Tuesday, January 09, 2007

British Virgin Islands and St. Martin, Christmas 2006 through New Year’s 2007

During this past summer, we decided to do a back-to-back charter as soon as the fall teaching term was completed. We tried to charter the Beneteau 36 we had in April with Conch Charters, but they’d already booked it so we settled for a two-cabin, two-head Jeanneau 40. For our second leg, we decided to go to St. Martin/St. Maarten east of the BVI’s at the top of the Leeward Islands, and we chartered a two-cabin, two-head Beneteau 393 with Sunsail (via Charterworld out of New Zealand, which gave us the best deal).

Part One -

December 15-26 – Tortola, Norman Island, Yost van Dyke, Marina Cay, Saba Rock and the Bitter End, Cooper Island, Norman Island, Tortola (we missed Anegada again, but it's on the agenda for our next visit to the BVIs)

December 15 – We’re getting used to the long flight across country and the late arrival in Tortola. We caught a taxi to our favorite destination, the Fort Burt Hotel. Although Sharon was just starting to close the bar, she served up our welcome martinis (I think we’re among the few who, on arriving in the Caribbean, don’t rush straight to fancy rum drinks with little umbrellas), and Bastille, the night man, brought us some “pumpkin pie” and a little cooked fish for a late night snack. (I ate a bite of fish – oops! Shouldn’t have done that, and I paid for it in the early morning. Yuck.)

December 16 –We gave ourselves the day to acclimatize and provision for the week’s charter, so after breakfast and checking in with Conch Charters, just across the street, we walked into Road Town. Lots of boutiques serve the cruise ship crowds, and we enjoyed wandering through shops. Around noon, we found our way back to The Pub, next to Conch’s offices, where we had some lunch and then a quick lie-down.

In the afternoon, Conch’s main man, Miles, went over the systems on our boat, Educated Ice, a 1999 Jeanneau 40. The condition of charter boats is always a bit dodgy, and we accepted the fact that the traveller was useless. At least the boat had a new genoa, the electronics worked, and she appeared clean. Next, we sat down for a chart briefing with Krista, and then were picked up by a driver from Bobby’s Market to shop for provisions. By 17:00 we were back at the boat with provisions, got additional ice from The Pub, stowed things aboard the boat, and ran the engine for an hour to really cool down the refrigerator.

Provisioning charters is a big business. All the charter companies work with local groceries (Bobby’s is the biggest provisioning market on Tortola, followed by Rite Way, but the options provided by the services are rarely what we want. We agreed (for the last time, I think) to get a “starter kit” through Bobby’s, and we added on a couple of other things we knew we wanted and thought they could easily get us, but we want to choose our own produce, meats, and condiments. Even so, the markets stock items in sizes aimed at groups of people, not couples, and we always wind up with too much mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, etc. Well, we’re working on refining it for the future.

We had the boat for a sleep-aboard that night, but we decided we wanted another night at the Fort Burt as a nice transition. After our provisions were stowed, Sharon served us up drinks at the Fort Burt. Then we walked (in a light rain) to the Fat Cat Thai Restaurant, just a quarter-mile away. It’s run by Meow, a young woman who recently emigrated from Thailand to the BVIs. We had one of the very best Thai meals we’ve ever had. Put it on your list of places to eat in Tortola.

December 17 – After a good breakfast at Fort Burt, we moved on the boat, got a final check out, filled up the water tanks, after which Miles accompanied us out into the main harbor and turned us loose on our trip. We decided to sail straight across to Deborah’s favorite spot, the Bight at Norman Island. By 12:30 we were moored and having lunch on the boat.

It seems inevitable that after about two or three hours on a charter boat, you begin to find what’s wrong with it. In this case, we discovered two things. First, there was water under the sole in the v-berth in a dry bilge area. Because there were no limber holes leading back to the main bilge to drain the water, we bailed the water (about two gallons) into the main bilge. Then, we discovered the second problem. The bilge pump (which had operated slowly but effectively when we went through the boat check-out) was clogged. I pulled a bunch of crap out of the bilge itself, and then we located the bilge pump strainer and cleaned it, and finally pumped out the water. We called Conch to report the problems, but the fellow we spoke to just said clean the bilge pump strainer and close the forward head thru-hulls. He really didn’t know. So, a lesson to all, report your problems to cover your ass, but remember, it often does no good to complain about basic maintenance issues. Charter companies are in the business of turning boats around quickly to make bucks on the charters, and keeping bilge pump strainers clean and searching out small leaks as part of basic maintenance is something often neglected. Anyway, this was a well-used boat, and we discovered that night, a noisy one.

­­­­­­After our little effort at bailing and bilge pump maintenance, we dinghied ashore to the Pirates Restaurant and Bar, where we had what we think are the best Pina Coladas and BBC’s in the islands, took a swim, and then dinghied over to the Willie T floating restaurant and bar for what turned out to be a really average meal. The sun, wind, and general excitement of traveling wiped us out, and we were asleep by 20:30 and didn’t awaken for twelve hours.

December 18 – We finally roused ourselves at 09:00, and in a stupor I tried making coffee. A roll of the boat caused the stove splash guard to fall and knock the almost completed pot all over the deck, so after a clean-up, I tried again and we finally got coffee. Meantime, Deb realized she’d left her favorite cap at Pirates. We dinghied in to discover they were closed until 12:30, went back and fixed breakfast, and eventually Deb retrieved her cap.

