"Light Blue"

Light Blue

View taken at Sint Maarten

Living the Dream

Sint Maarten

It is our wedding anniversary today and we have been happily married for six years now. In two days time, it will be one year since we set sail from Plymouth, England. At the time of writing, I cannot evaluate the changes this year’s voyage of exploration has made to our lives. The places we have visited, indigenous people met, friendships made and experiences in sailing, knowledge of other cultures and life in general are summarised in the updates I do for you and us. I have not been able to detail everything or send you all of our photographs. This continuing odyssey is memorable to us both and will be for years to come, when we relive our adventure by poring over the thousands of pictures and start conversations with the phrase “ Do you remember those lovely people we met.” Or “Don’t you wish we were on that island or that part of the world.” We make one promise, and that is not to bore you with them during the winter nights, when you are visiting us.

We had been delighted with the small points of maintenance we organised while in Simpson Bay lagoon, in Sint Maarten anchored with 1 metre of water under the keel. Just a short dinghy ride away, we found a very lively bar called “Shrimpies”, where we could get delicious snacks, cheap wifi connection and a friendly atmosphere, created by Mike, the South African owner to cater for yotties. While in the lagoon, we met again Pam and Paul a charming American couple on “Pied a Mer” and spent an enjoyable evening with them and another American couple who knew of our English sailing friends, John and Lyn. The cruising world had once again proved to be a small one.

Two days after sending our last chronicle, we left the Dutch side of the dual-ruled island of Sint Maarten/St Martin and headed for the French side and anchored in Marigot Bay. As it was only 9 miles, I made the amateur decision to motor “around the corner” and not raise the mainsail for the first time and what is henceforth the last time. As we approached Marigot, the wind rose to 27 knots and because the engine/ propeller on Light Blue does not power as well into waves and wind as our powerful sailing rig, we found ourselves travelling slower and slower. With the assistance of our sails, we would have had an exhilarating sail to windward into Marigot Bay. The 9 miles took us 3 hours before we anchored in the very crowded bay. Lesson learned! With many yachts leaving on the following day, two days later we moved closer to the dinghy dock, which made it more convenient to re-provision and go ashore.

We used our visit to the French side to relax and visit supermarkets for food stocks. We wanted to re-stock here, because we had heard that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) were expensive. We waited to do this until we had sailed to the north of the island to a magnificent bay called Anse Marcel. When I had visited St Martin in January 2006, while working for the Serious Fraud Office, my colleague Alan and I had driven around the island on our day off and had found this secluded bay, which I had taken to at once. I had filed the details away in my memory so that we could visit this year.

Siobhán and I were not disappointed. There were never more than six yachts at anchor, we could dinghy ashore to the marina, which was further sheltered by a 200-metre channel, frequented by a trio of pelicans and large rays, which showed their dorsal fins as we passed by. We also spotted a large turtle swimming in the bay.

Oh! don't stop the carnival

We hired a car for two days at a very reasonable rate of 24 euro a day and toured around at leisure. We were surprised as we travelled through the Caribbean at the low cost of car rental throughout the islands (and now in the USA), compared with Europe. The cars were invariably brand new, well maintained and economical with fuel, which was also cheaper than UK fuel (yes, indeed, what fuel isn’t cheaper than UK). The roads, infrastructure and quality of life on the French side of St Martin did not appear to us to compare favourably with their counterparts in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the other two French Caribbean enclaves. We remarked on how the standards of everything did not reach the same level as the two larger islands, although they are all departments of France.

On a politically sensitive culinary note, we bought a packet of Natco peanuts on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. They had travelled far. They were a produce of China and had been packed in Wembley, Middlesex in England before being transported to and sold in the Caribbean. What a waste of carbon fossil fuel to transport peanuts to the Caribbean, where they still grow them! Unfortunately, I only noticed this when I was throwing the empty bag away.

Carnival time

Carnival time,
in St Martin

While driving away from the supermarket, we happened upon the start of a very large, noisy, colourful carnival, which we stood and watched pass along before us. Each float had a different theme and different band on board the 40-foot floats, which accompanied the dancers in their technicolor costumes. The music was deafening, the dancing frenetic, the sun shining and everybody was happy.

