Friday, May 31, 2013

Oh Là Là

On Friday, May 31st (is it really almost June?) we sailed a short distance along the west coast of St. Martin to the large open bay of Grand Case. What a change from the hoards of boats anchored in Simpson Lagoon. With the typical white sand beach stretching approximately two miles along the shore, Grand Case was well known for its laid-back ambiance, sunbathing, and great French restaurants.

The waiter in the blue shirt was a real trip; he literally came out in the street to entice us in his restaurant, The Sky's the Limit.
We dinghied ashore and walked a short distance down the single seaside street and got cajoled by a very aggressive waiter to try his restaurant, aptly named "The Sky's the Limit." With a little apprehension, we ordered and were surprised by an excellent BBQ rib with coleslaw meal. The aggressive waiter was kind of a kick and provided us with excellent service. Most French shops have very apathetic service staff so this was a pleasant change for us.

While many of the seaside restaurants here tend to be a little pricey, there was a group of open-air restaurants between the two piers that featured BBQ and had very reasonable prices. We paid just under $20, including two beers, for what turned out to be a great lunch.

Walked down the beach about a ½ mile. Since it's almost off-season (also known as hurricane season) the beach wasn't very crowded with people. We're still trying to get used to the mainly French laissez-faire attitude to clothing, or more specifically, the lack of it. It does seem to make the beach walks more interesting, however.

Spent the rest of the day just lazing on the boat and resisting the urge to grab the binoculars.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

St. Martin à Deux

We had heard about St. Martin for years: sugary white sand beaches, scantily clad European sunbathers, patisseries selling fresh baguettes, sidewalk cafes featuring the best of French cuisine. Well, after the last four months, we are ready for it. The island is a dichotomy in many ways, one half is French (St. Martin) and one half is Dutch (Sint Maarten), and each half reflects the customs and idiosyncrasies of each nation.

The view of Marigot Bay from Fort St. Louis.
We initially anchored at Marigot Bay on the French side and dingied in to clear customs. With typical Gallic indifference, you simply went up to a dedicated computer terminal in the marina office, filled in the blanks (ignoring the fact that their keyboard is not a QWERTY which makes for some interesting spellings, and their dates are in a different format - more on that later), pay your 7 Euros and get a printed receipt. Voilà.

A row of little French restaurants peaks the taste buds.

We walked around for a while trying to track down a cash machine to get some Euros (after later finding out the everyone readily accepts US dollars). We then tried one of the sidewalk cafes for our favorite cheese and jamon on a baguette. Not bad, but not great.

Local vendors provide a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for local cruisers and cruise ship passengers.
We finally found the "shopping street" and Meryl got a great deal on a French bikini, and we later found a patisserie with fresh baguettes. So far so good. We even ran into an open-air market with semi permanent stalls set up to cater to the cruise ship crowd. Prices were very attractive and we stocked up on presents for the grandkids. Best of all were the food stands selling a wide variety of local fruits, vegetables, and fish. After The Bahamas with their one-room grocery stores, Meryl seemed to be in food heaven.

Nutmeg and the surrounding mace.
I'm always amazed whenever I see the nutmeg/mace combination in an overseas food stall, with the spidery mace surrounding the nutmeg nut.

That's not a spaceship, it's the experimental Turanor-Planet Solar catamaran.
On the way back to the boat we ran across the strangest boat I've ever seen; it looked even too wild to be in a James Bond movie. Looking a lot like a spaceship that landed on the water, the craft was called Turanor-Planet Solar and it was based in Basel, Switzerland. It was circular in shape and about two stories tall, and if we could have seen the top level it was the size of a soccer pitch and covered with solar panels. My understanding is it's a solar demonstration project that is cruising around the world to promote solar energy. Pretty neat.

On Sunday May 19th we decided to explore over on the Dutch side of the island, entering a little canal under a swing bridge off of Marigot Bay. Just at the end of the canal was Timeout Boatyard where our buddy boat, Field Trip, who we'd last seen in Salinas, Puerto Rico, was hauled out having new bottom paint installed. It was weird to climb up a ladder to visit them, but it was great to see everyone again, even if the boat was in a little disarray with all the work being done. Sara had made friends with two other "kid boats," Ulydia and Seashell, and Elizabeth and Michael were enjoying having kids their own age to play with. After a short visit we continued on across a very shallow inner lagoon called Simpson Bay, under a new bridge being built on the Dutch side, and over to Sint Maarten.