In the afternoon, we sailed down Sir Francis Drake Channel to Little Harbor at Jost Van Dyke. There were only three boats moored there, and we soon discovered that there was a lot of competition between the restaurants at the harbor. Sidney (of Sydney’s Peace and Love) was knocking on our boat almost before we’d picked up a mooring, asking us to come in for dinner. He was followed by Cynthia (of Harris’s), who collected for the mooring and then invited us to her place for dinner. Business clearly was slow. We went over to Abe’s for some ice, then went into Sydney’s boutique. While we were there, a fight broke out between the folks at Harris’s and Sydney’s over accusations of stealing business from each other.

Caught in the middle, we decided to skedaddle for the boat and cook dinner aboard, where we had a really nice evening listening to music, eating and drinking, and dancing. It’s the end of our third day, and we’re finally beginning to decompress from life at home and slip into island time. (Turns out this was the only night we barbecued aboard, a fact that by the end of the trip persuaded us that buying meat to cook on board was something we’d not do again as a matter of course – it doesn’t last long and generally is close to spoiled by the time we’re ready for it.)

Here at Little Harbor we also found water once again under the sole in the v-berth. We bailed it out, this time pouring five or six gallons overboard. Since it clearly was not coming invisibly from the thru-hulls, which we didn’t think was the problem anyway, speculated that it might be seeping down from the starboard toe-rail. The interior upholstered line was loose on the starboard side above the v-berth just next to the head, with tell-tale signs of mildew. We looked in the small but deep dry storage compartment located just below this spot and under the v-berth, and lo and behold, we discovered about two gallons of water with a bit of mosquito larvae. Ah ha! We’d solved the mystery of how mosquitoes had bitten us when off shore in a windy anchorage – we were breeding our own. So we bailed it out and dried the compartment completely. As long as it didn’t rain, we figured no more water would be seeping down into this compartment and then on to the dry bilge areas beneath the sole.

(We also saw Elbereth, the Beneteau 36 we’d wanted to charter, and, when Deborah said to the folks aboard "be nice to her, because we've got her booked for March ’07," a woman who said she ran a Tampa based charter fleet, rattled off a whole list of little things wrong with Elbereth. Oy vey!)

December 19 – Breakfast aboard – the meal we regularly cook – and then we set off at 08:15 to sail up to the Bitter End. It’s a long sail and would take the day, tacking way off shore and back about four times, but we wanted to try it. We motored east about two miles until we were opposite Brewers Bay on the north shore of Tortola. Then we raised the sails and tacked northeast (36 degrees)]. It was a great sail, but when we had gotten about seven miles offshore from Tortola, we once again discovered lots of water in the forward cabin bilge. We decided not to go further out, and came about. Suddenly the instruments and autopilot shut down, as it turns out only for about five minutes, but we began to think this boat was jinxed for us. Deb bailed out the bilge, we located the emergency plugs, and I that the compartment under the v-berth was filled with water again. As I watched, I saw water splashing up into the compartment through a small opening through which sensor wires were attached to what I realized was the forward clean water tank, located in yet a larger compartment under the v-berth. I opened up that compartment and discovered another 10 to 20 gallons of water sloshing about in that compartment, obviously leaking from the water tank. Ah ha!

Since we knew we weren’t sinking we came about again to resume our off-shore tack, but we still agreed, with possibly faulty instruments we shouldn’t go too far. Soon we came about and tacked back in toward Long Bay on Tortola. By this time it was nearly 12:00, and we decided we weren’t going to make the Bitter End, so a half-mile off Long Bay we tacked northeast again and motor-sailed up to the Guana Channel. We dropped the sails and motored on past Beef Island (where the Tortola airport is located), past Little Camanoe and Great Camanoe islands, and on to Marina Cay, where we picked up a mooring.

We dinghied into Pusser’s boutique, and discovered that Steve and Clare Waterloo and their kids, Conner and Teagan, friends from Encinal Yacht Club, were scheduled to arrive on the 17:00 ferry from Trellis Bay (near the airport). We got a quick nap on the boat and watched for them on the ferry. Alas, they were late, so we dumped trash, walked about the island, and then sat down for a drink at the bar to wait for the 18:00 ferry. We went to meet it, but, alas, no Waterloos, so we decided to have ribs at the restaurant. We were just about to leave, around 20:00, when Steve appeared to order sandwiches for his kids and No. 4 Painkillers for himself and Clare. We went up to their “villa” and visited for a while – a great room – and then retired to the boat.

We discovered the water rising slowly in the forward cabin bilge, and Deb decided to look further at the lining that was coming loose. She pulled it back just a bit to see if the toe rail screws showed signs of leaking, and virtually the entire lining peeled back. It was coated with what appeared to be black mold (but probably was mildew), and we agreed to bail out of the v-berth. Deb had been coughing for two nights anyway; she knew right away this was the problem. So, we sealed off the front cabin and moved into the aft berth. It was too hot and stuffy for me, so I spent half the night sleeping on the main cabin settee.

December 20 – We discussed whether to return the boat or just keep going, and since our friends from the Encinal were here and others were coming, we decided to just keep the v-berth closed off and go on. We had coffee and went in for ice, where we met up with Steve and Clare and decided to stay for breakfast. We had planned to go on to the Bitter End that day to meet with Rodney and Jane Pimentel (also from the Encinal), but when we discovered that Tony and Michelle Shaffer and their daughter Samantha were arriving that evening at Marina Cay, we decided to stay.

We got some good snorkel equipment (we’d forgotten to pick up a mask and flippers at the charter base), and dinghied to a nearby dive spot on Great Camanoe Island. I’m a rank beginner at snorkeling, only having successfully done it in Maui a few years ago, but this time I was pretty successful. We had a great time, seeing lots of Yellow Jacks, a big school of Blue Tang, and some other fish. Later that day we snorkeled from the boat to shore at Marina Cay and saw a Barracuda along the way.

