Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hanging with the Rich and Famous in St Barts

“Dog is my co-pirate”
St Martin bumper sticker
Here’s a picture of downtown Gustavia, the capital of St Barts. At least it would be a picture of the city if it wasn’t almost completely blocked out by mega-yachts tied stern to on the town quay. St Barts caters to the big money crowd and the mega-mega-yacht set. It’s a small island of Swedish/French ancestry. Currently it is a French island, after Sweden gave it back to France in the 1880’s.
StBartsIMG_4056   We’re anchored in Colombier Bay on the north end of the island. That’s Georgia just about dead center of the photo. The island in the background is St. Martin. The bay here is windy and a little rolly. It’s a 1.7 mile very wet dinghy ride into Gustavia. It is a marine park and the snorkeling is OK. I’d show you some underwater pics of the two spotted eels we saw today, but my underwater camera has given up the ghost. The MTBF(mean time before failure) of boat electronics like computers and cameras is about two years on the boat. My Ikelite underwater housing takes a Nikon Coolpix camera. I’m on my second Coolpix. This one only lasted about 10 months. Pretty frustrating!
StBartsIMG_4055 St Barts is home to a number of land tortoises. This little guy was crossing the trail before being swooped up by the hand of Chris.
StBartsIMG_4057 And a bigger one getting ready to dash away.
StBartsIMG_4061 Not sure what type of bird this is. Definitely some bird of prey perching high on cactus – maybe tortoise hunting?
StBartsIMG_4039 The morning St Barts’ goat gathering at their mountainside hang out overlooking the bay waiting for their fresh  croissants.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Leaving Saint Martin

We sailed around the north side of St Martin to check out what the island had to offer away from the big metropolis of Marigot and Simpson Lagoon.  At the beach town of Gran Case we ran into some cool rusty stuff – a 19th century salt grinder. Back in those days salt was not frowned on as it is now. Salt was the preferred way to preserve foods, giving the world fine dining like salt-fish.
GranCaseIMG_4001 Gran Case is known for its fine dining. Here’s a Conde Naste style fine dining place that I didn’t take Chris to.
GranCaseIMG_4003 Here’s the French-Vietnamese restaurant that I did take Chris to. I think you can tell she’s just not ready for the Conde Naste experience. Think what the picture would be like if she was using a knife and fork instead of chop sticks.
We headed off to Isle Tintamare on the NE end of the island in search of some good snorkeling. The small island is part of a marine park. There’s no anchoring allowed and they have put in place 17 moorings for visiting boats to protect the fragile bottom. At least that’s what it said in the tourist guide we picked up in Marigot. We get there and there’s two moorings installed with dozens of boats anchored. The water is full of very white skinned people on foam noodles getting up close to the resident entertainment turtle. We took the dink around to the next bay – where there really is no anchoring – to try our luck at snorkeling. If this isn’t typically French, they put in a whole reef and then forgot to add any fish. Pretty disappointing.
After a day we made our way back to Marigot to check-out of St Martin for a trip to St Barts, the next island south. Easy check in and check out at Marigot - US$7 each way.
StMartinIMG_4032  In celebration of us leaving the island they decided to throw a small fireworks show. Actually, the horizontal red line you see above is the lights on the new Causeway Bridge. The island of St Martin is half French and half Dutch, about 30,00 people on the French side and 35,000 on the Dutch. There is a large navigable lagoon that is entered either by the French bridge in the north or the Dutch bridge in the south. The Dutch decided to run a long causeway and draw bridge straight across the lagoon on their side to speed up traffic. The fireworks were to celebrate the official completion of the bridge and to graciously thank a bunch of politicians.
Going through these draw bridges is interesting. The bridge tenders really don’t want to slow up the vehicle traffic, so they come down hard on the boats. We heard one bridge tender yelling with a Caribbean-Dutch accent at a group of transiting boats, “Move up closer! This isn’t a funeral!!
StMartinIMG_4009 While it looks like the bridge is burning down, along with a few of the boats anchored in front of it, I doubt the Dutch would have let that happen. They seem like a pretty regimented and organized group.
 IlleFoucheIMG_4037 We sailed off the next day for St Barts. On the way we stopped at Ille Fourche ( a marine park of St Barts) for a quick snorkel. This time they remembered to add fish to the reef. We have friends, Tony and Shannon from Mexico, who have asked us to look out for a good deal on a fixer-up catamaran. This one seemed like it was there for the asking. Add the rig back, rebuild the engines, buff out those hull scratches and you’d have a nice boat.