Paul and Shery Shard on Distant Shores.
We were surprised to see a rather well known boat called Distant Shores at anchor ahead. We thought, what the hell, and just dingied over and called out their name. Paul and Sheryl Shard are well know in sailing circles for the sailing videos and TV shows they produce for Canadian and US cable TV channels ( We've watched many of them and they are a great introduction to overseas cruising. They shoot, produce, and edit all the shows right on the boat as they travel. Their boat is a somewhat unique British-built Southerly 49, which has a swing keel with an anchoring depth of 3 ft. and sailing depth of 10 feet. Best of both worlds. They graciously invited us on board for a tour of their beautiful boat and brought us up-to-date on their travels.

The Sint Maarten Yacht Club where we moor our dingy.
We tied the dingy up at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club and walked around a little, finding some incredible grocery stores with every European delicacy you could imagine. Had lunch at a nice waterfront café and scored some Internet time, and checked out other businesses, etc. along the road. It was essentially a one street town, a little less fancy than I had expected, but with enough variety of shops, bars, etc. to make life more interesting. We'll come back later for a more thorough exploration.

On Monday the 20th we decided to move the boat from Marigot Bay inside to Simpson Lagoon. This is more complicated than it sounds. It turns out the lagoon is very shallow in spots and you need the "secret" map sold by Shrimpy's Laundromat to navigate your way in. We caught the 8:15 am swing bridge opening on the French side and very carefully motored along the waypoints on the map. Luckily the shallowest water we saw was around 6 ft. 5 inches compared to our 6 ft. 1 inch draft. We anchored near the new Dutch bridge that's under construction near a point of land called Witches Tit, along with about 100 other boats. The advantage of this area is it's right on the border between the French side and the Dutch side. If you anchor on the Dutch side, you will most likely get visited by the efficient Dutch Coast Guard and have to pay a daily anchoring fee. On the French side no one seems to care much about anything.

One of the negatives about anchoring in the French side of the lagoon is a serious security problem with theft. It seems that about every other day on the morning radio net there is a report about a dingy or motor being stolen. Our friend Mark on Field Trip is especially security conscious and we were surprised one morning to hear him on the net telling about the attempted theft of his dingy while they were having drinks not more than 100 ft. away. According to local lore a gang of young thieves, working for older gang members, steal the dinghies to get the outboard motors. The dinghies are taken out in the harbor and sunk and the motors sold on the black market. The local police or gendarmes seem apathetic about tracking down the thieves. On the Dutch side, however, the Dutch police are very diligent and theft is a much smaller issue.

A 3/8" stainless steel chain and a state of the art outboard motor lock will only slow down the local thieves.

As a matter of course we have a large circular tempered MotoLoc steel guard that covers the locks for our outboard, and we always chain the dingy (even when it's hanging on the davits on the boat) with a 3/8 inch stainless steel chain. I noticed that they sell the biggest bolt cutters I've ever seen at the local ACE Hardware, so maybe even all that is not enough.
The next day we just lazed around on the boat and then went in and walked around the other half of the Dutch side. The cool thing about the Dutch side is they have not one, but two huge marine supply stores, Island Water World and Budget Marine. For sailors like us who have been cruising for almost two years, between the two stores they had about 90% of the replacement parts we had been looking for. Over the two weeks we were in St. Martin, I must have visited the stores daily. The availability of groceries, parts and supplies made St. Martin one of our more favorite islands.

We had a serious problem, however, in that my iPhone 3GS (a very old iPhone) finally died. I tried all the tricks I could think of but couldn't get it to work. Since I eat, work and breathe with my iPhone, my life had ended as far as I knew. While visiting an electronics store I found out that they sold iPhones. I made the impulsive decision to buy a new unlocked iPhone 5 (major $). Once I got back to the boat I transferred everything that was on the old iPhone via iTunes to restore all the apps to the new phone. I was a whole (but much poorer) person once again. We then found a Telcell office where we got a local SIM card (hence the need for unlocked phones) and we finally had reliable phone and Internet accessibility. The only downside was days later while trying to get Meryl's iPhone 4 unlocked, I found out that the electronics store had an in-house whiz kid who could fix anything, including my old iPhone. Turns out the battery I had just had installed in Hong Kong a year earlier had failed. Oh, well, now we have a back up phone.

