Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Week in St. Martin – Part.2

18- June 2011
The next two days my friend I tried to explore the island a little bit, actually mostly only the French side, since we were anchored at Marigot Bay, just outside the Fort Louis harbour, a short dinghy ride both to the town and Port la Royal. I had some plans for upgrades on the boat and a small repair on the bow-crossbeam. However this being the beginning of the weekend I had no chance of getting any work done in the short time we had on Friday. We could have moved over to Simpson Bay in the Dutch side of the island that afternoon, but this meant that we would have to clear out from the French side and clear in again at the other side. Hard to understand but, the rules are such that you can take a taxi, or dinghy over in the lagoon to and from the two sides of the island freely. However you have to clear in and out if you take your boat between the two sides. So we “dinghied” back and forth a few times in the next few days.

19 June 2011
Today being Sunday, and a pleasant sunny day, we decided to sail out of the harbour and round the north end of the island, and possibly go to the windward side, to famous Orient beach. This would give us a good 2.5 hours of close haul sailing with the expected south easterly winds, with a bit of motoring before we could anchor at the lee of Pinel Island on the north east coast, right across from the Orient Beach. The night before we studied the charts and set our course for each one of the legs of our route, the long close haul route being at 67⁰M and about 11nm. This trip would keep us in the French waters, and we could return to Marigot for the night, without any customs and immigration to deal with.

We started early around 8:30 from Marigot bay with 15-18knot straight easterly winds, and headed north motoring for a mile or two, then we raised the main and headed to about 58⁰M. Quickly we reached 7knots with full sail and genoa. It was exhilarating sailing, however we could not maintain our planned route of 67⁰M, and this heading was taking us too far north towards Anguilla, which was only about 7-8 miles away. Since we had not cleared out from St. Martin we could not alter our plans and continue on this heading. There was another catamaran ahead of us, taking the same route, possibly aiming to round the north of St. Martin as we were. I decided to follow the boat ahead of us for the time being.
After a short while the wind started to pick up, and reached a steady 22 knots quickly. We decided to put one reef, which was easy with the single-line reefing rigging that Ruyam II has, and maintained a good 7.2 knots for a while. While we were busy handling the sails, the boat ahead of us abandoned their route, dropped sails and headed towards Grand-Case, a sandy beach harbour, northwest of Marigot. We quickly followed suit.
We had had a little more than hour of sailing in relatively rough seas, and thinking that with 22-24 knot winds against us, rounding the north end of the island would be too much of a challenge for the two relatively inexperienced blue-water sailors that we were, we decided to settle for Grand-Case, rather than the Orient Bay for that day.
However, we had great difficulty in anchoring. Firstly, the geography (rather topography) is such that, the bay is surrounded on the east side with three hills, with deep valleys and gaps in between. The wind played tricks, gusting 20-25 knots and blowing around these hills and through the valleys. We noticed that the boats anchored were constantly swinging in any and every other way and each one pointing at a different direction. Two boats side by side were facing in opposite direction. The bottom was grassy with patchy sand sections. After three tries of anchoring, dragging the anchor once and getting too close to other boats occasionally, we decided to abandon the south end of the bay and moved up to the north end. There the three diver boats and a few catamarans were pointing at the same direction at least. By 11:00 am we were anchored safely and had our quick dip in the turquoise waters before getting ready for a cold Carib beer, although it was not noon yet.

We spent the afternoon there resting, and headed back to Marigot before dark. After all, the next day was a “work day” being Monday. We had a whole bunch of marine shops and chandleries to visit, and chores to take care of at the west end of Simpson Bay.

20-21 June 2011
Today we took the dinghy into the Simpson Lagoon all the way to the south end where the Budget Marine shop and other marine supplies and services are located. I purchased among other small items a Furino radar system for Ruyam II to take back to the BVI for installation. The day passed quickly, while I was browsing like a little kid in a toy store. Before returning to Marigot, I stopped at FKG Rigging and Marine Fabrication shop, which was recommended as the best in the West Indies. I explained the needed repairs on my boat to the owner operator Peter, who said he would come over to Marigot later that day to see the boat and give an estimate. He was there right on-time and provided both advice and a rough estimate, with great professionalism. He suggested we bring the boat into the lagoon the next day and anchor close to his shop so that his staff could do the work quickly. To do that legally, we had to clear out of the French side and clear into the Dutch side of St. Martin.

