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Taking On Water Between the BVI’s and Saint Martin

Taking On Water

The passage from the British Virgin Islands and back to Saint Martin is a 90 nautical miles trip upwind. I knew it would be a bit gnarly and wet as we had to sail close-hauled and tack our way back to Marigot Bay.

If you read the previous article from the journey, you probably remember that our VISA was about to expire. It was time for us to continue our voyage down through the rest of the Leeward Islands, and we were only going to make a brief stop in Saint Martin before continuing down to Antigua.

However, the weather was a bit tricky and our weather window to leave the virgin islands was short. Geir and Emil aboard Libertine II decided to stay back and wait for calmer weather, but I wanted to get going.

The forecast spoke of easterly to northeasterly winds between 10 and 15 knots which is pretty sweet. But the sea state was a bit unsettled, and we prepared ourselves for a bumpy ride. After relaxing for a few hours in my favorite anchorage in Little Harbour on Peter Island, we lifted the anchor and set off an hour after midnight.

Taking On Water Between the BVI's and Saint Martin
Notice our little loop outside the eastern tip of Virgin Gorda.

Calm conditions through the night

We started to make our way northeast as we came out of the archipelago through the Round Rock passage. The wind hadn’t picked up yet, and we were motoring for the first few hours before we could set sail. I planned on sailing northeast for a while to get a better angle to windward and take advantage of the calmer weather I expected for the first hours of the passage.

The wind was more or less easterly but was going to shift to northeasterly sometime during the morning, which would be our queue to tack and try to point as high as possible towards Marigot Bay in Saint Martin.

Are we sinking??

Morning came, and we got our first daylight. We were approaching the northern tip of Virgin Gorda, and the wind was starting to shift. As we were getting further out, the waves had picked up quite a bit as well, and we were now beating through them.

I was enjoying myself manually steering Ellidah when Sophie shouted from below deck.

“Robin, there is a ton of water down here!”

“Eeeeh, what is going on now?” I thought. Maybe one of the hatches wasn’t properly closed. Or the seacock for one of the sinks in the aft cabins. Water sometimes bounces out of the sink if I forget to close them when we are beating into waves.

Garret went below deck to check all the vents and hatches and yelled: “Captain, we have a serious situation here!” I put the autopilot on and asked Sophie and Ned to keep a lookout before I went downstairs.

Trying to avoid panic

There was a lot of water in the bilge, splashing above the floorboards. My heart was racing, but I didn’t want my crew to panic, so I played it as cool as possible. Their faces were already white as a Swizz mountain top, and mine probably wasn’t any better.

But I needed everybody to stay calm, so I could figure out what was happening. Our hatches and vents were closed and secure, so I had no clue where the water was coming from.

I told Garret to ensure the electric bilge pump in the engine room was running and went back up in the cockpit. “OK, here is what we are going to do,” I said while turning Ellidah around on a downwind course to settle the motion down.

“We need to get the water out, and I need to find where it is coming from. In the meantime, we’ll set course back towards Virgin Gorda in case we have to abort the passage.” Ned was feeling seasick, so I told him to stay in the cockpit and operate the manual bilge pump at the helm while Garret, Sophie, and I went to work.

Thanks to both bilge pumps and a couple of buckets, it didn’t take too long to get rid of most of the water. Ellidah’s motions were calm as we surfed down the waves instead of beating into them. Garret and I took up all the floorboards and couldn’t find any leaks in the bilge. We rechecked all hatches and vents, and they showed no sign of letting water in.

We have the situation under control

All of a sudden, a thought bumped up in my head. Ellidah has four venting ports above the swimming platform on the stern. Three of them are blocked, but the fourth has a venting hose running down into the engine room. If a wave hit the stern from the right angle, It could, in theory, send a hundred liters of water straight down to the bilge.

It hadn’t been a problem before, but I never liked how this hose was set up. Our situation confirmed the bad design, and it was simple enough to make a temporary solution and block the vent off.

With no more water entering the boat and the bilge dry (and very nicely washed), we could turn Ellidah around and continue the passage toward Saint Martin. Garret, Sophie, and Ned remained calm the whole time (well, at least after the initial surprise) and deserved a slap on the shoulder for great teamwork.

Taking On Water Between the BVI's and Saint Martin
Sophie and Ned

Arriving in a squall

The waves became bigger later that day, and the wind eventually shifted back towards the east. Not great for our sailing angle toward Saint Martin. Ned was still struggling with seasickness, and I started to get concerned with the fact that he didn’t manage to keep food or water down.

We lost a few valuable hours dealing with the water situation, and the wind shift happened half a day sooner than forecasted. Instead of spending the following night tacking, we started the engine and motor-sailed for the last bit of the passage.

Motorsailing improved our velocity made good on the course a great deal, and we had the lights of Saint Martin in our sight a few hours later. Our timing was pretty terrible. A big squall with heavy rain showers and 35 knots of wind unleashed itself on top of us as we approached Marigot Bay.

We were tired and wet, but knowing that we could crawl down below with a glass of wine and a sweet dinner as soon as the anchor was set gave us new energy. Marigot Bay is an easy anchorage as the holding is great, and the bay is huge.

Back in Saint Martin for the second time

We waved our goodbyes to Garret the following day and dropped him off next to the airport. A quick reprovisioning was necessary, and after getting everything onboard, we pulled up the anchor and sailed up to Grand Case to catch up with Ole Petter and his crew onboard Tiril.

Taking On Water Between the BVI's and Saint Martin
Reunion with friends at Quai 58 in Grand Case. Not our most charming picture, but it was a great night!

My friend Christian joined us onboard, and the weather settled down a few days later. We checked out of Saint Martin and got sweet sailing conditions to continue to Antiga. It is always exciting to visit a new island and country, and we were happy to have a much more comfortable passage than the previous one!

To be continued…

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