Barnacles, a local cruiser bar, is home crews from the visiting sailboats.

That night a group of cruisers met at Barnacles, the local Greek cruisers bar with $1.25 beers, and we finally met the crews off of Ulydia, Escape Velocity, Field Trip, Macushla and other boats. It was great to just get together with everyone to relax and enjoy the ambiance of the island.
Beach at Philipsburg where cruise ship passengers enjoy the sun.
On the 23rd we decided to visit Philipsburg, the port city of Sint Maarten. This involved standing by the side of a very busy road and looking for a mini van with a "P'burg" sign in the front window. There is no reliable public transportation so these mini van entrepreneurs were the way to go anywhere on the island. Philipsburg was a little bit of a disappointment to us. It's the cruise ship port and everything is geared to the hoards of cruise ship tourists, lots of duty free stores, jewelry stores, etc.

The open air market at Philipsburg.
The Georgia McRae honorary t-shirt.
This t-shirt caught my eye and I immediately thought of our friend Georgia McRae. I emailed the photo to Georgia and she got a laugh out of it.

As a side note, having been brought up in the world of building codes, OSHA, etc. I'm always amazed by what passes as building standards in foreign countries. Hong Kong was my favorite, but I think this plumbing in Philipsburg is in contention for first place.

Sue from Macushla and Jack from Escape Velocity celebrate Sue's birthday.
That night we were invited over to Macushla, along with Escape Velocity, to celebrate Sue's (from Macushla birthday. Both, Mark and Sue and Jack and Marce (on Escape Velocity) are all vegans so we shared some incredible vegan-based foods.

This began a social whirl that included dinner at Flying Cloud the next night, then on to Escape Velocity the fifth night for some incredible sushi.

I'm not a vegan but I sure like having dinner with them.
It was great to finally get to know Jack and Marce since we had literally been trading tacks with them since Block Island last August. We were anchored next to them in Oriental (I don't think we talked since I felt self conscious for having anchored so close to them in the tiny harbor). We sat three tables away during Thanksgiving Dinner at the marina in Oriental, and saw them on and off all the way down to St. Martin, but never got to know them. Turns out they had become friends with Mark and Sue in Charleston right after we left, so we finally met them through that connection. The cruising world is very small, and very, very tight. As I said in an earlier post, we all depend on each other out on the high seas. It's these friendships that are the true value of a cruising lifestyle.

The offical Sint Maarten "man-bag."
In the 25th we made our final run to Island Waterworld to buy the required "man bag." Both Mark and Jack had these Overboard waterproof backpacks and I soon learned why they are the only way to go. While returning back to the boat we got hit with a horrendous rain squall that soaked everything in the dingy, except the yellow backpack. We heard from other cruisers that they use the backpack when beaching their dinghies in heavy surf since many times the dingy will overturn soaking everyone and everything. A great product.
I can't tell you how great is is to have a well stocked chanderly nearby.
We had heard rumors of a super grocery store rivaling anything back in the US. After some research, we learned you land your dinghy at a resort nearby, sneak past the security guard, walk around the back of the tennis courts, then up the long grass lined entrance to the resort and around the corner to the right. Le Grand Marche certainly lived up to its reputation with long refrigerator cases of European cheeses, and to Walter's delight, over 50 different types of European chocolates. The wine selection, as you might image, was wonderful. The only problem was carrying all the bags of groceries the one mile back to the dinghy.

This has to be one of the most photographed spots in the Caribbean, especially when the planes are landing from the opposite direction and just 100 ft over the beach.
The Sunset Beach Bar lists the arrival times for local flight on a surfboard outside the bar.
One last thing on our list was a visit to the famous Sunset Beach Bar. This is situated at the end of the runway for Sint Maarten airport and offers a view unmatched anywhere else in the world for "up close and personal" with the landing and departing airplanes. The post the arrival and departure times of flights on a big surfboard by the bar. Unfortunately all the big planes had already taken off, but even the smaller regional planes gave cause for excitement.

