Getting to St. Martin had sort of painted us into a corner. My parents were planning to meet us there on January 9th. Fortunately they planned to stay in a hotel for three days which gave us some flexibility, but we did have a sort of target to get there so as not to have my parents booted from their hotel on the third day and being left to sleep on a park bench in Marigot.
Unfortunately the weather was not cooperating.
To get from the British Virgin Islands to St. Martin one must sail East across the Anegada Passage, a trip off shore of some seventy miles or so if one leaves from Virgin Gorda, the most Easterly island we can get to with our eight foot draft. The prevailing winds here are the trade winds, which tend to be Northeasterly with a lot of East in there. This translates to what is most likely an upwind sail.
Sailing upwind doesn't bother us much, yes the boat tips and it's bouncy but Evenstar is a well found boat that sails to weather well. Our Autopilot, however, does not share this feeling and really sails upwind badly. But this isn't much of a problem as we have three drivers on board that can hand steer pretty well up wind.
Upwind sailing can get more unpleasant in some circumstances. To drive the boat well upwind, one looks constantly at the "telltales" which are little bits of cloth that stream near the luff (aka "front") of the sail. You keep them streaming well with the sails trimmed for upwind, and you go upwind. When it gets REALLY windy though we need to reef the head sail, which rolls up the telltales so you can't see them anymore. Still not a real problem, you can watch the sail, with it starts to flutter you bear off a little...not as sensitive but still works.
Unless it is a dark and moonless night, and you can't see the sails either. That makes it rather difficult to see how well you are sailing up wind and you are just as likely to stick yourself in irons as sail off in the wrong direction.
As we started looking to the weather to get to St. Martin after the New Year we quickly realized that the weather window was pretty slammed closed for maybe the next couple of weeks. Oops. Winds were predicted to be in the 30 knot range, gusting higher, with 10-12 foot seas. That is the other condition where upwind sailing is unpleasant...really big waves. So we made the call to my parents that maybe we wouldn't be there in time, or at all, and we needed to explore maybe getting them to the BVI's instead. Putting the boat and family in danger to get there just didn't make sense.
As we were moving around the BVI's it was indeed "blowing the dog off the chain" as the saying goes. We did have some nice, fast, and windy sails in 30+ knots of wind as we were seeking sheltered anchorages and trying to make final arrangements such as picking up our mail in Tortola and finding parts. The difference is that the Francis Drake Passage in the BVI's is protected; the waves in those winds did not have space to get over four feet high so the sailing just requires that you reef in the sails, hold on tight and go fast.
So we watched the weather and we waited.
Eventually the weather forecaster we use indicated there was a slim window on Friday, January 11th for us to go to St. Martin. The winds were supposed to drop into the low 20's or high teens for one day while the seas abated to 7-8 feet. Also the wind was supposed to back a bit towards the North, meaning we would not be headed straight into the wind the whole trip. It would still be upwind, but only on one tack - we wouldn't have to zigzag all over the Anegada Passage just to get to St. Martin against the wind. So starting Friday afternoon one could leave and find passable, if not pleasant, conditions to make the trip.
Of course this window did bring up one minor issue - we would be leaving shortly before sunset and sailing upwind in the dark on a moonless night with our sails reefed. See paragraph's 5 & 6 above if you skipped them. We expected a total trip time of around 12 hours, not unbearable by any means, but not easy in those conditions. So we decided that we'd be better leaving early Friday morning, around 4:00 a.m., and arriving in St. Martin before dark...therefore not breaking the "no entering strange harbors in the dark" rule either. The conditions would not be lessening until later in the day, but to our thinking the extra wind and waves wouldn't bother us too much if we were sailing in daylight.
So with a plan in place we sailed up to Virgin Gorda and picked up a mooring at the Bitter End Yacht Club. The next day we moved the boat to Leverick Bay, did some laundry, and cleared customs...we were ready to leave on Friday at oh-dark-thirty!