and made considerable leeway when sailing. BUT the crew was comfortable on all points of sail, a drink placed on the table stayed on the table, the salon, cockpit and tramp provided room for everyone to find their own private place and the large bunks were comfortable for all. The cat had brand new engines and props (long, costly story for the owner!) and ran like a dream. The refrigeration on both boats seemed very good – froze the veggies on Adventurer and kept ice frozen on Agility.

Agility had the same problem all Leopards have with davits – they break! We have used Leopard cats from several different charter companies and all have the same issue. The davits on the Moorings boats (Belize) have simply been cut off! The basic problem is the davits can’t lift the dink high enough to protect the dink from waves crashing into it when sailing. Curious such a consistent problem continues without the manufacturer developing a better design/solution.

Did both boats have operational issues? Sure – they are boats! But nothing enough to interrupt the trip.

Several of the crew planned to arrive in SXM a day early and we needed a place for one night. As this was high season as well as the weekend of the Heineken Regatta we looked high and low (including asking for help on TTOL) for a decent place for one night. What we finally found available was Carl’s Unique Inn, where we all stayed. Our unanimous critique, in one word – Terrible! The location is in a rough commercial/manufacturing area, it is on the third floor with no elevator, the rooms are “basic”, the a/c was either full on (think: meat-locker) or off, windows did not close, on a noisy road, no hot water (even in the sink faucet), little water pressure, and the “continental breakfast” was rolls from the downstairs’ store and instant coffee. It’s only benefits – it is cheap (for SXM) and within reasonable walking distance to the Horizon base.

Each boat had developed their menu for meals onboard and the needed ingredients. After reviewing the several options for ordering provisions ahead of time, both boats decided to do their own shopping at Le Grand Marche, Cole Bay. By arrangement, Rakesh Jethani, Manager, met the provisioners when they arrived, took their bulk orders (water, beer and soda) and had those delivered from the warehouse. The provisioners were more than happy with Le Grand Marche including the variety, freshness, and prices. When the shopping was finished Rakesh arranged to have all the provisions delivered to our respective boats. Great store, great service, great management!

We ate a few meals onshore. On St Bart we all gathered at Buccaneers. On Statia we walked to Blue Bead. On St. Kitt we all scattered with some going to Fisherman’s Warf and I ate at Ballyhoo. Antigua found us at Ripples for hamburgers!

What sailing trip would be complete without complaining about either too much or too little wind? We had both! The first half of the trip had winds consistently over 20 and waves of 12 – 15 feet. In St. Bart we received a weather advisory; phoned to us from the Horizon base, which kept us in port for a couple extra days (don’t you just hate getting “stuck” in St. Bart?) On the broad reach from St. Bart to Statia we encountered a squall line with winds hitting 35 mph. We had the jenny already rolled up to half but only one reef in the main so we pinched-up right to almost a luff until the squall passed. Other legs found each boat, but particularly the cat, motor sailing or motoring to get to the next destination. As fate would have it, the best conditions were the very last day for the short sail from Anguilla to Simpson Bay.

As is always the case, just when we got to sleep the rain would start. You could hear people scrambling to close hatches all over the boat!

Parking Spots
Our first night was Ile Fourche. When we (on the cat) arrived all the balls were occupied so we anchored in about the middle of the bay. The mono had beaten us and was on a ball on the east side. Although some balls opened up during the afternoon, we were well set so just stayed on anchor. I prefer a well set anchor every time over a mooring ball of dubious strength.

The second night was Gustavia, St. Bart. We arrived first and looked around on the north side of the marked channel then went to the south side and anchored near Gros Ilets. The mono anchored just north of the channel and about as far out. From our vantage point on the south side the north looked rolly and tighter packed with boats. When we dinked over to visit the mono on the north side, the south side looked rolly and tighter packed! The grass is always greener… We stayed here 2 more nights.

Next stop Statia. We sailed around the south end and then downwind to Oranje Baai. We picked up one of the several mooring balls. A very nice new, large dingy dock has been constructed on the shore-side inside the protected harbor. This is much easier on dink and people than the high wall at the end of the harbor.

Then to St. Kitt, Port Zante Marina. We called the marina and the only place they could put the cat was on the outside wall (but inside the protective breakwater.) The mono went into a slip inside the marina. When standing on the deck of the cat the top of the wall was about head high so our thoughts about being able to stroll on and off the boat in a marina were quickly dashed. To get water (for the tanks) we moved the boat forward until we were lined up with a faucet inside the marina then put together hoses from several places and pulled them over the wall to our boat. Not very elegant! No fuel dock whatsoever. Some guy with a barrel on a pick-up truck offered to deliver fuel, we opted out of that. The marina itself is very rough - as in, not well finished. They advertise they have the best restrooms in the Caribbean. Well, this “best restroom” was roomy, but had no hot water. Even without a hot water shower it was so hot inside I was sweating again before I left. The only thing this marina has going for it is that it is the only actual marina in this part of the Leewards. HOWEVER, they can phone a lady who does laundry overnight and I had all my by-then salt soaked clothes and linens cleaned – heaven!

Downwind to Saba (“SAY’ ba”, we learned). When we arrived at Fort Bay I left the First Mate in charge of the cat and dinked ashore to clear in. This harbor also has a nice new dingy dock (turn right as you enter the protected harbor and it is on the shore side.) Then we motored around the corner to the mooring field at Ladder Bay. As by now the wind/waves had moderated considerably this was a very comfortable spot (probably not so nice in rough weather!) It is the most visually dramatic island in the Leewards with the steep cliffs rising right out of the water.

