06/15/2007, Saint Kitts and Nevis
We got up early to get the boat ready so that we could clear out when the Saint Barts office opened at 7:30. We had been keeping close tabs on the weather as we always do but with extra trepidation now. It is two weeks into the official Hurricane season and two weeks until our insurance requires us to be south of 12 degrees north for named storm coverage. 12 north is 350 miles from here.
After clearing out, Swingin' on a Star headed into the Caribbean Sea making way for Saint Eustatius, also known as Statia. We were going on cruising guide information only. I was interested because it sounded remote like Saba, but it was more on the way. Both Statia and Saba are supposed to have wonderful diving so I was looking forward to getting in a dive or two as well.
The wind was up around 15-20 and we were on a shallow broad reach. The seas were up a bit, but on the quarter, so not so bad. Kelp Fiction was already cleared out so we had to play catch up. We could barely see them on the horizon as they heckled us on the VHF. Once we found the groove Swingin' on a Star stepped up to about 9 knots and we started to reel them in.
At noon the two boats rounded the north side of Statia together. Statia is a big rock, ex-volcano, with a big oil operation and typically several tankers filling up the bunker. This happens via off shore lines to huge moorings (don't hit one of these!). We were watching the tankers on our AIS as we approached.
We tried to avoid the restricted zones around the tankers as best as possible while still sailing in the fluky winds wrapping around the cape with gusts up to 30 knots. As we closed on the main anchorage and only port (pictured) there was a group sigh.
Not the highly protected beautiful scenery of the Bahamas. I'm sure that it would have been fun to explore for a day but the anchorage was not as advertised and the little breakwater was packed with commercial boats. Any of the questionable moorings we took (assuming you'd rather not anchor in 50 feet of water) would be pretty rolly.
This is anathema to the Kelp Fiction crew. I've know folks who like flat anchorages but Fred will sail for a month rather than stop somewhere that rolls a bit. Fred motored by as we were surveying the bleak coastline, quacked some colorful language over the winds howl and headed south. Saint Christopher here we come.
By one o clock we were heading down across the channel to Saint Christopher, Saint Kitts for short. It was a close hauled sail and decidedly less fun than the nice reach to Statia. Once we came along the north western tip of Saint Kitts the wind did its standard gust like crazy while backing trick, then flat died. We motorsailed in the gusty lee of Saint Kitts down to Basseterre, the capital.
We didn't really see any nice anchorages on the way down and the cursing guide was not very optimistic either. Basseterre was kinda bleak but it did have a big industrial looking cruise ship dock and a small marina. The town itself is large and has some really nice areas. There are also some not so nice areas. Stay out of New Town and Irish Town.
I don't really like marinas, unless they are un-marinas like Saint Barts. The whole fun of being out and about on a boat in beautiful far flung places just doesn't come through when you are in a marina. Good for working on the boat and loading/unloading guest but not for me in general. This marina looked like the only shelter here however and it was getting on towards four in the afternoon.
We were a little bit ahead of KFII so we hailed them and all agreed to park for the night. It was pretty windy as Hideko and I maneuvered on to the fuel dock to fill up. Hideko is getting great at handling the lines and her throwing arm is impressive. She used to chuck the lines two feet out right into the water while we were still 10 feet off the dock. Now she waits until we're on and hands them over, or in this case as the bow was blowing off, does a clean 7 foot side arm toss right into the dock hands chest.
Kelp Fiction came in and we helped them on to the dock. Everything here is stern to with mooring balls for the bow line. It is nice to be a cat because the mono hulls have to go two to a slip, your neighbor may not tie up as nicely as you do. Unfortunately a fairly rude day charter skipper took my spot as we were getting ready to move. The dock master was fairly upset but the guy just parked and left. We ended up on the fuel dock for the night.
Everyone was tired from a long day but the dock master insisted we go to clear in. It was six PM and I was a little skeptical. Cindy and I did as we were told however and went over to the cruise ship dock. Surprisingly customs and the harbor master were both in. The customs officer was a character. He was fun and informative to talk to but I think a little sleep deprived. He works 48 hours on and 72 off. In the end he didn't have the right forms. So back tomorrow. We stopped at the harbor master and checked in with them for about $20 EC. It is 2.67 eastern Caribbean dollars to the US dollar so that's pretty cheap. All of the former British colonies use the EC. The French folks are pretty much Euro these days. Everyone takes US, though they may work you over a little with the exchange rate.
After wrapping up with the harbor folks we headed back to the marina. The security at the marina is great. Concrete walls and wire fences with full time guards. Not all that pretty but you certainly feel safe. The cruise ship pavilions packed with duty free stores and the Caribbean's 4,367th watch, jewelry, booze and perfume stores are somewhere between done and half way done. There's a lot of construction on the warf.
No problem for me, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
06/14/2007, Saint Barts
Fred, Cindy, Jill, Hideko and I rented a car today and circumnavigated Saint Barts. As you drive up the hill toward the air port your get to an area with nice shopping some resorts on the coast (sushi on the beach anyone?) and some great eateries.