Monday, January 20, 2014

En Panne

I’m practicing my French. If you look close on the center span of the draw bridge from the Carib Sea to Simpson Lagoon it says “En Panne, Out of Order”…  So, instead of anchoring in the lagoon, we anchored in Marigot Bay outside the bridge after a good sail from the BVIs. We weren’t really planning on making St Martin, but after 3 tacks we ended up 20 miles from St Martin and 70 miles from St Kitts. So we decided to make St Martin our next call. Got in at sunrise, cleaned the boat up a little and then headed into a very easy check-in. After the check in with port office we had to head over to immigration at the ferry dock to get our passports stamped. The immigration officer took both our passports, asked us nothing, flipped to a page early in each passport that was near full and did a quick stamp and handed them back. Apparently today was not an ink day, because we could not find any hint of a stamp in either of our passports. After passport stamping we headed to the local bakery for some fresh French treats. Then off to the Digicel phone store to get a SIMM card for our 3G modem. All very easy.
StMartinIMG_3998 We also took a dinghy ride across the lagoon, from the French side to the Dutch side of the island, and headed over to the cruisers hangout bar, Lagoonies. We went here not for the Happy Hour but because the place to get our outboard prop repaired is in the same orange building. The guy wasn’t in, so we had to go to Lagoonies and get lunch and a Presidente beer. After lunch we found out that parts for our prop have been back-ordered for a long time but should be here by Friday --- sure, and if you believe that one…. We’ll see.
St Martin seems like it will be an interesting place to explore. Even if you have to deal with locking your dinghy every where you go, due to the rampant dinghy thefts. Further down the island chain in St Lucia there was a robbery/murder a few days ago of a British cruiser couple. We had already planned on skipping St Lucia. It ain’t all perfect in paradise.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bye-bye V.I.

The clipper ship Stad Amsterdam at night anchored a few hundred yards from us in North Sound, Virgin Gorda. She’s a steel hull Dutch clipper launched in 1998. The ship has 14 guest cabins and regularly sails the Caribbean.
Here’s the Stad Amsterdam as she sails past Georgia in front of Road Town, Tortola. Way in the background is the 1,132 foot Queen Mary 2. The last time we saw the QM2 it was when we were leaving New York harbor.
We’ve spent 2 month in the US and British Virgin Islands. A lot longer than I figured we would – but we needed to stay till Chris got her fill. Its been fun – meeting up with old and new cruising friends and checking out the different anchorages. Our favorite anchorage in the British Virgins is Little Harbour, Peter Island. Completely blocked from the re-enforced trade winds that blow relentlessly at times. Good snorkeling and reasonable crowds. For the US Virgins, I think we just like St. Johns a whole lot. The south shore is pretty empty. The north shore has good snorkeling and is less crowded than the BVIs. The main town of Cruz Bay has decent shopping.
We cleared out of BVI customs at Gun Creek this morning. Cost a grand total of US$0.75 to clear. The trade winds have lightened up a bit and should be lighter tomorrow. This makes sailing east a lot easier, because we’ll be sailing into the winds. We are heading toward St Martin, but due to the trades not being directly out of the east right now, more a little bit south of east, it will be easier to head further down the island chain and then sail back north to St Martin. We will most likely go to St. Kitts first– the country being St. Kitts and Nevis. Spend a few days there and then sail to St Martin. All depends on what the winds do when we head out. Its about a 24 hour run across the Anegada passage and on to St Kitts. We’ll leave early in the morning.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Torbin Turns the Corner

Torbin and Judy (off Tivoli) kicking butt in the Hobie races, AKA The Torbin Cup. Torbin needed a good place to celebrate his turning the corner into early, early,  middle-age. Saba Rock in Virgin Gorda was the choice. Family, friends and straggling cruisers from as far away as Denmark and California showed up to celebrate – and get some warm weather.
While Torbin did really well driving the race course, it was aided by the fact that he made the course up as he went. You can do that when its your birthday.
NSoundIMG_3975 Here’s Ed (Skylark) and me going fast and wondering what to do with the bow that is diving for the bottom.
NSoundIMG_4730 No birthday cake, but a great B-Day dinner at Saba Rock

