Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hello Virgin Islands

The sails finally arrived and looked fab; the mainsail stack pack needed a little alteration but all in all we are very happy with them. I went up the mast and did a final rig check; we said goodbye to all our friends in Simpson Bay Lagoon, St Martin and headed out Friday lunchtime via the French side bridge. It was wonderful to be anchored outside in the turquoise blue water despite the wind and squally skies and the roll after 6weeks in the mucky but flat calm lagoon. We set sail on Saturday on a downwind sail to the US Virgin Islands. We left in the afternoon to blues skies which quickly turned grey and ominous looking. We are such big chickens and don’t like anything other than fair weather. While anxiously discussing the merits of turning back to Sim, a good omen appeared in the form of dolphins leaping out of the water right behind where Sim was sitting, squealing in delight and nearly giving Sim a heart attack, we decided to carry on.

We arrived the next morning to St Johns in the USVI’s after a rolly but not too uncomfortable night sail. It was a Sunday and was also the last day of the Rolex regatta where we managed to get in the way of all the racing boats. Our finger prints were taken by customs and immigration when we finally managed to get to Cruz Bay; a port of entry. We decided to carry on to Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas and finally dropped anchor and were settled by 5pm with a well deserved drink!

The US Virgins are very different to the East Caribbean. As most people know they are home to the yacht charterers, where year round thousands of Americans and Europeans flock to the islands that offer easy sailing in the sun. Everything screams tourism. Every bay is packed full of charter boats, the VHF radio constantly crackles into life and is generally misused. But there is a fun and laid back feel to the islands and their charm can’t be denied. The water is clearer than the rest of the Caribbean and in the main towns everything is readily available.

We had a couple of wonderful days with Sam and Jon at Christmas Cove in St James. The water is the most amazing blue and while we were there the weather was beautiful. We swam and snorkeled and had dinner together – all the things you expect to do in the sunny Caribbean. We said our goodbyes again and sadly got underway. As we are still not totally sure where we are going we never know if these are our last goodbyes or not but as Sim has a flight booked from Puerto Rico in less then a week we are under pressure to get there in the next few days. We moved back to Charlotte Amalie for a couple of nights, a mecca for cruise ships and tourists and met up with an old friend Josh from Second Star who we had met in the Bahamas and The DR a few years ago.

Now we are in Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands, a group of islands just to the east of Puerto Rico which are small and quaint, attracting a different kind of tourist. We have met up with John from Stingo and are now deciding what to do with the couple of free days that we have. The wind is up, the seas are up and the skies are overcast and occasionally drizzling with rain… feels like England.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Life in the Lagoon - Colours of St Maarten

The last week has flown by with preparations to leave St Martin brought about by the imminent arrival of our new sails and the impromptu and surprise visit from a long lost friend of Sims. Last weekend we were relinquished of our responsibilities to Cooking Fatt – the very sweet natured tom cat on Stingo with the return of John from a trip to England. It was good to catch up with John again and listen to his tails from the other side of the pond.

We went to a boat jumble on the French side where people lay out their wares (junk!) on the ground between the palm trees in the boatyard. Sim was in his element with all the different boat bits for sale and I barely saw him all morning. Luckily we just about managed to make enough money from our stuff to breakeven with all that he was spending!

On Sunday we had a lovely walk down to the gorgeous beach at Mullet Bay. Soft white sand and light turquoises seas make this beach a winner as long as you are happy to share it with all the others that think so as well.

At the start of the week it was time to knuckle down and start getting the boat ready to leave. Long lists were drawn up of all the things we needed to do and buy. Water, fuel and laundry all needed to be done. This week alone we have carried 90 gallons of water in jerry jugs to fill our tanks – back breaking work. As we don’t have a freezer we pressure cook meat in jars for use at later dates. We bought 10lbs of minced Angus steak from the cash and carry and spent the afternoon canning the meat into mason jars.

Then on Tuesday we got a message from Stuart. Stuart is an old friend of Sims from college days. Last Friday he was passing through St Maarten and they managed to meet up after 15 years of having lost touch. The message said he could come back and visit us again that day. So that afternoon we met him at the Yacht Club and he stayed the next two days with us. We had a great time. We showed him a little of the night life in St Maarten. I think he especially enjoyed Salsa night at La Bambas - the bar on the beach. Stuart wanted to have a look at some yachts for sale on the other side of the island so he hired a car and we drove over to Oyster Pond on the French side. Here felt a lot more Mediterranean compared to the Dutch side which has a definite American slant. We wandered around lots of boats and took lunch at a beach bar. That evening we took Stuart to Barnacles to show him where are the cruisers hangout. Later we went to Toppers where Sim had an amazing Steak. You have never seen a man as happy as Sim when he has a good steak! Thank you Stuart.

Thursday was Stuarts last day. After running a few errands in the morning and before his flight in the evening we took him along the runway, to the beach at the end. The Sunset Beach Bar and restaurant is the place where topless girls drink for free! Sadly for Sim and Stuart we saw no topless girls but we did get to see many planes land and take off. Stuart was very brave and held on to the wire fence that breaks the beach from the runway. The force of the engines roaring into life blew out the lens in his sunglasses. Clothes flog like sails in a gale, cheeks wobble and a sand storm erupts on the beach as people run into the sea to avoid the sting of the sand. Our friend Jon who has a metal detector would probably find a fortune there with all the bits and pieces blown about. We said goodbye to Stuart after a fun couple of days and got back to the task of getting the boat ready. The sails should be here anytime soon and all we hope now is that they fit!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Windy Week in St Martin

For the last week it has been blowing dogs of chains as Sim would say; the wind often howling over 30kts. Halyards slap against the mast and the whole boat vibrates. Alianna snatches on her anchor chain and we are grateful that we managed to find a spot of sand to anchor in, in an otherwise very weedy, lagoon seabed bottom. Going anywhere in the dinghy envolves getting wet. Days have taken on a pattern as we look after our friend’s cat while they are away; dinghying over in the morning to feed the kitty and again in the afternoon.

St Martin has plenty of walking trails but hardly any are within walking distance of where we are anchored. Last Sunday however, we found a cycle track path with the entrance across from the Grand Marche supermarket that’s great to have a walk around. Dinghies can be left at the Port Du Plaisance marina. It’s very dry and baron but there are some great views out across the bay and different colour coded routes that you can take and lead you across to Marigot. There are hundreds of Tamarind Trees and the deadly seeds of the Abrus Precatorius shrub that can kill you if digested ground up. Hundreds of dragonflies and small butterflies dart about. It makes a change from the beach.

Sim has been working a lot during week so I get the boat to myself trying hard to de-clutter the place. Not an easy task for a hoarder, especially as you never know what might come in handy in a new place. But we can only carry so much in our floating home.

This week has seen the Heineken Regatta, a major sailing event in the Caribbean that attracts sailors from all over the world. And where there are sailing regattas there are parties; almost one for every night of the week while the event takes place. Sim and I went to the final event and prize giving on Kim Sha beach. Bars, booths, food stands and a huge stage took up most of the sand. The first part of the evening is for prize giving, the party gets started in the second half with a local reggae star taking the stage. We had a good evening……some more then others as for once, as it was Sim suffering from the effects of over indulgence and not me!!

We are slowly trying to get the boat prepped for whichever direction we finally decided to take. Some major provisioning has been going on. Boat and maintenance jobs ticked off the list. But when you don’t know where you are going its hard to know what to stock up on or prepare for. Hopefully we will be enlightened with a decision soon.