A walk on the beautiful white sand beach at the end of the runway with Marce and Jack off Escape Velocity.
Had Painkillers at the bar with Jack and Marce and heard tales that guys stand next to the runway fence and when the big jets spool up for take off, they get blown 50 ft. in the air from the 60 to 100 mph winds from the planes engines. Must be a sight to see.

Drinks at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.
As if we hadn't had enough socializing that day we all headed down to the Sint Maarten Yacht Club to meet Mark and Sue from Macushla for more drinks. The yacht club is right next to the Dutch bridge and at 5:30 pm it opens to let in all the yachts from the ocean side. Some of the bigger catamarans have only a few feet of clearance on each side to squeeze through.

The inner lagoon near Marigot Bay on the French side of St. Marten.

The next day we decided we needed some exercise so we dingied the long distance across the lagoon to the French side, where we had to check out with Customs anyway, and hiked up to Fort Louis on the hill overlooking Marigot Bay.
Overview of Marigot Bay on the French side of St. Martin.
The fort was the idea of a French knight named Descoudrelles who as a one-man chamber of commerce, proposed the fort to French authorities as being very beneficial to protecting the port and residents of the area. It was finished years later in 1789 and provides stunning views of the surrounding ocean and harbor. We actually ran into the crew from Seashell, a young couple from Vail, Colorado who was a former pro snowboarder and now lives with his wife and three kids aboard a beautiful Gulfstar 52. I can't imagine cruising with three kids, but they have been doing this for several years.

A local saluting the French for their fabulous service in local restaurants.
I love this photo since it epitomizes the French attitudes towards Americans. Mark Owen had the best description of a French waiter (you have to say this in a French accident): "We're not happy until you're unhappy. No truer words ever spoken. Having said that, we absolutely love listening to the French radio stations. They could be singing "...and I had to weld the hypoid gear on my transmission..." and we would think it was a great love song. We did have lunch at a wonderful patisserie called Serafina and bought some of their tasty artisan breads.

Despite their lackluster service, the French do make some of the best food in the world.
Having stayed a week longer than we anticipated because of adverse weather, we finally headed out of the lagoon on May 31st carefully retracing our exact route through the shallow lagoon, and only managed to run aground a few times before we tried a different route that proved to have a little deeper water. Although the weather wasn't perfect, it was time to leave St. Martin and we had heard favorable comments about a large bay about 5 miles up the coast of St. Martin called Grand Case, which is our next destination.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Still Like a Virgin

A reasonable 9:00 am departure on May 14th had us sailing the short 11 miles along the eastern shore of St. Thomas and crossing over to the western shore of probably the most beautiful island in the Eastern Caribbean, St. John in the US Virgin Islands. After passing by some famous resorts, including Caneel Bay, we rounded the corner into Hawksnest Bay, with a white sand beach stretching from one end to the other like the smile of a fat Cheshire cat.

Hawksnest Bay, St. John.
We took a mooring buoy just off the point on the western side and then just sat in the cockpit and enjoyed the scenery. Most of St. John is a National Park so there are fairly strict rules about what you can and cannot do. We went snorkeling around the boat then took the dingy into the beach and walked a short distance along the shore, which has two small resorts and several private homes. A little more snorkeling just to make sure we hadn't missed anything and then back to the boat for dinner and an early bedtime.

A beautiful day for sailing in the tropics.
On the 15th we crossed over to Great Harbour Jost Van Dyke to clear into the British Virgin Islands. We decided Great Harbour would be a lot easier than trying to clear in at Tortola. After the usual formalities at Customs we got in the dingy and headed back to the boat while noticing some commotion on a large cat next to us. Strange story. Turned out a lady on the chartered cat had reached out to grab something and the line caught her ring finger and tore off her diamond wedding ring, then somehow got wrapped in her diamond necklace and that also flew off into the water. She had every teenage kid on the boat diving down to find the ring and necklace, and amazingly while we were there someone found the ring.