That evening we had drinks with the Waterloos, met the Shaffers on the 19:00 ferry, and then we all had a great dinner, the adults liberally consuming Pain Killers and Pina Coladas, the kids enjoying their own special drinks. We finally got back to the boat and to bed at 21:30.

December 21 – I was up at 07:00 and made coffee while Deborah slept in.

I love reading on cruises, and over the three weeks of this cruise read five novels. The first was The Broker, by John Grisham. He’s such a good storyteller. The second was Jimmy Buffett’s Tales of Margaritaville, a collection of short stories, all except two fictional. His fiction is pretty good, but his autobiographical stuff is not my cup of tea. The third book was his memoir, A Pirate Looks at Fifty. Maybe it’s because I’m not into flying or particularly into fishing and surfing, but I found it pretty self-indulgent (of course, I should talk, since this whole cruising log is self-indulgent as well – perhaps the one redeeming feature of this is that, if you read this far, you didn’t pay $8.99 for it). Anyhow, I skimmed Buffett’s memoir, and then read Tony James really well-written and entrancing memoir of a life-time of sailing, Up the Creek: A Lifetime Trying to be a Sailor. Highly recommended! Then, finally, I read Kalid Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, which completely lived up to every bit of hype on its cover. Hosseini is truly a first-rate writer, and most importantly he’s got something for anyone who reads him. Toward the end of the trip, I started reading an academic tome, The Human Built World, from which I’m drawing some ideas for a history of technology and environment book chapter, but I succumbed to novely and picked up a Carl Hiaasen novel, Lucky You, in the DFW airport on the way home.

By 09:30, Deborah was up, we finally got the ice we had set off to get the day before, and embarked for the Bitter End, 17 nautical miles away.

We reached across to Virgin Gorda just below the Baths, and then turned northeast on a close haul up to Gorda Sound.

In the sound, we picked up a mooring at Saba Rock, our favorite spot adjacent to the Bitter End Yacht Club.

Along the way, YachtshotsBVI.com snapped some photos of us (for which they charged an outrageous amount to purchase the digital images - ain't capitalism great).

We dinghied into the Bitter End YC boutique, which was a disappointment this trip, left a message for Rodney and Jane, and then went to Saba Rock for Pina Coladas.

After a nap on the boat, we returned to the Bitter End YC at 06:30 to hook up with Rodney and Jane and their kids RJ and Leo. They found us and we had dinner with them at one of the casual spots on the grounds.

December 22 – Next morning the Pimentels took an early ferry back to Tortola to hook up with the Waterloos and Shaffers at Sunsail in Hodge’s Creek, where they were picking up two catamarans. We agreed to meet them later at Cooper Island, so at 07:30 we arose, had coffee and breakfast, got our free bag of ice at Saba Rock, and embarked at about 09:15 for Cooper Island. We had a lovely sail to Cooper Island and covered the 15.8 nm at an average speed of 5.2 knots (our max. was 7.2 knots).

As usual, we visited the boutique and had lunch at the Cooper Island Beach Club and made a dinner reservation for the group (15 of us) for later that night.

Eventually, the group arrived on their Lagoon 440s – Shaffers and Waterloos on one, Pimentels and Matthew Dean and his daughter Rachel on the other – and we dinghied out and hung out on the Waterloo/Shaffer boat. Everyone had a great time swimming, watching snappers chasing small fish – schools of which literally flew out of the water in an effort to escape the snappers – and admiring the attributes of the big catamarans.

We determined that this, indeed, was the final cruise of the Encinal Yacht Club for 2006. After all, Deborah and I were the 2006 Cruise Captains for the club, and with us was the club’s Commodore, Tony Shaffer, its Rear Commodore, Rodney Pimentel, and the club's house director, Clare Waterloo. If this didn’t make for a club cruise, what did?

We ended the day with a cocktail party on the Pimentel/Dean boat and then a big dinner at the Cooper Island Beach Club, where we celebrated Samantha Shaffer’s 7th birthday!

December 23 – We saw the Encinal boats off, fixed breakfast, and then departed for Deborah’s favorite spot, Norman Island, where we’d started our charter. We were going to go the south side of Peter Island, which would put us outside the Sir Francis Drake Channel, but the winds really picked up to over 25 knots, so we turned back and into the channel. The winds picked up there as well, and we reached across the channel toward Fat Hogs Bay on Tortola, where we reefed our sails and then turned west to Norman Island. We covered 1.38 nm in 2:40 hours, averaging 5.2 knots, hitting 8.3 knots max, and arriving just after 12:00.

Yachtshots.com picked us up again on their radar, and got a couple of nice shots of us on our well-worn Jeanneau, Educated Ice.

We went into the Pirates for lunch, Deborah finally found some things in the boutique, we went swimming, left our signature on the rafters at the Pirates, and then showered on the boat. We cooked a vegie stir fry dinner (okay, but lacking spices), did some packing, drank rum, had a lovely talk about the week, and finally collapsed.

December 24 – After breakfast, we left our mooring at Norman Island at 09:10 and sailed for 1:42 hours the 6.7 nm to Road Town (ave. speed 4.1 knots, max 6.2 knots). We called on our arrival in Road Town harbor, and Miles met us right away to bring the boat in.

Deborah immediately began to relate all our difficulties with the water leaks to Miles, who said he’d try to get us some compensation.

We went up to the Fort Burt Hotel, checked in and sat down to lunch. They had a wonderful Christmas Eve buffet set up – truly gourmet, which is one of the reasons we love the place – and we indulged ourselves.