Saturday, January 11, 2014

More Virgin Islands

A hawksbill turtle cruising through a forest of Elkhorn coral (click on it to biggerate it). Even though they’re all on the endangered/threatened species list, we’ve seen them in most of quiet bays we’ve visited here in the VI, but especially in St. John.
The same turtle stopping for a snack in Frances Bay, St. John USVI. Observing these guys close up I learnt that they can hold their breath a lot longer than I can.
One thing that the Virgin Islands gives a cruiser is the tough conundrum: do you listen to NPR or watch PBS. Gotta say I miss both of these while cruising. OK, I’m an NPR and PBS junky. We are getting PBS TV in the US Virgins and half the British Virgins. NPR is playing on the radio as I write this. Listening over the past month I’ve learned that I was lax in not keeping a Happiness Diary; who knew you even needed one. I also learned that the Washington Healthcare Exchange worked better than most of the other Exchanges. Which is kind of depressing, as I’ve been battling with the Washington Exchange for two and half months now. I was hoping to write the definitive blog entry on getting a good deal with Obamacare for an ex-pat cruiser. So far I’ve ended up spending way too much time on hold and e-mailing about my appeal. I’m sure it all will be settled in our favor, real-soon-now.
Speaking of real-soon-now, I called the sailmaker who was repairing our sail on the day we were to pick it up– 9 days after we’d dropped it off. He was in his van driving to get the material to start the job. But he says it’ll be done on Tuesday... Real-soon-now.
FrancesBayDSCN0767 These Parrot fish all seem to have distinctive, individual tail coloring
Tallships tacking up the Sir Francis Drake Channel on a windy day with St John in the background.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Peter Island

We spent a week over in Little Harbour, Peter Island with an anchor off the bow and the stern tied to the rocks ashore. This was a great place to duck out of the wind. In this bay the winds just swirl around at 0 to 12 kts while it is blowing easterly at 25 – 30 kts out in the channel. Not a lot to do here, other than boat projects and our daily snorkel.
There was a single coral head that was located by itself among some mushy green slime. It was small, but had a lot of sea life. Above is the local lobster peering out of her home there.
peterIsDSCN0708 Next to the coral head was a flat rock that was home to this green eel.
PeterIsDSCN0709 Here’s the eel deciding if this squirrel fish could actually make a good dinner.
DPeterIsSCN0738 Deep in the coral holes lived this orange eyed octopus.
PeterIsDSCN0741 His mother loves him (porcupine fish)
You don’t see a lot of big fishes on the shallow reefs, but this guy came in for a look from the deep. Note the 6 inch fish tracking his tail.
This flounder variety was peacefully laying on the bottom carefully colored to blend in.  When I came close and took his picture, he got scared and decided to put on his defenses. That’s the blue rings all around. Apparently big fish don’t like to eat blue-spotted fish – proof that fish don’t like blueberries.
Check the little fish in front of Chris’ right mask lenses. We sat on the swim step of the boat and put on our swim fins. This fish came up to Chris and just started to hang with her. The fish swam along at least 150 yards to the point and then all the way back to the boat. When Chris dove deep, the fish went with. I think he wanted a girlfriend.
On a different day this yellow and black angle fish insisted on playing with my yellow and black fins.
On shore in the harbor are the remains of the 1950’s Chub estate. That’s Chub, like in Chub Insurance. The story is that back in the old days he used to come to the waters edge to take pot-shots at anyone who anchored in ‘his’ bay.

We dropped our genoa headsail off at Philips Sail and Canvas in Road Town, Tortola. The sacrificial cover was shot. This is the fabric that protects the sail from the sun when it is rolled up. We dropped the sail on the deck and Chris started resewing it. The more it got resewn, the more the material disintegrated. It needed replacement. Something much better done with a large room to lay it out. Hopefully it will be ready on Friday.
SopersIMG_3880 We left Little Harbour and sailed over to Sopers Hole so we could check of the British Virgin Islands with customs and immigration. On the way in we passed Venus. Venus is the super yacht built for Steve Jobs – but he never got to enjoy it. The bridge is at the top level. It has floor to ceiling glass all the way around. Great for the Silicon Valley look – not so smart at sea.
We headed over to St John and Cruz Bay to check back into the US of A. We needed to pick up mail that we had sent down – credit cards for the new year. On the way back out the outboard slowed way down. We weren’t sure we’d make the 1 mile run back to the boat. Turns out the propeller had hit the rocks onetime too many. In the old days props had shear pins that would snap when the prop hit something. This was to protect the gears in the outboard. Now the props have a rubber core that does the same thing.
The rubber ring on the prop (left) was trashed, letting it slip whenever you rev’d the engine. Fortunately I’d bought a spare carburetor and prop from a cruiser in Panama for a $100. So I stuck on this high-thrust (I know it sounds sexy, but it isn’t) prop and and off we were. More fixing your boat in exotic ports.
Our mail isn’t here yet – but it will be soon – for sure. Then we’ll head back to the BVIs to pick up our sail.