Long beam reach to Anguilla. In Road Bay we anchored very easily just north of the marked channel about even with the end of the commercial dock. The mono tried several times to anchor further north and finally came down next to us. This commercial dock is busy 24 hours a day, so you must respect the marked channel. We also went around to Crocus Bay, snorkeled Little Bay and then returned to Road Bay.

The last night we anchored in Simpson Bay, north of the channel. The mono anchored well over by the shore off Kim Sha beach.


Clearing in and out of Customs and Immigration on each island/country was about as varied as one can imagine. Before leaving home I had prepared a spreadsheet with all the passport information of each crew member and took 25 copies with me (didn’t need all of them.) The list was readily accepted by almost every country. The Captain of Adventurer had made a copy of the face page of the passport for each of his crew, which I think helped him in one instance. Few of the countries actually looked at the passports, let alone stamp them. Some of the countries insisted on seeing the paperwork from the last port of call and some insisted on knowing the next port of call. The costs, below, are for the 40’ cat and crew of 7.

SXM – In preparing to leave St. Martin the charter company discovered Agility had evidently entered the lagoon via the French side bridge so had never cleared in to the Dutch side. “No problem” – just don’t clear out of Dutch St. Martin and do clear in to French St. Bart (and it worked!) Adventurer went through the bridge, anchored and dinked back to C&I at the bridge to clear out.

St. Bart – Almost all computerized. In the Port Captain’s office there is a row of about 5 terminals. With minimal help from the staff (password, etc.) I entered all the boat and passport information for both clearing in and out. The staff printed it out and I paid for a night’s stay. After we learned we needed to stay longer the staff just told me to return when we were leaving, or the day before. All very smooth. The Port Authority does have a launch patrolling the anchorage looking at boat names; I assume he was verifying against the cleared-in list. Total cost was $76.23 for 3 nights.

Statia – Very confusing. The signs for the offices are either non-existent, or, you need to know where you are going to find the sign. The hangers-on lounging in front saw me approach with my papers and pointed me to the Immigration office – no sign on building. The officer was busy, behind the bullet-proof glass, scrutinizing a dress purchased by a co-worker. Oh well, it was air conditioned so we just enjoyed the debate. Finally, we filled out her paperwork, she accepted the crew list, we paid and were sent across the street for, we thought, Customs. They seemed surprised to see us but, as we were there, they said they would help us instead of sending us back across the street (we never were sure what that was all about.) We filled out approximately the same paperwork. We asked if we could clear out at the same time and they, again, said they were just helping out the lady across the street – see her. We went back but she had gone for the day. Cleared out the next morning with her. Cost: $25.

St. Kitt – Even more confusing. We first went to the Marina office and paid $39 for the marina plus $7 ($1/person) to use the showers (then you show the receipt to the guard and she/he gives you a key to the shower.) We went to C&I, in the new area developed right off the cruise ship dock, in the late afternoon and although there was an agent in the office she said she was just there to close up and come back the next day (I sensed that once the cruise ship departs they assume their work day is over.) So, back the next morning to same Immigration office. As there was no cruise ship in she seemed surprised to have any business but handed us all the usual paperwork. Then we went across the way to Customs to fill out virtually the same paperwork. Immigration: $19. Customs: $30.

Saba – a joy. Went into the small air conditioned, well, let’s call it a shanty. Nice young man with his feet up on the desk jawing with his fishing buddies. I filled out the usual papers about the boat and gave him the crew list. Charged $20 and bid us good day.

Antigua – fairly easy, but crowded. The first desk is Immigration and you fill out the usual forms. Then a couple steps over to Customs, just about the same forms. Still using carbon paper, stapling copies together and handing them back and forth between the desks – I assumed they knew what that was all about. This is all straight forward but there were several boats with different issues and it all took a lot of time. Our cost: $19. However, to go into their park system is another $70. Interesting listening to the Antiguan Customs Agent trying to explain the difference between $19 and $89 to a German speaking captain 

SXM – a little confusing and crowded. First to Immigration, usual forms, accepted crew list and checked passports against the list, but did not stamp the passports. Then back to the Customs bullet proof window (and again listened to the commentary on a co-worker’s dress while we stood there.) Cost: $27. Interesting part of the clearing-in at SXM is that the captain is supposed to have the actual e-mail from the airline to each crew member showing their outbound flight from SXM, and present this as part of the process. Otherwise, evidently, when that boat next clears out the former crew is assumed to still be aboard – making it difficult for the actual crew!

Highlights and Lowlights of the trip.

High – Saw the green flash twice; from Statia and from Saba.
Low – That already mentioned hotel.
High – Porpoises surfing in front of us when leaving Antigua.
Low – I tore the toenail off a big toe and another crew member dropped a hatch on her big toe. That smarts (but we did have a surgeon and two nurses.)
High – Saw the spouts from whales off Ile Fourche (well, the waves were so high we couldn’t actually see them but could see the exhaled spout very clearly. Anything but whales do that?)
Low – The snorkeling just isn’t very good. Saw nice fish but no coral.
High – Great camaraderie with a great crew.
Low – Fishing. I used every lure I had and the only thing ever interested was a sea bird.

High and Low – We planned the trip to have a lot of sailing and we certainly accomplished that. However, in so doing we didn’t give ourselves time (other than the enforced stay on St. Bart) to do any real land based exploring. In some cases we were so tired we just anchored and looked at the island before leaving the next morning.