We decided to keep sailing to gain a little time on our laggardly schedule and sailed up the sound to Trellis Bay, located right next to Beef Island Airport, which serves all of the BVIs. Dingied in to get some supplies and talked to a nice Irish girl working as a potter at the local art studio. We were hoping to catch a cab into Tortola to find a pharmacy, but it was already 4:15 pm. Someone told us about a closer pharmacy so we walked over to the airport and grabbed a cab to take us to East End where a pharmacy was still open. When you are used to battling the US healthcare system, the system down here is real simple. Walk into a pharmacy, tell them what you want and why, and then they give you the drugs. We had been looking for Stugeron for the last year. Stugeron, also known generically as cinnarizine, is widely accepted among ocean sailors as the best seasick remedy around. Unlike Dramamine, it doesn't make you drowsy and you can take it when you are already seasick. It has worked great for us up to date. Unfortunately, for some reason it is not sold in the US. The last time we purchased it was through a Canadian online pharmacy who got it from England at an outrageous price, I think around $75 for 100 tabs. Down here its about $40 for 75 tablets and in St. Martin it was $6 for 30 tablets. We bought every box they had on the shelf.

We left early the next morning for a nice 12-mile sail on a close reach up to Virgin Gorda. When we were here about 36 years ago, entering Virgin Gorda Sound was a heart-wrenching experience with reefs on both sides and only maps for navigation. Now days with GPS powered chart plotters it seemed you could land a 747 in the passage. The other big change is the sheer number of charter boats, about 70% of them catamarans. Some of the charters are good sailors, but others definitely know they are sailing a rented boat. We are also amazed by the number of mooring buoys everywhere. In many places it is now mandatory to take a buoy rather than anchoring. Helps save the sea grass beds on the bottom.

Tied up to a mooring buoy right off Saba Rock Resort in Virgin Gorda Sound.
Saba Rock Resort in Virgin Gorda Sound.
We headed over to Saba Rock and took a mooring. They were having a special "free water fill up" with each mooring ball, which sounded like a good deal to us. Spent most of the afternoon getting our hookah rig set up so we could clean our dirty bottom after the long stay at Salinas.

Drinking an honorary "Mary Ann Sanders Bushwacker."
Went into the restaurant and had a couple of Bushwackers Happy Hour in honor of our good friend Mary Ann Sanders, queen of the Bushwacker, and watched as the resort guys "feed the fish" at 5:00 pm.

The fish were huge tarpon who milled alongside the dock until the guy threw in big chucks of fish and chicken bits. Apparently tarpon don't have teeth or something like that but they were 3 to 5 ft. long and scared the hell out of me.

The famous Bitter End Yacht Club at Virgin Gorda.
The next day we took at short run over to the Bitter End Yacht Club to look at super yachts, then back to our boat trying to decide when we should leave for St. Martin. We had to cross the Anegada Passage, another of those open ocean passages that can be bad in the wrong conditions, and according to Chris Parker's latest forecast today was "the last good day" to make the crossing. We were still thinking about it when we motored up to the Saba Rock dock to get our free water, and then made the decision to go for it. It was 3:00 pm and that was the departure time if we were going to make the overnight passage. Meryl was kind of pissed we did it on such little warning, but it turned out to be the right decision.
Richard Branson's personal paradise, Neckar Island.
As we exited Virgin Gorda Sound we motor sailed along Neckar Island on the left, the home of eclectic Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines. We think he was in residence since there were security patrol boats everywhere along the island.

As we rounded Pajaros Point the waves got bigger and naturally the wind was on the nose, but it wasn't super bad and the weather was nice so we heading southeast for the 73-mile motor sail to St. Martin. We fell off the wind at times trying to sail but we kept getting further off course, and with stronger winds/bigger waves forecast we figured getting there quicker was more important than saving some money on gas. We trudged along under main and staysail with an occasional larger wave breaking over the bow.

By the time nightfall came we were used to the motion (I didn't say we liked it, just that we were used to it by this time) and preserved throughout the night trading off watches. The only issue was that our AIS system was down for some reason (this naturally happens in the feared Anegada Passage of all places!) so we had to use the small display on our RAM mic (the remote VHF) to view if any ships were around (this part of the AIS was still working). I had a great book on my iPhone so I just settled in and made the best of it. It was nice when the sun came up that we could see the hills of St. Martin off in the distance.

