Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lagoon Escape

We escaped out of Simpson Bay Lagoon behind the mega-yacht Apogee through the Dutch Bridge. You gotta go fast through this bridge or the bridge operator starts yelling at you over the VHF: “Close the gap up, this isn’t a funeral procession!”
The Simpson Lagoon, St. Martin, is one of those cruising boat locations that is very sticky. Boats come in here for a short visit and just never leave. It’s easy living, tons of anchoring space, lots of places to fix the boat yet again, plenty of friendly restaurant/bar/internet cafes catering to the cruising crowd, and really no reason to leave till hurricane season. A short visit is nice – otherwise its not for us.
We sailed on a short trip off to Isle Fourchue, an empty island off St. Barths.  Empty, so we didn’t have to check in and deal with customs/immigration. Got in a nice snorkel – saw a turtle, school of barracuda, octopus and small nurse shark. Also saw one of the engines that fell out of the catamaran that is wrecked on the beach. More reason for Tony and Shannon to refurbish it.
Next day was a great sail to Ballast Bay, St. Kitts. 15-18kts of wind with a small swell. We anchored in Ballast Bay intending to stay overnight and move on – without checking in. This morning we got up and sailed past the tip of St Kitts and down the leeward side of Nevis on our way to Montserrat.  As we got near the south end of Nevis and the shadow of the volcano stopped blocking the wind things began to pickup. We beat into the ESE winds for about an hour telling ourselves that it would lighten up once we got good and clear of the island. Of course, it didn’t. We ended up beating into 25-35 kts winds and the seas were growing. We both looked at each other and said “naw” to another 6-7 hours of this. We turned around headed back to Nevis. It was a pretty rambunctious trip back, surfing off the waves at 10 kts. There was light rain blowing through the cockpit, getting us wet. I was pretty cold when we finally got tied up to the mooring. Went below and the cabin temp was 78*F, so we decided to have some hot soup to warm us up and take the chill off.
nevisIMG_4492 Our mooring is under the lee of the island’s volcano. Since this was technically our second day in Kitts/Nevis and the Charlestown port authority drives around in a boat to check their mooring, we decided we better drop the dink in the water and jump through the check-in hoops. If we wanted to check in and check out at the same time, customs would only allow us 24 hours. So we took that and headed to immigration. A few more passport stamps and we were off to the Port Authority office.  We knew about the $54EC (Eastern Caribbean dollars) charge (US$23) for 1-3 days on the mooring. But, he also came up with a $50EC harbor fee and an $8EC environmental fee. I went into complete whine mode, complaining that we were only their one night and that a harbor fee and mooring fee wasn’t fair. The port officer got tired of my whining and settled for the mooring fee only. I wasn’t sure if Chris was happy that we got the fees down to something reasonable or if she was embarrassed that her man was such a whiner.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Simpson Lagoon, St Martin