As you continue on north you get into a more sparse setting with a lot of natural beauty. Many parts of Saint Barts are still not accessible by road. Anse De Colombier is one of those places and looks like a great anchorage largely for that reason.
The Atlantic side of Saint Barts has beautiful beaches and lots of rough rocky coastline as well. We stopped at two beaches and both were fantastic. My personal favorite was Anse de Grande Saline. As the name implies there is a large salt pond inland of the beach where you park the car. It is stinky. Once you get to the beach though all ill aromas are forgotten. This has to be one of the top ten beaches in the Carib. We spent a good part of the day swimming and playing in the waves. The sand is perfect and the bottom is pure sand so you don't have to worry about slicing your feet up or squashing marine life.
A great day only slightly overshadowed by the fact that tomorrow we would sail away.
When we returned to the boat we noticed that the quay was getting packed. There were four or five mega yachts in residence now. The harbor staff work in the office right where we're tied up and it is funny to hear their shtick. "You can tie up along side for now but we may have you come stern to if more boats arrive." They told us that every day we were there. They did ask Kelp Fiction to move onto the moorings in the parking lot 100 feet away this morning so that a boat could come in to get water but other than that things are pretty slow off season.
It must be amazing at Christmas time when the place is packed with 120 footers stern to one after another and the outer harbor has boats anchored half way to Saint Martin. I think I'll watch the video.
You know that excitement you get when you score the best parking spot at the office? Well that's how we felt. There was no better place to put your boat in the whole island. I was very happy.
There was a park running along the quay to the left with beautiful grass and lots of trees. A dog friendly cafe sat close by on the waterfront with fresh croissants and excellent coffee. Roq was very happy.
There were gourmet shops, restaurants and even a warehouse type food store. Hideko was very happy.
Saint Barts is not cheap but it is a beautiful place. We looked at some of the houses for sale just for fun. I can tell you for certain that this place is over bought. The investment era is over, prices are in the lifestyle only zone.
They have an airport but it is situated so that planes have to nearly take the roofs off of cars on the road at the top of the hill as they dive bomb their way down the hill side to land and stop before they bob into the lagoon at the end of the short run way.
Kelp Fiction had a rolly night in the bay and moved into the harbor today. We all went out to a great cafe for a nice dinner of steak frites. We were supposed to leave today but the two crews were unanimous in the decision to stay a few days.
06/12/2007, Saint Barts
We got up at 7 to get the boat ready. It was such a beautiful anchorage we hated to leave but by 9 Kelp Fiction was coming around Saint Martin and it was time to head out. Cindy had done an amazing job sewing up the bimini, it looked like new. When we inquired Fred said that they didn't go ashore for dinner. Sure Fred.
We had a nice couple/three hour sail over to Gustavia in Saint Barts. I always like to anchor in the more remote spots but between the 5 of us we decided to move straight into Gustavia as we needed to get south. We passed the island Ill Fourchue and Anse De Colombier (a bay on the northwest side of Saint Barts) and both looked lovely.
As we came into Gustavia Bay we noticed a whole much of kids racing small sailboats. Some of them were real hams and spent more time entertaining us than sailing. We also saw a turtle swimming around the anchorage which is always a good sign.
The anchorage in the fairly open bay outside of Gustavia is pretty crowded. A lot of the boats look like they are rooted for the summer. After surveying the place we decided that the north side of the bay looked least crowded and swelly. Traveling with friends on a mono gets you a lot more tuned into the swell in a place.
As we drove through the north side of the anchorage I noticed that the place was pretty tightly packed with mooring balls. I didn't really know what the mooring ball rules were here as the cruising guide didn't say much about it. I noticed an odd hole in the middle of the mooring field. After a quick pass Hideko and I decided to try to fit in.
We anchored and set on a short scope. Even snugged up we were probably liable to get a bit close to some of the other boats if the wind shifted greatly. No predicted but you never know. I jumped in to look at things underwater.
Ah ha! No wonder there was a hole in this exact spot. Right off our bow was a beautiful, perfect mooring. It had a cracked ball full of water sitting on the bottom but otherwise idyllic. I hauled the mooring up and Hideko tied us off. Now we were really set! It would have been a hassle to bring the anchor up at this point so we just left it down as it would be inoperative for our stay.
Fred, Cindy and Jill came along right about then. I love watching Fred motor through an anchorage. The people who owned Kelp Fiction prior to Fred and Cindy we named the "Aets". The Aets made a whole in the top of the Amel dodger to allow the helmsman to stand up and see out. Fred refers to this addition as the Aets Hole. Watching him cruise by with his head sticking out of it always makes me smile. Fred anchored on the north side but a ways out.
As Kelp Fiction got settled Hideko and I hopped in the dinghy and headed in to town to clear in. The inner Gustavia harbor is immaculate. It is by far the cleanest port I have found in the Caribbean. There are large walls set up for stern to docking all around the harbor and the center is full of tightly spaced moorings that boats tie up to bow and stern. The effect is something like a parking lot at a shopping mall, but more, say, nautical. Cute little shops and bistros line the quay and the hills above. It is picturesque to say the least.