The Fort Burt Hotel Restaurant is run by the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College Culinary Program in partnership with the New England Culinary Institute of Vermont. The program offers a two-year AOS degree in Culinary Arts, with students spending six months on campus and six months on paid internships each year.

The program runs a first-rate bakery in Road Town as well as the full-service restaurant at the Fort Burt Hotel. Neil Cline, the program’s director, told us this trip that they’ll have a second restaurant open at nearby Prospect Reef by Spring. The food is always good, and this buffet was really top rate.

But, I digress. Miles came up to the restaurant to tell us that the best they would offer us was 5% off our next charter, which we said was insufficient. We finished eating and walked down to the Conch office, where again we were told this was the best they could do. “All the directors are gone for the day,” said Krista. I can’t do any more. We stood our ground, and finally she disappeared into the next room, and five minutes later reappeared with, lo and behold, a “director.” Again, the same story, to which we finally replied: “you don’t want our business, then, is that it?” At which point, the “director” budged. “Well, we can give you $400 plus two days off your next charter,” he said, making the total for two weeks in the Spring $1,000 off the initial charter price. We agreed, saying that this sounded as though they wanted our business, and we parted ways.

Now on land, we spent the afternoon in Road Town, got cash at an ATM, and listened to a really good blues guitarist who calls himself M. J. Blues playing in front of Bobby’s market. We bought a CD and he told us he’d be at De Loose Mongoose in Trellis Bay that night from 7-10. We then wandered over to a local shopping area and discovered Richard’s Bar, know by everyone as the Spanish Bar, where we drank Brugel Anejo rum from the Dominican Republic, practiced our Spanish, and met some great local folks.

That evening we took a taxi up to SkyWorld for dinner. The taxi driver waited for us, having a little liquid refreshment, while we ate. It was okay, but did not live up to the expectation we had for it. We ate and left, and our driver took us (s-l-o-w-l-y) via Ridge Road to Trellis Bay. M J Blues was really pleased to see us, and we had great fun. Too bad he didn’t have a keyboard. But we talked music a bit, and he said to let him know when we’re back and he’d get a keyboard for me. Could be great fun!

December 25 – Merry Christmas! We slept in and then had a lovely breakfast. In preparation for our next days trip to St. Martin, we scrounged a box, tape, and twine, and boxed up some food items and such that we had left over from this cruise to take to our next adventure.

We took a long walk down the coast road to Nanny Cay, stopping by to look at the Royal British Virgin Islands Yacht Club, and had lunch at the Rite Way Gourmet Chandlery, the only place open. Nanny Cay is home to Horizon Yacht Charters and has perhaps the largest dry storage yard for yachts on the island.

We caught a taxi back to Road Town with a group of Italian sailors, browsed through the outdoor market set up adjacent to the cruise ship docks, and then walked back to Fort Burt, where I took a swim in the pool and Deborah took a nap.

We ended the day with drinks and Christmas dinner at the hotel, and fell asleep quite satiated and completely enjoying our “second home” at the Fort Burt Hotel in Road Town.

More photos of BVIs trip

Part Two

December 26-January 5 – St. Martin (Oyster Pond, Orient Bay) , Anguilla (Road Bay), St. Martin (Marigot, Grand Case, Oyster Pond) - we missed St. Barth because of weather, so – darn! - we’ll just have to go back

December 26 – “Boxing Day,” a public holiday in Great Britain and Commonwealth countries such as the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla in the Caribbean, found us traveling to St Martin. We had the morning for a leisurely breakfast at the Ft. Burt Hotel and cleared customs at the airport easily in time for our thirty minute flight to Princess Juliana International Airport in Dutch St. Maarten. We took a taxi to Oyster Pond, thirty minutes away and just across the border on the French side of the island, St. Martin, where our Sunsail charter company reps said to check in later since our boat wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours. We left our bags at the office and had a nice late lunch at Captain Oliver’s Restaurant and rested a bit by his swimming pool (turns out Oliver, who we met along with his wife Maggie, built and owns the entire marina and its hotel, shops and restaurants … a nice gig, if you can get it). It’s a beautiful setting, with great vistas of the entrance to Oyster Pond from both the restaurant and pool.

On check-in at 16:30, we discovered that Sunsail had forgotten to fulfill our provisioning order. It was their fault, and they were gracious about trying to correct it, but since it was a holiday in St. Martin, too, the provisioning outfits they used were closed. Nevertheless, they had the list and said they’d fulfill it by dark, bringing the stuff to the boat. By now we felt inured to such inevitable glitches in chartering a boat, so we ventured off to stow our stuff aboard our boat. Big Foot is a Beneteau 393 (2004) with a really comfortable and nicely kept mahogany-stained, two-cabin interior. The difference between the Jeanneau we’d just abandoned in the BVIs and this boat were stunning!

And, then, we smelled diesel and a mechanic, who had emerged just before we boarded Big Foot, returned with his boss, and the two of them began working on the engine. They tore up the freshly made-up aft cabin so they could open up full access to the engine, and we did our best to stay out of the way. Over an hour later they finished and the boss told us the problem. They had overfilled the diesel tank and the fill line had leaked. Their solution had been to siphon off two quarts of fuel. The diesel smell vanished, though half way through the cruise we discovered they had not siphoned all the spilled fuel out – a quart, at least, was sitting in the isolated start-battery compartment.

In any event, we finally started our boat check with a young fellow who didn’t speak English well (French is the lingua of St. Martin) but worse didn’t appear to know the boat well. Much of the check was done in the dark, so asked him to return in the morning to do the deck check-out. At about 19:15, our provisions arrived, which we stowed aboard and inventoried quickly – it was very incomplete and where we’d asked for small amounts we got enormous quantities. So, we arranged to go catch a ride the next morning at about 11:00 for further provisioning.

