A Year in the Life of Caribbean Charter Yacht Alloy 72 Sloop ‘PACIFIC WAVE’
August 23rd, 2019
Alloy 72 Sloop, PACIFIC WAVE – Full specification available here – [OFF MARKET]
It was a steamy afternoon in October when PACIFIC WAVE relaunched at Peakes yard in Chaguaramas Trinidad after hurricane season storage ashore, the start of her busy annual work cycle.
As usual, much had been done while on the hard. As a Part 1 registered UK Small Commercial Vessel she had been re-surveyed by the MCA for the start of a new five-year inspection cycle and coded for eight persons overnight or twelve for day charters. For operation anywhere in the eastern Caribbean island chain Category Two certification for sixty miles offshore is enough, although PW is equipped to Cat Zero standard. For the next five years, easy in the water inspections of safety equipment will keep her ‘in code’. It would have been foolish while out of the water not to take the opportunity to apply new bottom paint, fresh anodes, and service her twenty inch three bladed Maxprop.
We always clear out with customs for the following day on the morning of launch, re-launch after lunch, then spend the first night away from the hustle of Chaguaramas port in the quiet solitude of Scotland Bay – just a mile away but in a different world with just the Howler Monkeys for company.
Trinidad to Grenada is a fantastic test sail. It is eighty miles from the Boca to a south coast anchorage and with a beautifully clean bottom PW sprints out of the brown Orinoco river coloured ocean into blue Grenadine water, making Clarkes Court Bay in a nine-to-five standard office day.
With all systems up and running, PW humming and back in charter mode, she is prepared for the first charter of the season – picking up in Port Louis Marina for an October half-term jolly to the Grenadines with a family of four from Oxfordshire. Although principally a BVI charter boat it isn’t unusual to pick up work in the Grenadines in the shoulder periods of late July and end of October when we are transiting to and from hurricane season storage. It is a lovely way to end a busy Virgin Islands season, and a great shake-down at the start of the season after the summer rest. A typical charter of seven nights, after a mid-day boarding and detailed safety brief, would take us to Tyrrel Bay on Carriacou for the first night. The anchorage is usually busy and the holding scratchy in corally rubble, but a walk down the beach and a sundowner at Slipway Bar makes for a perfect start to a real Caribbean adventure. Early morning swims are mandatory, so a leisurely breakfast lasts until nearly ten o’clock. Hey, we are on vacation now.
Clifton on Union Island is our port of entry to clear customs into St Vincent and the Grenadines, and from there it is a quick hop into the magnificent Tobago Cays. The ocean swell has come unimpeded from Africa but protected by a horseshoe reef PW sits at anchor unruffled, a cooling trade wind blowing over the boat as guests eat dinner under the stars. Our itinerary has to take into consideration our deep draft of 3.9m (nearly 13’), and our weight of approaching sixty tons, the reason we always anchor and seldom use mooring buoys. We anchor over two hundred nights a year while on and off charter, but with a heavy 105lb CQR and 120m of chain (over half a ton) we sit safe and sound.
Our next stop may be Mustique for the opportunity to go to the Cotton House beach restaurant and feed meat balls to Mick Jagger’s dog, Guinness. There are other things to do here but Guinness the dog is the prime attraction. Bequia is then two hours downwind, a great place for a hike on Princess Margaret Beach in Admiralty Bay and fascinating snorkelling best appreciated as a drift dive in current around the headlands north by the cardinal, and south of the bay below Moonhole. From Bequia with its gingerbread houses and turtle sanctuary it is time for the best sail of the week – to Chatham on Union Island four hours away. Gusty wind can barrel down the hills here around the deserted bay, but with enough cocktails at the beach shack bar, and dancing in the sand to impromptu reggae, no one seems to notice the breeze.
The final sail south to Grenada gives us time to stop and dive on the statues in the marine park off Molinere, before the last night back on the dock in Port Louis for a celebratory dinner ashore.
Things start to get busy now and the pressure is on to get back to St Thomas in time for Thanksgiving. We usually hop back up to Marigot on St Lucia, our favoured spot out of the Virgins as it is a fantastic and secure refuge with friendly locals. We may top-up with fuel here, although we don’t need the full tanks range of over a thousand miles under engine.
It is 350 miles from Marigot St Lucia to Charlotte Amalie USVI, keeping west of Saba Bank and east of St Croix, and we plan on a 48-hour passage. We love this offshore time with just two crew and an autopilot, the hydraulic system taken from a company supplying Pacific US coast fishing trawlers and managed by B&G is reassuringly industrial and ‘non-yachty’.
The magnificent Yacht Haven Grande marina on St Thomas is our preferred pick up and drop off location for USVI/BVI charters. It is faultlessly efficient, which is just what you need when getting ready for a charter, and convenient for the airport on St Thomas. US based guests make up eighty percent of our BVI charters, and for them St Thomas is an internal flight from Continental US airports. Provisioning is excellent – much better than BVI! – and technical support services are on hand. It’s busier than Tortola, with five times the population, but we are working now and need the facilities of a bigger island.