We cleared in and the staff were very professional and courteous. When I asked if we could come into the harbor they said sure and told us to tie up along side right up front. Wow. During high season there would be a row of 150 footers waiting to go stern to in that much space. As much as I hated to give up our nifty re-floated mooring spot we couldn't pass the offer up. We zipped back to the big boat and moved into Saint Barts.
It had to happen sooner or later. For the first time ever Swingin' on a Star did not end up where we planned at the beginning of the voyage.
We left Marigot Bay, Saint Martin with Kelp Fiction II at around noon. As both boats were coming around the north tip of Saint Martin some nasty clouds started moving in. Before you know it, wham, 35 knots on the nose and 4 knots SOG. Ugly.
As we approached the clouds I put a reef in the main. Once things heated up to full blast we decided that lass sail was called for. It was getting pretty bumpy as we rolled the jib up to the reef two mark. Next, to my great pleasure, I got to go forward to put the second reef in the main. Ug. Wet? Very. Windy? Like really windy.
I jacked in and went forward to battle with the big sail. I asked Hideko to to head up, which was a challenge over all of the wind noise. She couldn't point too high though or the jib would flog to shreds. Not high enough and I would have to drag the main into the sail bag. I let off on the halyard and was happy to only have to climb up on the boom once to pull the main neatly to reef two.
My next prayer was that the reef ring would be within reach of the clip. It wasn't of course. That only happens in fair weather. I muscled it over by hand though without using a come along on the winch so I got things clipped in pretty quick. The reefing winch we added in Saint Martin came in very handy as I cranked the leech line in tight and threw the jammer.
I am now on a mission. All controls in the cockpit or bust. Perhaps Trinidad...
Meanwhile KFII was unhappy. Fred came on the VHF and told me that their bimini had started to rip. After some though they decided to turn around and head for Grand Case. Likely excuse, Grand Case is known as the culinary center of the Caribbean.
Anyway we weren't going anywhere without our friends so we decided to let the boom out and head back downwind to Tintamarre which was just aft of the beam a couple miles off. The water near shore was almost flat and the wind was knocked down to the high 20s so we decided to set up shop.
What a beautiful island. We anchored in a little harbor on the western beach. The place reminded me of Big Sand Cay in Turks and Caicos. Not as remote and not as much sand but still a very beautiful place.
I snorkeled a bit to check out the anchor in case any whoppers like the squall that had just blown by came in the night. All was well and the water was a wonderful clear blue. We had just bought an Olympus Stylus 770SW, which in many ways is just a normal digital camera. The exception is that it is water proof down to 30 feet! It is very cool. I brought it with me and took a picture of our anchor so Hideko could sleep well too.
06/10/2007, French Saint Martin
We left the FKG dock at 7:45 this morning so that we could make it to the French side of the lagoon in time for the 9AM bridge opening. Crossing the lagoon was dicey. There are some very shallow spots over on the French side near the channel markers that lead to the bridge. When we got close Fred met us in his dinghy.
The bad news was the bridge just looked too skinny for my comfort and they didn't seem to be opening anyway. So much for the short cut. We told Fred we were just going to go out the Dutch side so he headed back to Marigot Bay.
We made it back in time for the 9:30 Simpson Bay Bridge opening. There was quite a procession of boats waiting to exit.
We had a nice sail part of the way around the island and motored the rest of the way in. Marigot Bay is a beautiful anchorage. The french town looks as charming as any you might find in Europe and the bay is well protected, looking out onto Anguilla a few miles away.
We anchored up and dinghied over to visit with Kelp Fiction and go swimming (finally!). Later on we went to a really neat Vietnamese restaurant in Marigot. Great food, wonderful ambiance and fantastic hostess!
06/09/2007, Saint Martin Lagoon
Well it has been great getting stuff done on the boat. A short walk to Island Water World one way and Budget Marine the other, FKG and Electec right at the end of the dock and virtually everything else a short dinghy ride away in a protected lagoon.
It is time to head south however. There's dense vegetation growing on my waterline (and I'm not diving in here to work on it), beautiful anchorages are calling, I want to play with the new toys and most of all the canes are a brewin'.
Also the crime rate seems to be fairly high here. We have a dog aboard which, knock on wood, pretty much makes us immune to theft. Unfortunately we have logged many boat break ins in the last 2 weeks and one dinghy theft. No worse than Marina Del Rey I suppose but as the boat density decreases the percentage exposure of the remaining targets seems to be getting uncomfortable. Comes with the developed territory I guess.
We freaked out at the last minute and had the local mattress factory build us a custom mattress for our cabin. I was on the fence about our cushion mattress. It is not bad but it is not a mattress. These days you can get a crazy comfortable pillow top monster mattress in the US if you are willing to shell out for it. This place was making what seemed like good mattresses but I don't think they had access to the materials you find back in the states. I got the top of the line and custom sized it only ran $625 delivered! We're likin' it so far but time will tell it it holds up in a marine environment.