We finished our evening at Captain Oliver’s for dinner, drank in excess, met Oliver’s wife Maggie, walked about, and finally ended up at The Yacht Club wine and cheese bar operated by Nikko, who was playing a Roland keyboard with midi system. We stayed and eventually I asked him if he’d let an itinerant keyboard player play a little. He did, and after I played three or four things and ended with a boogie called “Down the Road a Piece” by Freddy Slack, he joined in – four hands on the keyboard! It was truly a great spontaneous moment. … At 01:30 we staggered off to Big Foot.

December 27 – Despite being up late, we were up at 07:45. We discovered that the refrigerator had shut down during the night. Following all the instructions, we couldn’t seem to get it to operate. We had decided the night before to return some of the provisions purchased which were not what we’d requested, and we added to the bag the fully thawed chicken we’d put in the freezer the night before. Captain Deborah took the chart talk, and I topped off the water, checked out the windlass, and discovered that the young fellow checking us out the night before had turned off the switch on the panel which allowed the refrigerator to run off shore power.

On this cruise, Deb was skipper the whole time. She did a great job, calling the shots in every situation. Whenever she'd look at me for a decision, I threw it back at her, and she never ducked the responsibility. We have different approaches to sailing: I'll take the extra risk more often than not, and Deb's pretty cautious. So, when I'm skippering, Deb is often on edge more than anyone ought to be, and when she's skippering things are pretty calm. ... Calm turns out to be better for us both.

When Deb finished with the chart briefing, we met a Sunsail driver took us into the market, thirty minutes away, to finish provisioning. We said we’d be done in 45 minutes, and we were, but the driver wasn’t there. After waiting another 45 minutes and talking with Sunsail, we caught another taxi back, stowed our provisions, and finally were piloted out of Oyster Pond at 15:45.

It was a short hour-and-twenty-minute sail to Orient Bay, about five nautical miles up the coast of St. Martin. But we quickly realized we weren’t in the BVIs. We had a five to six-foot swell every seven seconds, which cut our average boat speed for the trip to about three knots. It was enough for me to begin feeling nauseated, and pulling down the sails in the swell outside Orient Bay made us decide to pull out a harness for me to use in the future - we got it out, only to discover that Sunsail provided no jack lines…duh! (We never had to use the harness, but at least we'd gotten it ready.) We also discovered the wind gauge didn’t work, radioed this into the Sunsail base who told us to stand by – a week later they’d never responded and we’d given it up.

By 17:15, we were securely anchored behind the reef just below Green Cay in Orient Bay. We drank a little rum, read a bit, had oysters, cheese and crackers for dinner, and were asleep by 21:30. We spent a breezy, rainy, and roily night at the anchorage, but we slept well. Had the weather been better, we'd have gone ashore to visit this "Riviera of French St. Martin," famously advertised as a nudist's paradise, but alas we pressed on.

December 28 – Up at 06:30, made coffee, and decided to forego a full breakfast and set out for Anguilla so that we could get a good spot in the anchorage and have a lot of the afternoon there. The seas were calmer than yesterday, and we had a comfortable sails-reefed beam-reach trip across the Anguilla Channel. We tacked port to a broad reach and shook out the genoa reef until we reached the southwest end of the island.

There we tacked starboard and, after rounding the island, I rolled a solid reef into the genoa as found our selves close-hauled in 20-25 knots up the west side of Anguilla to Road Bay. Gusts certainly hit 30 knots, and Deb’s new cap from Sidney’s Peace and Love in Yost Van Dyke went overboard in one of them. She was very sad! We dodged a few lobster pots along the way, saw some nice mega-power and sailing yachts, and really enjoyed ourselves. Overall, we sailed 22.6 nm at an average speed of 5 knots and a maximum speed of 8.6 knots in 4:25 hours. At Road Bay, We got a good anchor set on our second try (we had to find the sand between the patches of grass).

Unlike the BVIs, where all the islands are part of one island nation, islands within the Leewards are often different island nations. St. Martin is half French and half Dutch (St. Maarten), and Anguilla is a British Island (although during the 1960s Britain unsuccessfully tried to make them an autonomous state along with St. Kitts and Nevis over sixty miles to the south). Hence, when leaving St. Martin one finds themselves entering another country when sailing to adjacent islands. After we anchored, we had to dinghy in to clear Anguilla customs, and because we decided that we would spend two nights there, they wouldn’t let us clear out of customs in the same visit, which meant we’d have to come back the next day. Oh well, by now island time had its grip on us, so we wandered over to Johnno’s for a burger, shopped at the Irie Life boutique (a great little shop), and eventually went back to the boat. The plan was to cook dinner, but after a couple of rums, we ended up reading and snacking instead of having a real dinner. We were asleep by 21:00.

December 29 – We awakened to rain, did some reading, and cooked a mid-morning breakfast. It rained all morning, but soon after noon it lifted and we dinghied into shore and to the customs office. A local cut in front of us at the customs office, which was a bit irritating, but we finally got our clearance papers for the next day and decided to walk about.

We went down the beach and stopped at Roy’s Bayside Grill for a drink just as a little squall came through – it turns out that it was Roy himself who was the rude local who cut in front of us at the customs office. We didn’t stay for a second drink. We walked further looking for a trailhead to take us up to the top of the ridge for an overlook of the bay, but we missed it somehow and circled back through the town, which is called Sandy Ground Village.