With our date for departure for the USA fast approaching, as we had planned to leave the Caribbean area on the 15 May 2007, and wishing to spend some time in and around the British Virgin Islands (BVI), we reluctantly raised the anchor at 1600 hours on 3 May 2007 in Anse Marcel and headed for Road Town in the BVI. We made an overnight passage, because we didn’t want to arrive in the islands in the dark.

The wind was a constant 15 to 20 knots from the east for most of the voyage and the distance was covered very comfortably. We anchored at 0915 hours the next morning off the Ferry Quay in Road Harbour, Tortola. We stayed here until 10 May, when we sailed to the paradise mini island of Marina Cay, also in the BVI.

The Tortola anchorage was not well used by yotties apart from sailing vessels wishing to clear in and out of the BVI, and was busy with passenger ferries and the outer harbour remained a conversation piece with the comings and goings of cruise ships, yacht delivery ships, merchant and fishing boats. The clearing in was one of the most miserable greetings we had throughout all of the Caribbean. It took longer, did not give one the feeling of a warm welcome and was an accurate picture of what I imagined clearing in and out would be, bureaucratic, long-winded and officious. Perhaps I just caught the officials on a bad day, but even my genuine smiles did not elicit a glimmer of hopefulness.

While anchored here we witnessed a strange ritual enacted between the laughing gulls (so called because their calls resemble hyena calls) and diving pelicans. Briefly, the pelicans dived for fish in the harbour close to the rocks on the shore, but as soon as they resurfaced, presumably with fish in their bills, one or more of the gulls would land on them and badger them in an attempt to make them give up their catch. Cleverly, the pelican keeps its beak under the water and remains thus until the gull moves. He then raises his neck in a vertical posture and swallows his catch to his gullet. Patient, canny and prestigious is the fisher pelican. Petty, squawking, nagging, lazy and hungry is the gull.

... catch a mackerel

While in Tortola, we had lunch in a pub called “The Pub” and while bringing our dinghy into the dock next to it, we were totally surrounded by millions of 25mm (one inch) long sprats. When we climbed onto the dock we saw two large fish about one metre (39 inches) long circling them in a protective way; or was it a hungry way?

Harmony Bay

Diving for pearls?

On 10 May, we sailed around to Marina Cay, which is an idyllic reef-curtained islet about one kilometre around. We swam with scores of different tropical fish on the reef just off the beach bar, then dried ourselves off and went for an ice cold beer and cranberry juice. No, not together.

The next day, having topped up with diesel, we sailed west for a few hours and anchored in Great Harbour on the south side of Jost van Dyke. It was very full, but by the next day, most of the charter boats had gone and the remaining boats looked like live-aboard cruisers. We went for a long walk along a rocky beach and got mosquito bitten close to an inshore pool, which looked stagnant, but had some wild fowl, which we photographed. It was a small price to pay for some delightful nature study. David Attenborough would have been proud of us.

While on Jost van Dyke, it is inevitable that one will gravitate towards Foxy’s bar and we had a superb buffet meal, dance and drink there on our penultimate night. We even won a Foxy’s prize for our dancing. I was also tempted by Foxy’s shop and bought a red sweater with Foxy’s “understated” logo on the back. And after clearing with the customs the following day, we set sail at 1115 hours for our USA-bound voyage.

We had heard about tropical storm Andrea and how it was hovering around Jacksonville in Florida, which had been our proposed landfall, so we discussed an alternative. As we have a six month visa to the USA, we decided that rather than racing up the east coast for three months and then down again, we would sail up to Cape Cod and Plymouth, Massachusetts, and then take a leisurely six-month coast hopping voyage down to Florida. The distance to Plymouth from the BVI is about 1500 miles, which is only 300 more than to Jacksonville (because the world is round), so the extra two days or more of ocean sailing did not concern us unduly and the course would take us virtually due north well away from the east coast of Florida.

I will write about the ocean voyage entitled “America or bust” and our USA excursions in our next update entitled “Six Moons in the USA”.

Lots of love from Siobhán and Lawry

17 June 2007

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... or see the photos from this report In and around Sint Maarten
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