The Bridge to the Lagoon
28 May 2007 | Saint Martin
I got up early to clear us in prior to the Simpson Bay bridge opening. Our goal was to get hooked up at FKG Rigging in the Lagoon for some rig tuning and adjustments. If you've never looked at a map of Saint Martin it is a medium sized island with a huge hourglass shaped lagoon on the west side. Most of the chandleries, riggers, marine electricians, and other boat services are either on the Lagoon or a block away. The lagoon is nasty from a water quality stand point and ranges from 4 to 20 feet deep with most of the shoal spots identified by little more than local knowledge. The North half of the Island (and lagoon) is French and the south half is Dutch.
Clearing in was easy and cost about $40 US for two weeks. The Dutch side charges you per week for stays in Simpson Bay or the Lagoon. Reports from Kelp Fiction indicate the French side is also easy to clear in (Fred's first language is French, not sure if that helps) and costs zero. If you're going to Saint Martin for pleasure, Marigot is by far the better harbor, the town is prettier, and it's French so of course the food is better. Everyone on the French side speaks French but they also do English just fine. The Dutch side speaks English with a little Dutch here and there and some French.
I watched the bridge open once to get the hang of it. It opens at 9:30, 11:00 and 17:30 in the summer. The bridge is 56 feet wide and the deck goes vertical so there's no ceiling. That is a nice bit. I recall having to hug the Port side of some of the bridge openings in Fort Lauderdale due to the bridge only lifting to 70 or so degrees. There's a traffic light on the outside because they let all of the inside boats out first. The bridge operator monitors 12 on the VHF but in my experience only responds to about 25% of the vessels hailing. He does yell at small sailboat that can keep up with the flow of traffic however. They really want everyone nose to butt and through now.
The bridge on the Marigot side is nice but a little too narrow for my comfort (Swingin' on a Star has a beam of almost 27 feet). The Dutch bridge also opens a bit more regularly and reliably.
After returning to the big boat Hideko and I hauled anchor and towed Little Star through the bridge. The lagoon is a maze for someone entering for the first time. I had gotten my bearings on the dink after clearing in so I had a basic idea of where we needed to get to. The eastern most extent of the Lagoon (an area apparently called Cole Bay) is where FKG is located and they have a region of lagoon marked as "shoal draft anchorage" right in front of them. Ominous.
I probed around the area with the sounder motoring slowly and carefully and found a 5 foot spot right in front of FKG. We draw 4 foot 8 inches so it was an exciting discovery. Most of the area is 6 feetish however so we anchored out in the mud a few hundred feet away from FKG.
I checked in with FKG to see what kind of time frame they needed to get to us. We didn't have an appointment but we had contacted them a month before to get the ball rolling. I wanted to analyze the possibility of simplifying our rig and taking the hassle out of raising the main sail. All controls in the cockpit close by the powered primary winches was the goal. We had a number of other projects to tackle as well.
The FKG folks are known as one of the best rigging shops in the Caribbean and they were still busy in late May. It was going to be several days before we could even get on their dock. We had two weeks planned for work in Saint Martin so I still had hope that we could get things handled.
Next I stopped by Electec for some electronics and electrical work. Jan, the gentleman who runs the marine tech side of things as best I can tell, was very knowledgeable and indicated that he would try to get some folks started on our list in a day or two.
We wrapped up the project kick off meetings just in time to meet Fred, Cindy and Jill. The Kelp Fiction crew had dinghied over from Marigot and they were in great spirits and really enjoying the French side. We all motored over to a little bar and grill on the lagoon for a nice lunch.
There was a front kind of hanging over the Dutch side of Saint Martin for the past couple of days and it started to come down. We waved goodbye to the KFII crew as they dashed back to the French side, where they claimed it does not rain. Hideko and I went inside for an Alias marathon. Unfortunately as we got ready to settle in I went out to check on things and noticed that we were moving slowly leeward. Not good.
We had set the hook with a very short scope and low revs due to the fairly flat conditions in the lagoon and the closeness of some other boats with no info on their scope. Bad idea. I guess I'd rather swing into someone than drag onto them, truth be told. The wind was howling 20 to 25 over the past couple of days and so we decided to anchor by the book this time.
When we pulled up the anchor the actual culprit appeared. Not only did we have a lot of really nasty smelling mud and scuz on our anchor and chain, but the tip of the anchor had a plastic thimble and a wad of stray rope on it, effectively keeping the anchor from digging in.
We got the anchor back down while the wind howled and put out something more like 5:1 then backed down at 2,000 rpm with the wind averaging 20 knots. We were firmly planted this time. The sun set and the rain started coming down just as we wrapped up.