Eventually, we ended up a Johnno’s again for, yet again, another burger. I’d hoped that the Barrel Stay, highly recommended in Doyle’s cruising guide would be open, but it looked shut down for good. Finally, we got ice at a little market and dinghied back to the boat where Deb cooked up a really good broccoli and butter dinner. We were in bed by 21:00 again, but this night a really loud and very bad rap band (I think it was rap, anyway) played at Johnno’s until 02:00. It was a pretty miserable night. We really should have left and gone on to Crocus Bay, which Sunsail had recommended, but Road Bay seemed so nice.

December 30 – We were up at 07:00, despite a poor nights sleep, fixed breakfast and by 09:30 were ready to weigh anchor for Marigot Bay on the west side of St. Martin. We sailed downwind to the southwest end of Anguilla. Along the way, Deb reminded me to keep an eye out for crab pots. I said you won't run over any, except perhaps with the dinghy. "Ha!" she replied. "I could never run over one with the dinghy!" Five minutes later, I spotted a crab pot just ahead, off our bow. "Port, turn port," I cried. And, Deb steered around it, only ... you guessed it ... to run over it with the dinghy. At least the motor was lifted up.

At the end of Anguilla we turned south and into a close haul to Marigot. The winds were fairly steady at 20 to 25 knots across Anguilla Channel, and the rest of the trip was uneventful, and we covered 16.8 nm in 3:50 hours with an average speed of 4.3 knots and maximum of 9.1 knots. Surprisingly the winds actually picked up to about 30 knots as we entered Marigot Bay, but soon we were nicely anchored about a 600 feet offshore by 13:30. After lunch on the boat, we were excited to explore Marigot.

St. Martin/St. Maarten has three large harbors: Philipsburg, Simpson Bay, and Marigot Bay. Philipsburg is the largest by far, the most southern port on in Dutch St. Maarten. It is port to the commercial cruise ships, and several can dock there simultaneously. Its crowded, with loads of shops, restaurants, and bars, and it’s just the place we didn’t want to come close to visiting. Our only venture was to the outskirts and a large supermarket.

Simpson Bay is right next to the Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten, but it is a good anchorage at the southern entrance to Simpson Bay Lagoon, a 12-square mile protected anchorage dotted with marinas. Local maritime business folks are improving it with an eye to attracting more and more mega yachts – indeed, the day we flew out, we looked out to see the 289 foot Maltese Falcon entering Simpson Bay (the owner, Tom Perkins, is a longtime San Francisco Bay Area resident). We visited Simpson Bay by land and didn’t find it nearly as attractive as we might have if we’d come by water.

Marigot Bay, the third major harbor, is on the west and French side of the island. The minute you cross the border on land, the difference is striking. The Dutch side is architecturally and culturally a jumble. It’s chaotic, messy, and often ill-kept. The French side is cohesive and well maintained. Roads are cleaner and generally pot-hole free. It simply seems more civilized, although this is, as we discovered, perhaps just a façade. In any case, Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin, is truly French. As Doyle’s guide suggests, “it has the feeling of a picturesque and fashionable Riviera seaport.” We could hardly wait to visit the “attractive waterfront market and handsome streets, bursting at the seams with boutiques and restaurants.” (Very nice, but Doyle went a bit overboard.)

We landed our dinghy at the main dinghy dock just below the “attractive waterfront market” about 15:00. We locked up the dinghy (we were warned about dinghy thefts in Marigot), skirted past the “attractive waterfront market” and went into the very exclusive West Indies Mall, where Deb found a great French designed outfit – really, very cute! We heard in our wandering that all the shops were closing around 16:00 (and they did) and would not open again until after the new year (which was largely true). Too bad, but we would miss the “attractive waterfront market.”

Nevertheless, we stopped in at L’Oizeau Rare, a very pleasant restaurant and bar overlooking the harbor and had drinks and an order of escargot. Yum, yum! Deb made friends quickly with the owner, Natalie, who was from Nice, and we decided to make reservations for New Year’s Eve dinner there. Deb talked with her brother John for a while via cell phone, and we made our way back to the docks. The key for the dinghy lock jammed, and it took us some time to finally jimmy it (we sprayed it well with WD-40 later – at least Big Foot had a sensible tool kit), and we dinghied back to the boat.

We snacked, read, played music, watched the sunset, and about 20:00 the town came alive with a parade and music until a bit after midnight, thank God, not as loud nor as bad as in Anguilla. It rained hard off and on, we took hot showers, and we decided we really liked this Beneteau 393.

December 31 – We celebrated the morning, had a great breakfast, and recharged the batteries. Recharging is a morning and evening ritual on charter boats, and this morning we finally got it right. Every boat has it’s little peculiarities, and we had been getting barely enough charge on previous mornings. This morning, however, we ran the motor up to well over 2500 rpm for a minute or so, which apparently excited the alternator sufficiently, and when we cut it back to 1500 to run for an hour charging the alternator worked full capacity charging the batteries and running the refrigerator. It’s the little things that excite!

We decided to go into Simpson Bay today. Off and on rain squalls were predicted for the day, and we caught our first dinghying into a little stone dinghy dock just 600 feet off our starboard (not the main Marigot dock). We dried off quickly while walking to a coffee shop at Marina Port La Royale, where we discovered a great little area of restaurants and shops. We found the local shuttle bus stop (tourists rarely ride it), and for a couple of bucks got to the Philipsburg-Simpson Bay road junction. Because this bus was going on to Philipsburg, we got off, walked across the street to an unmarked stop in front of a KFC store. We retreated under a tree when another squall came through. The second bus dropped us off adjacent to the Simpson Bay Marina, where little was open because of the holiday. We walked down past the private and trendy Yacht Club Isle de Sol, past the new but still little building that is home to the Sint Maarten Yacht Club, and crossed the draw bridge from Simpson Bay into the lagoon. It’s not set up for people walking, with no sidewalks and roadsides muddy, pot-holed, and puddled from rain. We agreed that perhaps from a water approach it would be worth visiting, but we much preferred the French side and caught a shuttle back to Marigot.