Guests usually board on a Saturday after 2pm. This gives us enough time to brief and get off the dock, usually motoring into wind along the south side of St Thomas, sneaking through Current Hole by Great St James, and setting sail for a dash past Caneel Bay on St John to Francis Bay, a beautiful anchorage whatever the weather in a US National Park. This is the only place we use a mooring, principally to protect the turtle grass on the sea bed. The park has put in a few super strength pick-ups for boats up to a hundred feet in length, so we feel confident about their holding. The beaches here have been voted some of the best in the world – by Americans – and Maho Beach can hold its head high among tropical paradise locations anywhere on the planet.
It is a short trip the next morning to West End for the infamous BVI customs. We are UK flagged and home port London but PW is a local boat in BVI terms and as crew we operate on BVI work permits. This is an annual administrative process that we grin and bear because the consequence is we are a known operator and have speedy clearance back into BVI. In and out clearance on arrival while on charter is available to us, so we don’t need to repeat the process when departing. This makes for happy guests, who by now are just desperate to get to the Willy T! This floating bar, a little lawless but in a friendly non-threatening way, has moved back home to its pre-Irma mooring in The Bight on Norman Island. It isn’t the only attraction here; snorkelling the Caves or the Indians is high on the list, as is a toe in the sea cocktail at Pirates Bight. The crew meanwhile are working flat out, dinghying guests around and prepping for dinner.
Day three takes us around the corner to Peter Island, after a big tack almost into Road Harbour, for more snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving, beach combing, cocktail drinking, and vacation fun. It’s awful. An important point we soon realised was that in a party of six guests not all are hard-core sailors. A perfectly timed tack or a faultless spinnaker peel isn’t important to them, but a working ice maker and blender is. There’s nothing wrong with this. We are a performance sail boat but also a service provider. Some guests want to sail hard and not rest, some rest hard and not sail. Every charter is different and getting a quick feel for the guests expectations is something that only comes from years of chartering – in our own case with PW in BVI about 150 weeks over eleven years.
Day four is a big sailing day up to North Sound, anchoring off Bitter End. We’ll have the whole day to explore here and spend the following night in North Sound somewhere as well, possibly behind the reef off Mosquito waving to Necker ribs. Oil Nut Bay for lunch is the current preferred day trip, after the sad closure of YCCS with its infinity pool, charming Italian waitresses and the best pizza outside Napoli. They were always very kind to us as the original owner of PW was a one-time Commodore of the club in Sardinia.
We are heading downhill now, planning to go the top (north) side of Tortola if the north swell isn’t too bad, stopping for lunch at Guana Island then continuing to JVD. Our choices here are numerous but sadly, due to draft, we can’t get into White Bay for the Soggy Dollar. We anchor behind the mooring field in Great Harbour instead, dinghying around the corner to get your money wet and drink painkillers, before coming back to Foxy’s.
The final night is off Caneel Resort on beautiful St John. US customs are here in Cruz Bay, a serious affair we don’t ever mess about with. Our C1/D crew visas allow us to enter for thirty days, so after returning to Yacht Haven Grande to drop guests off we’ll anchor out or go back to Francis Bay to await the next guests, or if the next pick up isn’t within the thirty-day period we’ll go back to BVI where our work permits give us indefinite leave to remain in the territory. The only consideration with this is if we have guests without US passports, or a proper US visa, as they cannot return into the US onboard PW as we are not a ‘recognised carrier’. An ESTA is not a proper visa. These guests must catch the ferry from West End and re-join the boat in St John. Do not play games with US authorities or try and cheat the system! A $10,000 fine and banishment from anywhere in the US for seven years could be the outcome. That’s if you are lucky and they don’t confiscate the vessel.
In a typical season we expect to repeat this itinerary – with slight variation due to weather or guest preferences – at least ten or twelve-times in-between Thanksgiving in November and Independence week in July.
Official hurricane season starts June 1st, but a storm in June or July is unusual. Never the less, by the beginning of July we are starting to get twitchy and the iPad is constantly refreshing NOAA’s NHC site. As soon as Independence week is over we catch a weather window to go east to St Martin or Saba, and then south-east via Kitts aiming for Deshais Guadeloupe – another milestone on our summer migration and a great refuge for us over the years.
The final charter of the season is often a mid-July pick up in St Martin for a week, Bastille day fireworks in St Barts are especially cool, or a one way pick up in Marigot St Lucia to drop off in Port Louis Grenada, taking us well on the way to a pirate-dodging passage back to Trinidad for haul out by August 1st.
Trinidad is great for working on the boat. I do everything electrical and mechanical myself but know my limitations – which are mostly anything to do with paint, varnish, or carpentry. With these jobs in hand by contractors we usual leave PW in Peakes tender care on the hard in Chaguaramas and spend a few months on other projects – writing spy-thrillers in my case or managing property and marketing next season’s charters in Lynn’s case.