The anchorage at Marigot Bay in St. Martin.
We were tired, covered with a thin layer of salt, and in clothes I wouldn't change the oil in at home, but we arrived safely. We anchored in St. Martin (the French side) in the Marigot Bay anchorage at 10:00 am along with about 50 other boats. Long night but very glad to finally be here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Back in the “Duty-Free” World

After a wonderful two days waiting out the weather in Tortugas Bay in Culebrita, we figured the seas had calmed down enough to retry the 17-mile passage to St. Thomas. This time we had a relatively tame passage motor sailing across the usually boisterous Virgin Passage with 15 knots right on the nose (that's what we should have named our boat "Wind Right on the Nose.")

St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands peaks out from behind the clouds.
After a few hours of sailing it was exciting to spot the mountain peaks of St. Thomas peeking out from the clouds, and passing famous Sail Rock to port and later the verdant green hills of St. Thomas on the left. We entered the US Virgin Islands from the southwest motoring along Water Island on the right and later Hassel Island. Luckily there was a marina right before we entered Charlotte Amalie so we had a relatively easy time filling up with diesel and water. Since it's always windy, one of the challenges is finding a fuel dock (sometimes that alone is a challenge) that is situated favorably to the prevailing wind so you can get the boat in and out unscathed. Crown Bay Marina was a piece of cake.

We motored out and passed through a very narrow channel called Haulover Cut to enter the spacious bay of Charlotte Amalie. Ringed with houses and businesses running up the hillsides, it reminded me a little of Hong Kong harbor on a micro scale. Charlotte Amalie is a major cruise ship port, with two to five cruise ships in the harbor at any given time and the place to visit if you enjoy duty-free shopping.

Back to civilization after several weeks in the hinterlands.
We arrived on a Sunday when there are no cruise ships, so the town was fairly deserted. We did the normal "in port things," checking out laundry places, going to the local grocery story, walking up the hill to K-Mart to get additional supplies, and then dinging back to the boat.

"We get to go shopping and eat out at nice restaurants."
Since it was Mother's Day, we decided to dine out, but very few restaurants were open on a Sunday. We finally found the Green Parrot on the waterfront and settled in for drinks, appetizers, and a great meal. Except . . . Walter had found his favorite drink in life, guava juice, at the grocery store earlier and downed a quart. Then he had some sweets and latter at the restaurant Walter ordered his second favorite drink, a Pina Colada. At some point he started acting weird (for him this means being quiet for a period of time) and finally got up from the table and took a short walk along the waterfront to clear his head. According to Christa, our medical expert, he probably spiked his glycemic index with all the sugared drinks and just need time for it to all work through his system. This is what happens when you are away from civilization for a long time and then get back and want all your favorite things at once.

If Sunday was quiet day, Monday was crazy day as we awoke to two huge cruise ships rounding the corner headed for the cruise ship dock. The town now came alive with all the shops opening to service the hoards of Bermuda-short-clad Americans freed from the frozen confines of Michigan and Iowa. We had a number of parcels containing boat parts, etc. shipped to General Delivery in Charlotte Amalie, so Walter took off downtown to the Post Office while Meryl headed to the other end of town to get started on the laundry.

Your friendly local iguana.
After walking the length of the town (and having the bejesus scared out of me by a big iguana that darted out in front of me) and waiting in line, it turns out that the General Delivery is handled at another post office - you guessed it - about three blocks from where Meryl was doing the laundry. Hoofing it all the way across town to the second Post Office, it turns out all the packages were there except one (which should have arrived a week ago). Walter had to go back to the boat, open the computer to find the tracking number, print out the receipt, and then head to the Post Office later to try and track it down.

Second project was getting our SCUBA air tank filled. We found a dive shop in a hotel on the waterfront and lugged the tank across four lanes of traffic trying not to get killed by crazy drivers. Once in the dive shop the owner informed us the tank (brand new) had a leak in the o-ring seal. No wonder I ran out of air so quickly last time I was cleaning the bottom of the boat. The dive shop owner (Admiralty Dive Center) was a good guy and got everything set right so it was back to the boat to drop off the tank, then pick up Meryl with the laundry, back to the boat to drop off the laundry, then back into town for some shopping.

