05/28/2007, 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.
05/27/2007, Simpson Bay, Saint Martin
We got up not so early for our short hop to Saint Martin. I hauled up little star's motor, for hopefully the last time, and stowed it on the rail. After getting Little Star on the deck we started to get the boat ready for a short sail. Kelp Fiction was already getting underway as we prepped the boat. KFII and crew were heading to Marigot on the French side which is a little more picturesque than Simpson Bay. We needed to go to the Dutch side though so that we could get some work done (most of the boat related stuff is inside the lagoon on the Dutch side).
We had a nice wind and made 8 knots on the way over to Simpson Bay. Unfortunately as soon as we turned around the North West point of Saint Martin we got the southeast wind on the nose. We motor sailed in and anchored in a fairly crowded Simpson Bay. It was pretty but a little too busy for my taste. Certainly the most developed Caribbean island we'd seen since Puerto Rico. They are building a new resort on the south shore which was rather noisy but the anchorage was good and comfortable.
We got the dinghy down and made a covert beach landing with Roq, he leaves only foot prints of course. We listened to the local traffic on 16 and some other channels for a bit, a habit I've gotten into which really seems to help you get oriented to the marine activities of a place. After a quiet dinner we watched some Alias (Hideko has gotten me hooked) and hit the hay.
05/26/2007, Around Anguilla
We cleared into Anguilla first thing in the morning. Customs was easy but we had to wait about an hour for the official to return from something. There's a nice jazz beach bar right next door so it was not a real hardship. It was starting to get pretty hot though. It is almost June and we are now around 18 degrees North. 80 something degrees with 98 percent humidity will take the gusto right out of you.
After clearing in I noticed some kids playing around on the dinghies at the pier. I went over and talked to them just so that they knew folks were around and aware. They weren't on Little Star (our dinghy) or the Red Barron (Fred and Cindy's dinghy) so I just said hi. They proceeded to ask for money. Hmm, not a good sign. One of them was a bit chunky and claimed to be hungry. I told him that he looked fit and healthy, which he didn't like much. Seeing as how my strategy was turning out to be counter productive I gave up and went back to the table.
Hours later when we returned to the dinghy I couldn't seem to get the engine started. Upon inspection I noticed that the choke had been pulled out, the throttle was wide open and the transmission was in gear. At least they didn't steal anything.
We decided to rent a car for the day and explore the island. Fred and Cindy had stayed at a boutique hotel called Ku years before which they wanted to revisit and the Pyrat Rum distillery was high on the list. The Pyrat Rum distillery was very nice. We couldn't get a tour (it was the weekend) but we looked around a bit and hit the tasting room. Pyrat is one of the few Rums I enjoy drinking straight. The folks who own the Patron Tequila brand also own the Pyrat Rum business. Pyrat is marketed, much like Parton, as upscale and is typically rather pricey. At the Anguillian tasting room you can get Pyrat, in various, forms much cheaper than you can elsewhere. I'm not sure that I'm convinced that the older versions are all that much better. I bought a bottle of each in order to do further research.
We spent the middle part of the day driving around Anguilla and checking out various beaches. The Ku resort sits on one of the most popular beaches and has a funky chic sort of vibe. We had a drink there and trust me, one is all you need. Their drink menu is pretty wild. I marveled at how the dive shop on the beach operated with no pier. Their boat is anchored out just past some serious breakers. Fred, having experience in the matter, indicated that loading tourists onto a dive boat through a beach break was entertaining if nothing else.
We finished off the day back at Road Bay and had dinner at the Pump House. It looks like an old fire house but they have a fun bar and great food. It was a real treat after eating in the BVI for weeks. The BVI has gotten better but in general the food in the BVI is sub par and pricey.
We left the car near the dinghy dock, which is a option offered by the rental place, and hopped into the dinks for an evening harbor cruise back to the big boats. We all felt good about seeing Anguilla and were set to move on to Saint Martin.
05/25/2007, Road Bay, Anguilla
Hideko and I got up at 4AM to get the boat ready for what we hoped would be the last of the big bashes eastward. As far as the BVI is concerned the wind blows from Saint Martin. Our course was about 120 and that's where the wind was predicted for the foreseeable future. We decided to make for Road Bay Anguilla, just to the north of Saint Martin to try to get a little better angle on things and also to see Anguilla. Our friends Erica and Jeff had just spent their honeymoon on Saint Martin and Anguilla and they were very complimentary of Anguilla.
After prepping the boat we fired up the diesels in an amazingly flat pre dawn calm. Our friends Fred and Cindy were getting underway in the slip next to us aboard Kelp Fiction. They had been working as Dive Instructors in the BVI and had decided to head south with us. It would be nice to travel with friends again. Cindy's sister had come to visit them in the BVI and ended up getting kidnapped for a cruise south through the Caribbean. The five of us and Roq set off almost silently sending ripples through the glassy water.
We motored out the well marked north entrance to Virgin Gorda's North Sound as light came into the sky. I had tried to talk everyone into spending our last night at Saba Rock and taking off through the cut in Eustatia Sound. This is a reasonable but narrow cut in a fairly large and shallow reef. Fred was not having any of it, especially in the pre dawn. Perhaps the wise choice, but I do want to go back there and try that pass with good light.