We had lunch – a very good pizza and green salad – at La Belle Epoch in Marina Port La Royale. Deb wandered through some shops while I relaxed with a second glass of wine and watched people. Deb always finds stuff, and after two swim suits and a party dress, we finally headed back to the boat to rest up and clean up for New Year’s Eve dinner.

We dinghied into the main Marigot dinghy dock near near the “attractive waterfront market,” locked up the dinghy, and walked over to L’Oizeau Rare. We were quite early, but Natalie welcomed us, presented us with a gift of two martini glasses (which somehow Deb managed to get home without breaking), and we ate dinner over the next two hours. A little after 22:00, we walked down Marina Fort St. Louis, where a town party was in the works. Parties where we don’t know anyone are not too appealing, so we decided to go back to the boat and bring the new year in by ourselves.

Oy vey! Someone had stolen the fuel line for our dinghy! And the fuel lines of four or five other dinghies. We went back to the restaurant, where Natalie called the police for us, and they said come by in the morning to file a report (we were sternly advised by Sunsail to file a report in case of theft or we’d be charged for the item). It looked like some rain was heading our way, so we decided to start rowing back (about a quarter mile). Once we were committed and a couple of hundred yards from the dock, a squall erupted, the wind picked up, and all I could do was to head the dinghy in the general direction of the boat. Deb spotted a sailboat with lights on ahead, and we maneuvered over to it. We got the owner’s attention, a German fellow, told him our predicament, and he agreed without hesitation to tow us to our boat with his dinghy. It took five minutes, and when we took hold of Big Foot and yelled thanks, he turned back to his boat without a pause. (The next day we saw him at a distance and we exchanged barely nodded greetings.)

We were soaked to the skin (in our nicest clothes), but we started drying things out and gathering our wits about us. Cell phone coverage was lousy, so we couldn’t call home to wish our families happy new year, but despite our frustration, we brought in the new year watching a most spectacular fireworks show launched from the Marina Fort St. Louis, and we toasted the new year in safely aboard Big Foot.

January 1 – It was a windy morning, but the squalls had moved through and we made coffee while contemplating what to do about the dinghy fuel line. We had planned to sail up to Grand Case that day, a short distance up the coast from Marigot, but the dinghy problem scotched that plan. Phone coverage was sufficient for us to reach Sunsail at 08:30. We got the on-call person, who said that they could have someone out to Marigot shortly after 13:00. We told them to come to the small dinghy dock off our starboard side and we’d figure out how to get them out to our boat or us into them somehow. Then we charged our batteries, read, sunbathing, and otherwise relaxing.

There was still a pretty good offshore breeze, but periods of calm as well. I thought perhaps I could row the dinghy ashore, but we agreed I should try it while still tied to the boat by the painter. I did, and it was impossible. Cheap little plastic oars and a heavy dinghy with a motor on the back is not a good match. Without the wind, perhaps, but even then it wouldn’t be easy. So, when Patrick from Sunsail called us from the dinghy dock, Deb made the decision to hail some folks on Arabella, a sailboat astern of us. She got their attention, I radioed them, and they quickly agreed to give one of us a ride ashore to pick up Patrick. They were Brits from Jersey, and it turned out that they had had their dinghy fuel line stolen a week before at the same spot. They were unable to find a replacement, but fortunately they carried an extra small outboard with an internal tank aboard Arabella, which they were using now.

Patrick came aboard with a new fuel line, which he hooked up and checked out. He also brought a second air pump for the dinghy, which we swapped out for the one we’d been issued with Big Foot that did not have the correct fitting to connect to the dinghy fill points. Patrick said that we were absolved from having to file a police report, and we locked up the boat and took him ashore.

After disconnecting the fuel line and stowing it in the dinghy locker with the fuel tank and locking the dinghy to the dock, we thanked Patrick and walked into Port La Royale for lunch at The Village – drinks, escargot, fettuccini Alfredo, profiteroles, and chocolate cake. We stuffed ourselves, managed to call our families, and then walked along the beach below the dinghy dock. On the way back to the dinghy, we stopped at a hotel cabana bar for a drink and watched the sunset. We ended our day with drinks and snacks aboard Big Foot, and plans to cast off for Grand Case in the morning.

January 2 – Deb awoke with what she diagnosed as the start of a bladder infection. What a bummer! We had breakfast, and at 08:45 headed into town, tying up at the dock where our fuel line was stolen on New Year’s Eve and hiding our fuel line. Today there were many more tourists, and the “attractive waterfront market” was bustling (tour buses from the big cruise ships in Philipsburg were in town after the New Year’s celebrations were done). We walked up to a pharmacy I remembered seeing earlier, and the women at the pharmacy directed us to a doctor just a few doors down.

Medicine is practiced so differently outside the U.S. We’ve had a couple of experiences with the French system. Several year’s ago in Antibes, France, I had to have emergency surgery, and we became very familiar with the informal though nevertheless most efficient characteristics of French medical practice. Now, we encountered it again.