If you are into serious jewelry and bling-bling shopping, Charlotte Amalie is your heaven. Rows and rows of high-end designer and jewelry stores, interspersed with duty-free this and that.

When you get cruise ships in port, you get lots and lots of shopping.

This is considered one of the best rums on the market, but it is very difficult to find in the Caribbean.

We both really liked this local artist and ended up buying a small water color by her.
Meryl actually found a beautiful painting by local artist, and Walter found the last bottle of Pyrat rum, purportedly the best rum in the world, for only $26. We bought gifts for the grandkids and kids and finally made it back to the Green Parrot for drinks (no Pina Coladas this time).

This street entrepreneur was trying to see the super model some $5 sunglasses.
Charlotte Amalie is a great place to people watch and outside the Green Parrot was a constant parade of local color. My favorite was a tall, sophisticated black woman who was being pestered by a guy trying to sell small folded-grass animals he makes and another street vendor selling sunglasses. Worth the time to just watch their interactions. I felt sorry for the grass animal guy so I bought his creation for Meryl. Back at the boat it was nice to just sit in the cockpit, have a sundowner, and enjoy the night lights of this very busy port from the tranquility and security of our boat.

Ganesh is Fatty Goodlander's, a well know sailing journalist, new sailboat.
As we were leaving the next morning for St. John I noticed a familiar boat anchored nearby. I passed closely and sure enough it was a sailboat called Ganesh that is owned by a character called Fatty Goodlander. Fatty has been sailing forever and writes a number of columns in various sailing magazines around the world. One of the articles I had recently read was about the purchase of this "new to him" boat and all the modifications they have made. When you read a lot of articles by a single author it almost seems like you know them.

Another boat anchored near by was Distant Shores, a Southerly 49 (the boat I would buy if I were rich) owned by Canadians Paul and Sheryl Shard. They produce an extensive series of sailing videos, several of which Meryl and I have watched, about sailing around the world. The have a series of cable TV shows in Canada and the US with over 30 million viewers. Nice work if you can get it. We ran into them again later in the trip and got a chance to visit and see this incredible boat.

This is all "déjà vu all over again" for us since we've been reading/preparing for this trip our whole lives and now we're anchored next to some of the people whose articles we've been reading over the years. Kind of like playing minor league ball for a long time and suddenly finding that you're playing in "The Show."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On the Move Again

With the rebuilt genset finally installed and running, you can imagine how happy we are to be back on the move again heading towards the beautiful Spanish Virgin Islands. We sailed out of Salinas at o'dark thirty for the long windward beat along Puerto Rico's south shore. We motor sailed along the shore for most of the morning and then headed for Vieques, an island about 10 miles off the coast. The wind was on our nose but the waves weren't too bad, so we continued on a 47-mile diagonal towards the southwest corner of the island to a secluded little patch of sand called Green Beach.

Secluded Green Beach off the southwest corner of Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Numerous people have told us of the untouched beauty of Isle de Vieques. Some friends had honeymooned on the island and loved it. However, among our cruising community we heard warnings of a strong anti-US sentiment in various areas of Vieques. The US Navy had been using it as a bombing range and approximately 10 years ago the Navy abandoned the range and began a decades long remediation program to defuse the island. We decided to play it safe and not go ashore and also put a cover over our US flag. Once we reached Green Beach there were people along the beach swimming and sunbathing, and some diving for lobster. We dove into the water to cool off, check the anchor, and started cleaning our boat bottom with scrub pads. After over three weeks in Salinas we had some amazing growth on the bottom, especially along the water line. We worked at it for an hour and decided the rest should be done with our dive tank & hooka set up at another location. We had a pleasant evening without any issues.

At 7:00 am the next morning we had to clear a huge shoal called Escollo de Arenas. Escollo means dangerous in Spanish and it had a reputation for eating ships. We literally had to sail backwards towards where we came from to get in deep enough water to pass around the shoal. But it was a beautiful day and of course the wind direction continued to be on our nose so we did a combination of sailing and motor sailing to expedite our arrival at around 2:00 pm at Dewey on the island of Culebra. Just as we were entering the anchorage and dropping our sail a big rainsquall passed over and totally drenched us. In these warm climes we often wonder if you should bother to wear a rain-jacket? Or strip down to your bare skin?

