“Resting” in St Martin
We’re back. St. Martin. It feels like we were just here, even though it has been over three months. It’s amazing that we spent October through December exploring the BVIs, St. Martin and St. Barths, and then roughly the same amount of time traveling down and back through the rest of the Leward Island chain. When we were looking at a map and planning this trip, it seemed as though one season would be more than enough to cover such a small geographical footprint. Turns out, when you travel at 5 knots, you miss more than you see – so now I completely understand why people spend 2 or more seasons down here.
We decided to break the sail from Antigua to St. Martin into two long day sails with an overnight in St. Kitts. Both days were 60 milers and exhausting, but in very different ways.
Day 1 was a slog downwind. It was the first truly downwind sailing that we have done, and it wasn’t pleasant. Although it was a perfect day, sunny, 15 knots of wind; turns out that sailing downwind kinda sucks. We only put out the jib, but we don’t have a whisker pole, so keeping the jib in place was a challenge. With theÂ sail setup, we were only able to average about 4.5 knots, which meant that our apparent wind was next to nothing. Baking in the sun, the rolls set in. This was my first time experiencing really rolly sailing conditions, and also the first time in the entire trip I had to take motion sickness medicine. While we were both able to keep our lunch down, time crawled.
The good news was, the fish were BITING. Two hours into the sail, we passed over a stretch of 100 foot water that was covered in sargassun. Bang, bang. Simultaneously, both reels started paying but abruptly stopped. We had our autopilot driving so Will and I were each grabbed a rod. We were sure that the lines were just hooked on the weeds, but we pulled them in just in case. As we drew the lures in, we saw two (very small) bonito attached to our lines. Each was about a foot long.
“Should we keep them?” Will asked.
“No, they’re so small. Let’s throw them back and see if anything else bites.” I hoped that by making a peace offering to Poseidon that maybe we’d catch something larger and tastier.
Out went the lures and before Will had even holstered his rod he cried “Shit, we just caught another fish!” This one fought a little harder, and although it was 20% larger than his brothers, we let the sea keep it as well. 3 fish in as many minutes. Not a bad start to the day.
A few hours later, this time back in 2,000 feet of water, I noticed that our smaller lure was fouled with weeds. As I pulled it in to clear it, the other reel went off again. I jumped to the starbord side and started reeling. This time a fish, no question. As it came close, it glistened on the surface, green and shiny, almost like an extension of the feather troller we were using. I couldn’t tell what it was at first, and then it dawned on me. A mahi. 8 pounds, maybe more. I’d never seen one in person before, and she was a beauty. Will got out the gaff, stuck it into the gills, and we pulled her onto the boat.
I spent the next 15 minutes gutting and gilling (my technique is getting better, but it still takes me longer than it should and makes an unbelievably bloody mess in the cockpit), giving the fish a saltwater rinse, and cleaning up the carnage, all while Will kept us on course. I then bagged it and threw it into our fridge to fillet once we were at anchor.
“Let’s put out the lines again and see what happens.” I suggested. “If we catch another fish, we can always give away the extra and the next anchorage.”
Out the lines went. Less than 30 minutes later, zing. Out payed when the reel, faster and faster, and didn’t stop. I tightened the drag and started to pull the reel out of the holder. The fish fought back and almost wretched the rod out of my hand. Will jumped in and got the rod in position. “You reel.” I said, it was his turn anyway.
This second fish was a fighter. Much more so than any other fish we have caught. Compared to the bonito that practically swim towards you and the barracuda that give up once they are hooked on, this was a fun change. I now got to see why people love the fight so much. Will quickly brought it in and handed me the lines while he got the gaff. Second mahi of the day, and this one was at least a 20 pounder (although it sure felt like more when it was on the line). All this and it wasn’t even noon yet.
Well, if we’re going to have an uncomfortable day at sea, that’s the way to do it! I only wish we had a freezer, otherwise we would have kept the lines out and tried to stock up.
We pulled into St. Kitts around 6:30, got the boat tidied up and I processed our catch. Sunset consisted of ti punch and mahi sashimi. Then blackened mahi fish tacos for dinner. Pure bliss. I also figure that if I were to buy the fish in a grocery store, it would have cost me at least $80. So for anyone counting, that brings me down to a net of $920 spent. What’s the over-under on whether I’ll make it to zero by the time we pull the lines for the last time in August?
The next day, we set off early for St. Martin – 5 AM. The wind was supposed to be strong and only get stronger as the day progressed, so we wanted to get an early start.
Another long and rough day, but at least this time we were on a beam reach and the boat was zooming. We averaged 7 knots and saw speeds in the 8s, 9s and 10 range. It was quite a romp, one that got us into St. Martin by 2:30. Unfortunately, the autopilot started acting up in the second hour of the sail, so we had to hand steer. And as soon as we turned on the engine in Simpson Bay, the coolant alarm went off. We’ve been having coolant issues for the past week and it seemed that our “fix” had not held. With that, we limped into the lagoon, anchored and decided to put off dealing with boat problems until the next day.
Safely anchored, I got on the radio and asked if anyone in the lagoon was interested in some mahi. Before I knew it, I had three dinghys racing over to help unload us of the rest of the fish we couldn’t polish off.
By then, time for another round of happy hours, and then right to bed. I think I fell asleep by 7 and didn’t get up this morning until 8.
Now, we are trying to both relax and get some work done while we wait for a weather window to get to the BVIs. We didn’t realize that it was Easter this weekend, so already we are running into the issue of many places closing on Friday and Monday, but we’ll figure it out. Until then, we are looking forward to catching up with our friends Ryan and Tasha from Turf to Surf (www.turftosurf.com), eating our weight in baguettes, and stocking up on the cheapest alcohol in the Caribbean.