The next day we took a risk and drove the boat into the lagoon at 8:15, at the first bridge opening in the morning on the French side, and planned to exit at the same spot later that afternoon without going through the hustle of clearing in and out. As others had suggested there were no problem or any border controls.
We did however encounter a problem when we tried to anchor close to the south end of the lagoon. There was strong south easterly gusting winds, even in the lagoon, and the bottom was all grass, which fouled our anchor with mud and grass, and after a few tries we docked at Simpson Marina, right across from FKG shop. While the mechanics worked on Ruyam II, we went on shore for lunch, shopping and sightseeing.
We motored back to the French side of the lagoon and we were again the first boat to go through the open bridge, as we were in the morning coming in. It was a very successful and pleasant day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Week in St. Martin – Part.1

Hello again everyone. I know I promised to write soon after our arrival at St. Martin. Time passed so quickly with my friend Ergin visiting from Turkey, and with shopping for and making arrangements for the planned upgrades on the boat, I did not realize that it had been a week.

Like I mentioned before the passage from the BVI to St. Martin was uneventful. Captain Neil and I left the BVI Yacht Charters docks in the dark of early morning to motor towards the Round Rock Passage. After about an hour of motoring in the channel we reached the passage and turned to wind and raised the main before heading to the passage. After that, it was a bumpy 14 hour ride to Marigot Bay at St. Martin in daylight. Throughout the passage we only saw one fishing vessel over the Barracuda Shoal. Although Captain Neil was hopeful that we would be accompanied by dolphins and possibly see a whale or two, we did not see any. I think the season is too far into the summer and they all migrated further north.

15 June 2011
The next day we were on shore on the French side of St. Martin early morning, sat at a typical French sidewalk coffee shop called La Vie en Rose where I could get free WiFi and Internet to let everyone know that we arrived at St. Martin safely, and check on-line for the return flight for the captain. While I sat at coffee shop, Captian Neil had to rush to find a shoe store, because he realized that he had left his street shoes at home. He did not feel that the flip-flops he was wearing would look appropriate with his air pilot’s uniform, which he was wearing that morning in case he would need to bump a passenger off to get a seat on flights and also pass with ease through the airport security.

After I saw him off to the airport in a taxi, I wondered in the not-so busy streets of “la Ville” of Marigot. Because the high tourist and yachting season had come to an end the place looked deserted. Half of the shops were still closed at 10:00 am. In the summer season hey open around 10:30, then they close for lunch at 12:30 to open again at 2:30-3:00 for another couple of hours. The restaurants along the shore and near marinas stay open at night until the last customer leaves, which could be anywhere between 9:30 and midnight.

That night I “dinghied” into the lagoon, passing under the bridge to tie at the beautiful Port la Royal, at the east end. The seawall is lined up with little and large restaurants and coffee shops, to which large and small boats had tied “stern-to”. The whole port is full of fancy shops that had closed at 5:00 pm. I walked along the shore, checking the fancy boats in the water, and the menus of restaurants that are posted by the entrance. I was keen on finding a restaurant that had Belgian style steamed mussels on the menu. Some restaurants have staff standing by the entrance, trying to lure customers in. One who tried to convince me to come in said; “No one here has mussels tonight, it is on Thursday that we get fresh mussels” I thanked him politely and walked on to find out that the restaurant two shops ahead had mussels on special. I walked in immediately, took a table, and when the waitress arrived I asked her if the mussels were fresh, saying that; “I heard from another shop owner that you get fresh mussels on Thursdays.” She said; “Ohh!, that must be Mehmet!, Don’t worry our mussels are fresh.” Later I found out from her that Mehmet, who is obviously of Turkish origin due to his name, and Pierre, the owner she worked for, were actually partners in both establishments. A few minutes later Mehmet came over to apologize to me. I guess either Pierre, or Celine, the waitress must have warned him. You cannot know how surprised he was when I jokingly said; “Why did you lie to me Mehmet?” in Turkish. In the following days, he became my good friend, and a great help in finding my way around in St. Martin, finding dependable and reasonably priced taxi drivers etc.

17 June 2011

Today my friend Ergin arrived. He was my high-school buddy in Izmir and my friend and roommate during my university years in Ankara. I went to the Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) by taxi to pick him up. To wait for his plane, I walked over to the famous Sunset Beach bar, located on the sandy beach right at the end of the runway, where tourists and locals flock to in order to watch airplanes arrive and land, crossing only a few feet above their heads. It is a spectacular event, when a jumbo jet, like Ergin’s KLM flight, arrives and passes so low above your head. I can only imagine how chaotic it might get on that beach behind the huge jet engines, when the same plane readies to take off from that end of the runway.
When I saw his plane land, I walked back to the terminal to greet him. We called the same driver to take us back to Port la Royal, where my dinghy was tied. Ride to Ruyam from the port was a hot, but wet and bumpy one because by this time the easterly trades were in full force and blowing right on to us outside the lagoon. A typical Caribbean welcome for my friend!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Successful First Open Ocean Passage

15 June 2011

Hello Everyone, greetings from St. Martin, from a nice French coffee shop called La vie en Rose, on waterfront at Marigot.

We started at 0400h from Tortola, and anchored at Marigot bay at 1820h. A little over 14 hours of open Atlantic Ocean sailing.

