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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
05/31/2007, French Saint Martin

We dinghied over to the French side of the lagoon today to join the Kelp Fiction crew for lunch. We have had no problem keeping in touch via VHF in the mornings. I have been keeping up with the weather on the SSB seeing as how hurricane season starts tomorrow. I have tried to listen in on the French weather reports on VHF but I just don't have enough of the language together to make sense of it.

The lagoon side of Marigot has a little wharf where everyone ties up stern to right in front of the shops and bistros. Lots of boats are anchored in the lagoon close to the Marigot wharf. Boats are anchored from one end of the lagoon to the other but the density seems greater at the ends. The basin also seems to emptying out a little more each day as the cruising boats head south.

Marigot is a very quaint little town. Most of the town is squashed into four or five streets that run between the lagoon side wharf and the marina and beach front on the Atlantic side. There are creperies, bistros, wine shops, ice cream and gelato stores, and every other kind of gastric indulgence you could imagine.

I had been craving a crepe for some time so we ate at a little place right on the wharf that served a late breakfast. A nice espresso, cheese omelet crepe and a fresh squeezed glass of OJ, perfect. Hang out on the French side and work on your boat on the Dutch side. I'm getting the hang of this Saint Martin/Sint Maarten thing.

Saint Martin
Do it yourself, or hire out
05/30/2007, The Fen

I like to work on our boat. In a perfect world I would do all of the work. Unfortunately not having access to the resources of a contractor causes projects I handle to go a whole lot slower. For instance, it seems I have to get a new SIM every couple of islands to keep the GSM cell phone running. We have no cell phone at the moment, which makes any kind of part chasing an all day affair. In addition there is so much EMI in the lagoon that it is hard to get usable Internet for any duration, even with our antenna. This brings my communications system down to dinghy & sneaker levels. Access to parts, tools, a workshop, knowing who to call and where to go to get things done, not to mention having a team of multiple folks allows you to get things done much more quickly.

We were developing a pretty long list of projects on several fronts and it seemed the only way to get ahead was to deploy the contractors. We had waited for Saint Martin to start things because we had read and heard that there was no better place in the Caribbean to get work done on your boat. We were also coming at a time when most of the shops were slowing down work wise.

Boat contractors are a bit like car mechanics, or maybe worse. I can safely say that I would not let more than half of those I have hired in the past back on my boat. Unfortunately this means that hiring a new contractor is a risky affair. You never know what you will get. It becomes very important that you supervise the work for a bit at the beginning to ensure that you have someone who knows what they're doing working on your boat. If you find a good one, load them up to the max!

Kent Grimbeek at Just Catamarans in Fort Lauderdale took care of a lot of work on our boat before we left. We got really spoiled working with them. I would have preferred to have Kent's team do everything we were contemplating but in some cases the projects weren't identified, in others we didn't have the parts, and, in the end, we just ran out of time.

FKG had come highly recommended by a friend in the BVI so we felt pretty good about them. My choice of Electec was just based on the fact that they were the most capable looking outfit and I had a good feeling after meeting with one of the managers. I discussed my projects with a gentleman named Jan, one of the principals at the shop, and I was impressed by his knowledge and his demeanor.

Patrick from Electec arrived today to start on some of the electrical and electronics work. It was nice to have them get started within two days of our first meeting. I certainly had a list for them.

Repair bad breaker on Inverter Charger
Upgrade Xantrex MS2000 Firmware
Upgrade shore power to 125v 50a w/ 60' cable and pig tails for 125v/30a & 250v/50a
Install Windlass Remote
Install AIS receiver
>>> Install VHF antenna
>>> Run coax cable
>>> Install Sitex AIS brain
>>> Connect antenna to AIS brain
>>> Connect AIS to E120
>>> Install Raymarine Seatalk bridge
>>> Move NEMA for SSB & VHF Radios to bridge
>>> Connect Sitex to E120 on free NEMA port
>>> Upgrade E120 firmware
Repair loud hailer
Replace anchor light

Patrick, an EE from Wisconsin, is not only a great guy but a very good tech. He did first rate work and we were very happy with everything he did. It was nice to get a winner on the first try. It would be almost two weeks before everything would be completed.

Saint Martin
05/29/2007, The Saint Martin Lagoon

Day two in the fen, as we have come to know the lagoon. It is always nice to be in a totally protected anchorage but this lagoon is a little too protected. I would suggest anyone falling into this water take a full course of penicillin.

I spent most of the day doing recon on the two chandleries ashore, Island Water World and Budget Marine. Both are pretty good sized and together they probably have a better selection of stuff than your average West Marine. Things turn south if you have to order something however. Shipping can take a week or more and everything is air freight pricing (even if it takes forever to get here). I needed a Yanmar part that runs about $20 and by the time I checked out it was about $50 with shipping. Saint Martin is duty free though so that is a help. You would really get worked over in many other Caribbean ports.

I bought a few things that I was sure we needed and that were cheap enough to not require comparison shopping. When I got back to the boat Hideko and I put together a complete list of all of the spares that we needed. We had to replace the fluids and parts used for the 250 hour service work in Provo and we also wanted to get some more pump spares.

I'm not sold on the pumps installed in our boat at this point. We have four RuleMate 500 sump pumps. These are principally for pumping grey water from the shower drain overboard. I have the aircon condensation run offs directed to the aft sumps and the forward sumps also handle the sinks in the forward heads. "Shower sump" may not fit into the RuleMate function sweep spot. Our dealer replaced one sump pump at the time of delivery and I have had to swap out another.

The port and starboard bilge sumps and the engine room sumps use RuleMate 1100s and one of those has gone up. This is concerning because you don't want to find out that your bilge pump doesn't work on a day that you need it. We test ours buy dumping a bucket of fresh water into the bilge sump on a maintenance schedule but you can't replace reliability with maintenance.

Our port water pressure pump failed also. It was treated badly for a bit (long but entertaining story that I will not post here so as to avoid being beat about the head and shoulders by my spouse). However, given the robust claims on the box one would expect to have no problems.

All of these pumps are made by the same folks, ITT Industries (aka. Jabsco, aka RuleMate, aka Shurflo). If you go to a standard chandlery (i.e. West Marine) you are not likely to find much else. Four (or was it five, hard to keep track) pump failures in the first eight months of ownership seems a bit excessive to me. It is just the two of us. I know many folks who go to exotic maintenance extremes to protect these delicate resources. At several hundred dollars a pump I don't really see why you should have to, they're only being asked to do what they're advertised to do and less. I have a spare for everything at the moment but I am carefully considering a more robust solution than ITT.

Saint Martin
The Bridge to the Lagoon
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.

Saint Martin
A Short Sail to Saint Martin
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.

Saint Martin
Exploring Anguilla
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.

Motorsailing East
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.


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