Bonjour, then Hoodorning!!
The more things change, the more they stay the same. A week in St. Martin ended up becoming two (or so). Clearing Customs was quite interesting. We headed in to Fort Louis Marina to use their computerized check in. After we had entered all of our vitals into the work station, we presented ourselves to the lady at the desk for our printouts. Besides the fees for Customs and Immigration, she wanted $15 for the use of the service. No thanks! I think that she was amazed when we thanked her and walked away. We dinghied in to the lagoon, and printed out our forms for a donation of $2 to a local charity-check in done! The lady at Island Waterworld (local chandlery) was incredulous that the marina was going to charge us so much. Note to self-listen to fellow cruisers (who told us to check in at Island Waterworld). Besides the day that the wind was out of the North, and we got the stuffing kicked out of us, the anchorage in Marigot Bay was wonderful. We wandered about town, visited Fort Louis, high up on the hill overlooking the harbor, and enjoyed the City Market on Saturday. Every morning at 0730, we listened to the cruisers net on our VHF, moderated by Mike at “Shrimpy’s.” That 45 minute+/- presentation gave us all the info that we needed to face the day-weather, arrivals and departures, general announcements, buy, sell and trade, and general information for cruisers. Shrimpy’s itself, was another story-it really defies description, but I’ll try. There’s a laundromat. They’ll also take your laundry and clean it for you. We tie “White Star” to the seawall and thread our way through the clutter of spare parts, old outboard engines, the communal refrigerator and microwave, and general mayhem that occupies the porch. Inside Shrimpy’s central, a long clothes-folding table separates the rows of washers and dryers from the assortment of well-used tables and chairs occupying the rest of the room. These are occupied by a dozen or so cruisingonabudget sailors hunched over their laptops, whose LED screens provide the only lighting in their half of the space. Lining the walls are bins and shelves filled with used boat parts and assorted odds ‘n ends. Manning the VHF in a corner is Mike, a man of indeterminate age, his ample belly displayed through his unbuttoned shirt. (No aspersions intended-just trying to give you a visual.) As we exit out the back (or is it the front?) onto the alleyway, fetid with the odors of humanity in the tropics, it’s clear again that “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
We soon exhausted the sights on the French side, and found that we were dinghying through the lagoon to the Dutch side every day. Suzanne found a nice salon where she got her hair cut, and there was a good (fresh produce) grocery store there. Island Waterworld’s flagship store, and Budget Marine also had stores on the Dutch side, and we spent a good bit of time (and $$) at the 2 stores. Sandwiched in between sat Lagoonie’s, which became a favorite lunch and Happy Hour stop. On the way home one afternoon, we smelled gas coming from the outboard. Within minutes, the motor was missing, and barely making any power. After the fuel pump incident in Grand Bahama last year, we had a pretty good idea what was happening. Sure enough, when we pulled the cowling off the motor, I could feel gas pouring out of the backside of the fuel pump reservoir. As we contemplated the long paddle home, a young couple tooled up in their center console and asked us if we needed help. The 2+ mile tow back to “Alizann” sure beat paddling. Back at the ranch, I had the fuel pump off, the “O” ring inside replaced, and the engine running in 45 minutes. The experience left me wondering if we should carry the tools and extra “O” rings onboard the tender.
We thought that St. Barth’s was a haven for megayachts-Hah! The number and size of 100+ footers there paled in comparison to the fleet in St. Maarten. There must have been thirty or forty boats over 100’, and scores in the 50’-100’ range. One afternoon, while we sat on the deck at the St. Maarten Yacht Club sipping a cold beverage, watching the yachts coming through the drawbridge, we met a crazy sailing couple from (where else?) Canada. Chris and Fran regaled us with stories about how much fun was to be had when the Heineken Regatta was in town. Okay, long story short(er). We decided to stay for the regatta, which was to be held the following week, and moved the Girl into the lagoon on the Dutch side. Before we left, however, we let the French couple who had been delivering fresh baguettes and croissants to the boat every morning know where we were headed. For the following week, we continued to enjoy the French bakeries’ wares, delivered fresh every morning. (As an aside, there is a “French” bakery on the Dutch side, but we enjoyed the goodies from Sarafina’s a bit more)
On Fat Tuesday, we joined a gang of cruisers in a rented bus and headed out to Grand Case, a town on the French side, just north of Marigot for the Carnival parade and festivities. It took forever to get there-I think that everyone on the island was out partying, and the road was jammed with vehicles and pedestrians. Along the roadside were numerous little stands and tents where the barbeques flared, the cooks filling Styrofoam plate after plate with Caribbean treats. We strolled the street in Grand Case, shoulder to shoulder with the throngs there. Crafts and local products were on display in numerous tents and makeshift stalls along the road, which was pedestrians-only that evening, and all of the shops were open. Food choices ranged from Lolo (local, low price sittinatapicnictable grub) to fine dining. Suz and I opted for the latter, and had a very good dinner at “Oceans 82”, which featured seafood and noveau French cuisine. We hadn’t done the fine dining thing for a while, and we enjoyed every minute of the experience, just barely finishing in time to catch our ride home.
The Heineken Regatta was a real treat. Nearly 200 sailboats participated in class racing, ranging from the big offshore ocean racers down to 30 footers. Teams from all over the globe came in, and the town was rockin’. The conditions for racing were ideal-20+kn winds, and 4’-6’ seas. Every morning, Suz and I were out in the tender, taking photos of the boats as they jockeyed for position at the starts of their respective classes. The wind and seas were a bit of a challenge in our 11’ Whaler, but it didn’t stop the Admiral from snapping around 500 pictures. The next challenge is culling out the 10 or 20 best shots. That brings us around to Saturday, the 4th of March. With one more day of racing to go, and the UB40 concert to come on Sunday night, we were faced with a decision. It looked like a short weather window for our passage to the British Virgin Islands would open on Sunday, after which it would slam shut for the rest of the week. We decided to forego Sunday’s activities. We had our trusty (and I do mean trusty, as several boats had dragged through the anchorage during this windy week) anchor up by 15h30, and made the last bridge opening at 16h00. Anchoring in Simpson Bay for the night, we were rocked by the surge, in spite of having the flopperstoppers deployed. We were underway by first light, and trailed lines for almost 12 hours, with nothing to show except one short strike, which resulted in the loss of a bait, and 2 sets of tangled lines. The conditions weren’t ideal for fishing, with 4’-6’ seas on 6 second intervals, and winds from 14-18 knots. We made North Sound on Virgin Gorda, some 80 miles from St. Martin, just before dark, and got the anchor down in the lee of Prickly Pear Island.
It's Tuesday now, and the wind has been howling for 2 days. Early Sunday night, the wind subsided, and was swirling around the island, causing the anchored boats to twirl every which way, putting us perilously close to the boat next to us. Since we were the last to arrive, it was our responsibility to move. We’re anchored in 40’ of water, and are happy that we’re farther from the island. We’ve watched as the vessels in front of us have not behaved themselves in the wind swirling around the land, while the Girl has enjoyed(?) pretty consistent wind. Several of them have since moved. The whole bay is experiencing a lot of surge, and the boats are rolling. We’re very happy to have our flopperstoppers to control the roll. Ohmygosh! 1500 words? I’ll let you go. Talk at ya
P.S. We’ll get some pictures up when we get decent WIFI