The later seems to make more sense but always gets the neighboring boats grabbing for their binoculars. The anchorage had plenty of room so we dropped our anchor and waited for the storm to pass before going ashore. Meanwhile, a French Amel sailboat came along side us with a very young lady in the tiniest bikini possible standing on the bow with three older men in the cockpit. To our amusement the vessels name was Clitoria, and the vessel flew a Norwegian flag. Walter enjoyed surmising what that might be all about. The wind and rain never did lift so we ended up staying onboard and decided we would spend another day in harbor so we could explore the town in the morning.

Beautiful downtown Dewey on Vieques.
On Thursday we dingied into town and explored the small town of Dewey, once full of US military personnel but now a sleepy tourist town. After wandering the narrow streets in search of a grocery store (Meryl has this thing for fresh lettuce) we ended up at Mamacita's, a local hangout along the canal under the bridge.

Mamacita's under the Canal Bridge, a local hangout.
This is why God gave cats nine lives.
We ended up talking with a young couple next to us who were both barista's/bartenders from Whitefish, Montana. Since Walter's mom's family is from Montana we had a great little chat. They said they just got back from staying on Vieques and said it was lovely and super safe. Turns out they were the couple sunbathing on Green Beach at Vieques while we were cleaning the bottom of the boat. They enthusiastically remembered us, causing us to remember whether we were skinny-dipping when we cleaned the bottom at what was supposed to be a very secluded beach. They guy just had this big smile on his face.

We got an early start on Friday with the intent of sailing all the way to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Although the weather report was for 15 - 20 knot easterlies and 4 - 6 seas, we immediately ran into some big whopper waves and after getting beat to death for about and hour we decided to bail out and sailed on a reach over to Culebrita (Little Culebra). It was kind of a hairy sail along a lee shore with rock cliffs, but once we rounded the northeast corner of Culebrita we entered a magical crescent bay called Tortuga Bay.

We were the only boat so we picked a buoy on the northwest corner that looked protected from the swell (it wasn't) and immediately dove the mooring buoy and swam to the beach. We snorkeled around some small reefs, saw lots of small turtles, and walked along the beach. Since it was a Friday we knew this privacy wouldn't last long and soon the "Puerto Rican Navy," the local term for the swarms of large Bertram fishing boats that show up on weekends to party, was steaming around the corner and soon the buoys were full. We liked it here so much we stayed the whole weekend but did move over to the other side of the bay, which didn't get as much rolling from the swells.

Voted one of the Top 10 Best Beaches in the Caribbean, Tortuga Bay certainly lives up to its reputation.

My little friend reminded my why they call it "Tortuga Bay."

The crew from North Sports taking photos for their annual product catalog.
While at anchor we love to relax and watch all the activity from the cockpit. One large catamaran caught our eye with two pretty 17-year-old girls paddling around on stand-up paddleboards and numerous guys with other floating paraphernalia. They had this nifty large floating pad off the stern of the cat so you could land and launch your paddle board from the pad. When the wind died down in the evening they'd all head over to the point and catch the small waves breaking for hours. We both wished we had portable paddleboards while we watched. They left that evening about an hour before a huge thunderstorm hit the area.

We had heard Puerto Rican Coast Guard warnings on the VHF radio but didn't realize it was coming our way. We buttoned everything up and hunkered down while the thunder and lightening exploded all around us.

Fortunately, the major storm cells passed just north of us and we were out of danger from lightening strikes. We thought about the cat and wondered if they made it back to port before the storm. The next day the cat returned with a different gal and most of the same guys. This time they had blow up toys all over the beach and hanging off their boat. We decided they must be a day charter operation or something along those lines. Come evening they all headed to the surf spot again and had a great time as the sun was slowly sinking in the background. One of the guys paddled close to us on his way back and we called him over and found out the story. Turns out he was a designer for North Sports, out of White Salmon, Washington and they were doing a catalog shoot. They had chartered the cat for two weeks and were working everyday shooting for next years catalog. Not too tough an assignment in probably one of the most beautiful anchorages we've visited to date.