Once north of the last marker outside of the sound we headed due east through the Necker Island Passage. We had about 10 knots of wind from the southeast so we put the main up and motor sailed. As soon as the boat was settled in Hideko put her lines out. Shortly there after she hooked something. It had some serious fight in it and gave her some trouble. When she got it to the boat we had no idea what it was. "Quick get the fish card!" I got the fish card and we made our best guess, a large Horse Eye Jack. Not the best eating so back he went. Twenty minutes later she hit again, and this time it was dinner. A perfect Mahi Mahi sized just right for 5 (no fish for Roq, he likes it but it does bad things to him, or should I say us). We pulled the other line in having caught what we needed to eat.
The passage was an enjoyable motor sail with no big surprises. The wind blew between 10 and 15 knots right from where we were going mostly but we hummed along at 8 to 9 knots, depending on the wind direction, running the engines at about 2K. We had looked for a better window but the best thing we could come up with without waiting for the underworld to freeze over was light wind from 120 degrees. The swell was a good six feet but long duration and there were no waves to speak of.
Around 10AM some dolphins came to join us. We asked them where the whales were but apparently that insulted them because they left immediately after we asked. As we neared Anguilla we sighted Dog Island. The out islands around Anguilla look very beautiful though we didn't stop at any. You can stay as long as you like in Road Harbor with little expense but if you want to cruise Anguilla you must buy a cruising permit which is a bit more than free. Given more time I would have cruised around Anguilla, it is a very pretty area with great food. Unfortunately it was time for us to head south.
Shortly after sighting land we also sighted some fairly ominous looking black clouds coming from Saint Martin. We were close enough to Anguilla that dodging the squally mess wasn't really an option. We stayed the course and hunkered down. I had a reef in the main since we weren't really sailing much and as long as things stay south of 30 knots that works just fine.
The first bunch of darkness just brushed us. We saw a bit of rain but not enough to clean the decks off. We looked behind us and figured Fred and Cindy would not be so lucky. I radioed them and let them know that some dark clouds were headed their way. The next set came close to us and we got about 20 to 25 knots for a short period and quite a bit more H2O. It was all passing south of us as we neared Road Bay though.
Road Bay is a big beautiful anchorage. There's a huge area to anchor in 15 feet of water with no obstructions on the way in. The little town there is pretty basic and the Anguillans don't keep their beach incredibly clean but it is still a beautiful spot and a great place to be anchored.
Once we had the anchor well down I broke out the hammock. Hideko had purchased a Brazilian Hammock in Florida before we left and we had never tried it. It is a perfect fit under the tramps and across the cockpit. There were some sprinkles threatening so I chose the cockpit. Fred and Cindy came into the anchorage before long, and had only been a little more ruffled up than us by the squally bits.
I took a swim to check the anchor and cool off. The bay is very open and the water was lovely. After getting Kelp Fiction situated, Fred, Cindy and Jill came over to Swingin' on a Star and we enjoyed a great dinner of Mahi Mahi frilled with garlic butter. Not a bad day.
05/24/2007, Virgin Gorda
So we're finally leaving the BVI. It was hard to say goodbye to all of the folks we've come to call friends here.
The wind blows from Saint Martin almost every day of the year. Rather than wait for an act of the almighty we decided to just motor fast on a day with little wind. We were going to leave today but lo and behold, Fred and Cindy on Kelp Fiction (former local dive instructors) have decided to retire and come with us! We couldn't be happier.
It was pretty clam today and tomorrow should be the same. I did finally go up the stick to untangle the kite that got up in the rigging somehow so we are truly all set. Hideko didn't want to winch me up so Fred offered to "jack me up the mast". I wasn't so sure I wanted to be "jacked up the mast" but it all worked out.
|The British Virgin Islands||
05/21/2007, Virgin Gorda
We are back in cruising mode. I have started to get up at 7AM every morning to check in on the weather net as we start to plan our passage South. Looks like we will have a good window to make Saint Martin on Thursday of this week.
Hideko, Roq and I took a hike up the mountain to explore the beautiful villas above Leverick Bay. Roq considered some of the landscaping very carefully but didn't have any new entries for us.
|The British Virgin Islands||
05/20/2007, Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda
Leverick Bay feels like home. It is nice to be back. It was great to see Fred, Cindy, Marc and Mike again. It is strange though because there are very few charter boats around and all of the other folks are leaving or have left. The whirly birds, as Captain Bob on Bravura calls the Hurricanes, are coming.
You'd never know it. Leverick is as lovely as ever. The Visar (Virgin Islands Search And Rescue) crew had a fund raiser here today. They are all donation supported and it looked like a good time was had by all.
I have gotten back into weather mode and spend an hour or two each day tracking things and looking for that elusive window to make Saint Martin. It is only about 80 nm but it bears the exact direction the wind typically blows from. If nothing shows up in a week or so we may have to just suck it up and motor across.
In the mean time Hideko and I have plenty of projects to work on.
|The British Virgin Islands||