stmartinIMG_4458 We’ve spent the last two weeks hanging in Simpson Bay Lagoon on the island of St Martin. This is the island that is half Dutch and half French. The large, navigable lagoon is also divided between the Dutch and the French. The causeway bridge above is on the Dutch side. The lighting on the bridge is a trip. The horizontal and vertical lights change color and pattern about every 3 minutes at night. Chris gets pretty excited when the lights go all rainbow on her.
The lights on the bridge are working really well. The bridge itself is having a few difficulties opening. It is currently restricted to two test openings a day. For a few days there it was closed all day. That makes it difficult for the boats anchored on the French side to exit via the Dutch side. The good news is that bridge is still under warranty. It is free to anchor on the French side, but the crime rate is higher – dinghy and minor thefts – than the on the Dutch side. Plus the dinghy ride into shops and businesses is longer. On the Dutch side we pay $40 a week to anchor (over 13m, under 13m and it is $20 a week). Not too bad. Plus a bridge use fee of $21.
stmartinIMG_4280 We had planned to be in St Martin for 3 or 4 days – so 2 weeks is about right. We got a lot of small boat projects out of the way. You can get pretty much get anything you need in St Martin. Two big chandleries, a great rigging shop, sailmakers, and 4 or 5 great grocery stores that are accessible by dinghy and, most important, have fresh baguettes and croissants daily.
Above is Arthur and Naio(sp) from FKG rigging. This is the largest rigging shop I’ve ever seen. They do rigging for the mega-yacht sailboats. They have a huge machine shop and do Navtec rod rigging heading. We had the riggers come out and do a basic rig check and then had the rig tuned. The only way I’ve ever seen the rig is the way it was setup when we bought the boat in Cape Breton. The stays and shrouds always seemed a bit loose to me. I wanted to get a good rigger to tune it so I’d have a good reference point in the future. Well the rig is a LOT tighter now than before. They took up the upper and lower shrouds a fair amount and then put a lot pressure on the back stay. The stiff mast now has a significant bend back at the top. It will be interesting to sail her in the tradewinds now with this rig tension. The boat should point a little higher (i.e. closer to the wind) with the stiffer mast and tighter forestays. While the riggers were running up and down the mast I had them move the blocks for the lazy-jacks (line system that captures the main sail when it comes down) up higher on the mast. This puts them at a better angle to capture the sail and hold up the stack pack sail cover.
stmartinIMG_4448 Another project to get done was to fix the boom vang’s gooseneck. The pin was loose and was making a clanking, incredibly loud annoying noise whenever we were sailing downwind. I took the fitting into Peter at EMSC machine shop (behind Lagoonies bar). He cut off the tube portion of the fitting, which had actually been bent by the pin movement, and welded on a larger one and put in a delrin bearing. She fits tight now. I had him straighten a stanchion that bent in a wild mainsail gybe on our trip down from Virginia too.
Torbin and Judy from Tivoli showed up yesterday. They are here to get new rod rigging, bottom paint and knock off a long list of little items before they start a trans-Atlantic passage to the Azores and then Ireland. We went out to the St Martin Yacht Club, along with Molly & Baxter on Terrapin and Sabrina & Tom on Honey Ryder, and had burgers and wraps last night. Always fun to catch up with the crew on Tivoli.
With a little luck we’ll catch the 10:30am bridge opening tomorrow morning and start hopping down the islands toward Guadeloupe. The tradewinds are supposed to lighten up a bit for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Since we still need to make another 60 miles East (straight into the tradewinds), having lighter winds and waves will make this much easier.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


We anchored in Ballast Bay near the south end of St. Kitts for a few days after clearing into the capital Basseterre. Kitts is a little more tourist than Nevis as they get a pretty continuous stream of massive cruise ships. Ballast Bay is the future home of Christophe Harbour. With the emphasis on future. The important thing about this harbour development is that they put in the most cherished feature first – a strong WiFi tower.  Chris was setup to do some pre-trip work and planning for a work trip to Tanzania. After about 4 days of work with the Washington, DC office, the job got postponed till ‘later’. But the WiFi was really good during our stay.
We took a taxi ride around the island with the main plan to visit the Brimstone Hill Fort. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was called the ‘Gibraltar of the Caribbean’' when the British and French were jockeying for position in the West Indies. The view in the pic above is from the fort with the island country of St. Eustatius in the background (aka Statia).
kittsIMG_4246The main fort drains through the red grate in the center of the picture into a hundreds of thousands of gallon cistern. Something helpful if you are in a fort with the main attack scheme against it being a siege. The French and the English worked together on the island over the years to jointly defend it against the Spanish, Dutch, and Caribs. If they weren’t feeling an eminent outside threat, then the English and French fought each other.

