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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Phillipsburg
Randy
06/01/2007, Phillipsburg, Saint Martin

We took one of the local buses over the hill to Phillipsburg today. The buses are very inexpensive and run constantly around the island. There's some pretty massive traffic between Marigot, Simpson Bay and Phillipsburg, reminded me of LA.

Phillipsburg is a beautiful beach town. The anchorage looks great. I wondered how so many great little shops and restaurants could be supported by what seemed to be a fairly sleepy environment. Shortly there after I was informed that Phillipsburg was a cruise ship stop. We were lucky to be there on a non cruise ship day.

We had sushi at a little place right on the beach and it was actually pretty good. Hideko even approved (and wanted to go back every day for the next week).

Saint Martin
Marigot
Randy
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
Randy
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
Pumps
Randy
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
Randy
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
Randy
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

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