We entered the doctor’s waiting room. One other person was waiting, it turns out for someone in the doctor’s office. There was no nurse, just a buzzer that announced to the doctor in his office that another patient had arrived. We waited ten minutes, and then the doctor opened his door, sent his patient on her way, and invited us in. He had no nurse. His examining table and equipment was toward the back of the office and his desk, in front of which he invited us to sit, was just inside the door. A short conversation ensued during which Deb described her symptoms, he concurred with her diagnosis, and he looked up on his computer some drug information and then prescribed three drugs. How much? $30. Thank you so much. Then we walked back to the pharmacy, where Deb got the three prescriptions filled for $25. Viva la medicine en France!

We dinghied down to the other dinghy dock and walked into Port La Royale to buy some coffee for the boat and have croissants at a popular breakfast spot. We also checked the weather at the local marina before returning to the boat.

At noon we weighed anchor for Grand Case, arriving after a short sail at 13:40. We anchored, and I swam out to check the anchor. It was much deeper than we thought, so we let out some more chain - and then it occurred to me that the depth was in meters, not feet! Pay attention to the legend on those charts. In any case, we were well anchored, and we dinghied into Grand Case at 14:30 to partake in a lunch of freshly barbecued ribs at one of the several local bars just off the dinghy dock. (We had ribs at Chilis just the other day, and while Chilis baby back ribs are good, the ones in Grand Case were truly superb!)

Grand Case Bay is long and sweeping with a beautiful beach. The town is built along the beach, which is lined with restaurants and shops. Doyle’s guide calls it the “gastronomic center of St. Martin,” and we thought it lived up to this reputation. On Tuesday nights, which this just happened to be, they shut down the main street for music and street vendors and a general community jump-up. We walked for a couple of hours down the length of the main street and back, taking in all the various menus posted along the way. We finally made a reservation at L’Auberge Gourmand for dinner at 20:30, and then went out to the boat for a lie-down.

We were back by 19:00, and the party was beginning. We walked the length of the street again, soaking in the jump-up, and particularly enjoying a steel pan band. Our table on the front patio at L’Auberge Gourmand was ready for us when we wandered back up the street and we sat down for a truly gourmet dinner (escargot to start, then appetizers of frois gras and scallops, followed by dessert, and all washed down by a wonderful Beaujolais). We were satiated, and sat enjoying the passing throngs of people – more locals than tourists, I think – and soon we were up walking and dancing to the drum corps, a group of musicians who must have gone up and down the street a dozen times during the course of the evening.

January 3 – We slept in until 09:00, and finally got up only to sit down and read, have coffee and breakfast. This was the only meal we regularly had aboard on both charters, with lunch a close second. We decided that we were going to adjust our future provisioning to reflect this, and we would really cut down on food waste.

We went in for a walk on the beach, shopped at a little place called C’est La Vie, and had a nice lunch at Restaurant du Soleil overlooking the beach. We made a reservation for dinner that night at Il Nettuno, an Italian restaurant, and spent the afternoon relaxing on Big Foot. Dinner that night was lovely, overlooking the bay. We met a nice couple and closed the even with a nice conversation and Limoncello, a nice Italian after dinner liqueur we discovered in Nice.

January 4 – We had decided the day before that we’d return to the Sunsail base the day before our charter ended, thinking we had an early afternoon flight to catch on the 5th, so we weighed anchor around 10:00.

We had a nice sail across to Anguilla, where we tacked back to Tintamere (a small island opposite the entrance to Orient Bay on the east side of St. Martin). The seas were fairly big, with swells reaching eight feet, but the winds were steady between 15-20 knots. We sailed 13.2 nm at an average of 3.6 knots (maximum 5.9 knots) in 3:15 hours, arriving at Oyster Pond at about 13:15. Alcid from Sunsail met us at the dock, helped us tie up, and had a good chat. We spent the afternoon reading, doing some packing and relaxing aboard.

We had eaten so many rich and filling meals over the previous week, we skipped dinner and just had snacks. We went up to Nikko’s Yacht Club Bar around 20:00, and ended up spending a late evening there. Deb talked to Nikko about feng shuing the furniture in the bar, and Jim and Nikko both played the keyboards until 01:30. It was a special evening, and we promised to keep in touch with each other.

January 5 – Still aboard Big Foot, we finally were up around 09:00. We spent the morning cleaning up things on the boat. I sorted through the food that was left over. It wasn’t quite as bad as we’d imagined, but we still hadn’t touched the steak and chicken we’d bought, along with several other things (charcoal, ginger ale, vinegar, onions, garlic, green and red peppers, avocados, zucchini), and, perish the thought, a six-pack of beer and most of a bottle of Grey Goose that Deb had purchased. We left food for the Sunsail clean-up crew, gave some to one of the dock fellows we’d become acquainted with, and put a note in with the Grey Goose to leave it with Nikko as a bit of a thank-you gift.

Turns out our flight wasn’t in the early afternoon, but rather at 17:30. Nevertheless, we disembarked at noon, and spent the afternoon relaxing at Captain Oliver’s bar, watching boats come and go from Oyster Pond.

We departed St. Maarten’s airport and landed on Tortola shortly after 18:00, where we got a taxi into the Fort Burt Hotel and soon were having a martini served up by our friend Sharon.

January 6 – We arose early, managed to get breakfast at the Fort Burt Hotel even though the breakfast cook was late arriving, and started the long day of travel back to the world. All our connections worked out with time to spare, and we spent most of the trip dreaming about our next visit to the Caribbean. As the saying goes: “we can hardly wait!”

More photos of St Martin cruise


Blogger Lydia said...

I charted Educated Ice on December 28, 2006 immediately after you. I laughed out loud after reading your experience with the boat, as it was all too familiar to ours! Fair winds.

10:28 AM  

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