Tim and Patty of s/vTevai preparing to load the cannons.
Brimstone Hill fort from seaward
kittsIMG_4258 Adolphus was our Kitts taxi driver, historian and story teller.
Another highlight of Kitts is the Bottle Tree.

kittsIMG_4227 A Kittian lady near the Bottle Tree

A stop at the Kitts’ Batik factory was colorful. We all got a good whiff of the Batik wax.
IMG_kitts4236 Batik drying in the wind
Before the Brits and the French took the island it was populated by Caribs from South America and probably, before that, the Arawaks. The stone carved glyph above is a fertility symbol. Looks like they had some really long lasting white paint back then.

kittsIMG_4263 This is the skinny end of the island  in the south with the Atlantic side on the left and the Caribbean on the right. We are anchored in the upper right of the pic, on the Caribbean side.
kittsIMG_4265 The other work being done on the new Christophe Harbour is the dredging of the old Salt Pond in which the marina will be built.
IkittsMG_4266 The team dragging their way back to the dinghy after a hard day being a tourist.
Leaving St Kitts
We’ve made our way back up to St Martin. Got a few boat projects to get done before we head south to go permanently ‘down island’.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis

Otherwise known as Kitts and Nevis. Two small, volcanic islands named by Columbus on his way around the Caribbean. This pic is the volcano in Nevis in the clouds, much like Columbus saw it and referred to it as snow covered.
We spent about 10 days in the two islands. While they are one nation, there’s clearly competition between the two islands. Nevis is the smaller, but has delivered far more top-tier cricket players to the West Indies team. Along with our friends on Tevai we took a taxi tour around the island.
nevisIMG_4122 Ford, our taxi driver and historian, gave us a great counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the Nevis road systems.
nevisIMG_4102 Nevis is divided up in parishes all based on the old Anglican churches that the Brits initially installed. The islands first indentured servants were the Irish. Then when the sugar-cane business started to blossom in the 16th century, African slaves were brought in. There’s a lot of connection between Nevis history and US history. Alexander Hamilton was born on the island. The original Jamestown, Virginia, settlers stopped here on their journey from England and started a town not so creatively called Jamestown.
nevisIMG_4125 In the 17th and 18th century there was a thriving Sephardic Jewish community who brought with them from Spain the secret to creating crystallized sugar from cane. This is the old Jewish cemetery, in the middle of Charlestown, with rocks placed on the graves, al la Shindler’s List.
nevisIMG_4128 The public hot baths fed by volcanic sulphur springs.
nevisIMG_4129 A stop in the botanical gardens so Chris and Patty could get a calming flower and plant fix. This plant has a pool of backup water in its black center.
nevisIMG_4136 A green heron hunting among the lily pads.
nevisIMG_4142 Delicate orchids
Nevis has a number of old sugar plantations that have been turned into high-end boutique hotels. This is the old windmill tower at Montpelier estate. 
nevisIMG_4167 These are old, wood gears from the sugar mill hanging in the outside patio and breakfast area. There’s pictures of Princess Di and her boys on the walls here. They told us it is fine to take pictures of the plantation, but that we couldn’t include any hotel guests in them.
nevisIMG_4190 For lunch we stopped at Hermitage Plantation, another old sugar mill. It has the oldest building on the island, about 300 years old. The room is above and was built from the Lignum Vitae tree – a wood renowned for its hardness.
nevisIMG_4183    Lunch was the Caribbean favorite, a roti. Basically an Indian curry burrito with chicken or pork and potatoes.
nevisIMG_4203 A secluded room at the Golden Rock Inn, another refurbished sugar plantation.
nevisMG_4160 Christmas colored elephant ears
Fortunately not all  the old mills are boutique hotels. This one had some great old, rusty stuff. This is the last functioning commercial sugar press on the island. Ran by a single cylinder steam engine, it last pressed cane in the late 1950’s.
The island is inundated with vervet monkeys. Lots of stories about how they came here 300-400 years ago, probably as pets. They are heavy consumers of the islands mangoes and óther fruits. Great for the tourists, a pest for the locals.
Nevis pelicans congregating on the Jesus is Lord skiff in the anchorage.