I will give more details about the passage later; but for now I would say it was a long, a bit boring even, but easy motor sailing, with only 3-6 ft but choppy waves and 18-20 knot steady winds coming right on the bows of Ruyam II. So it was a bumpy ride all the way.

Talk to you later.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Repairs & Trials, But the Real Excitement is Coming Up

12 June 2011
I spent most of last week on dock, fixing (rather getting fixed) many small things that either didn’t work were missing, in poor repair or looked too much used-and-abused.
Most important was the badly needed service of the three winches I have. Also, the single-line reefing, lazy-jacks and stacker were all in poor repair. Add to these fixing of some comfort elements, installation of a new pump unit for one of the heads, some lights and 12 volt power outlets etc. they all kept me at dock most of the time.
I got a new 9.8 HP Tohatsu outboard for my dingy, brought over from St. Martin. They were not readily available in the BVI, but when they are they usually cost a bit more (20% or so) due to customs, shipping and local handling charges over and above the catalogue price at Budget Marine at St. Martin. Luckily a charter boat was being delivered from a sister club of the BVI Yacht Charters in St. Martin this week, they picked and brought over one for me for about $1,850, even $200 less than the list price.
Yesterday by noon, since I had most of the work done, the new outboard installed and tested, I found some time to venture out into the Sir Francis Drake Channel and have some fun. The winds, typical of summer months here, were from the east-southeast and light at 10-12 knots, gusting to 15. With a very nice sunny day with a few puffy white summer clouds, I went up and down the channel, both sails up full, tacking and gybing to gain more confidence with the new boat. Single-handling in this weather was no problem at all. It was a very pleasant sailing for a few hours on a picture perfect Caribbean afternoon, when I proudly showed the Maple Leaf, as well as the RYC burgee and the Power & Sail Squadron insignia on these deep blue waters.
A short un-edited video is uploaded to YouTube for you.
Note: Poor sound quality and camera angles are all due to being all alone on board without any deck-hand; not because I did a poor job with my little Canon digital camera!

Today, I tidied and cleaned the boat. The inside gets quite messy if you let it go for a few days. The dishes pile up, articles are everywhere and the wood floor gets sticky. In a small space one has to learn to be tidy I guess; although Ruyam II is quite spacious like most cruising catamarans.
Tuesday is the big day for me. I will cross over to St. Martin, a 90 mile beat against the Easterly trades. It will take 14-15 hours in open sea, and most of the time I suspect we will be motor-sailing.
I certainly would not attempt to do this alone, and even I had crew, I would not do my first crossing without the help of an experienced local captain. I hired a captain, a Canadian airplane pilot who lives here and occasionally delivers boats for the charter companies and private owners. I have been told that he has done this passage way too many times, which gives me comfort and confidence in his skills.
This will be a very valuable experience for me, because the crossing from the BVI to St. Martin is a tricky one. First, like I said, you are beating almost always against the weather. Second, the deep ocean gets very shallow almost one quarter of the way into the direct route from Round Rock passage in BVI to St. Martin, called the Barracuda Bank. The depths get from +500 feet down to ~20, in a very short distance and the seas “hump-up”. The whole passage can be rough due to the relative shallows of the entire, so called, “Anegada” passage between the BVI and St. Martin, compared to the depths on either side of it. The tide floods crossing this passage cause the seas to swell.
I will talk to you again, when I safely arrive at St. Martin.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trials and Tribulations

Last night the rains came down hard in downpours a few times and continued intermittently all night. This morning it was down to a few drizzles that continued until 9:00 am. Then they suddenly stopped, just in time for Ayse and I to get over to Village Key where a taxi was waiting to take us to the airport at Beef Island. Ayse took off to St. Martin, to connect to her flight to Paris and then on to Stuttgart.

I spent a few more hours at Road Town that early afternoon. When I returned to the boat I realized that it was going to be single-handed sailing for a while.

Later that day I had my first experience in stresses of single handling. Luckily the sailing guides and books I had read helped me relieve some of the stress by practising what I had read, especially in a book by Bruce Van Sant called The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South. (He subtitled his guide “The Thornless Path to Windward”). That afternoon, having anchored right behind the large green buoy outside Road Harbour to avoid bugs and marina heat, I noticed the wind from South-Southeast starting to pick up and reach 15-20 knots by 1600h. Being out in the open, and not too far from and backing on to the rocky breakwater on the outside, I thought it would be prudent to move before dark into Port Purcell, just around the breakwater where BVI Yacht Charters marina had a berth for me. Weighing anchor single handed with 20knots wind and sea swells that had started already was a real challenge. The windlass and its control are up in front of the saloon, and I have no remote at the helm. I started both engines and let them warm a bit. I went to the bow, got the anchor chain slack off, but the bridle lines are hooked at about 15ft along the chain deep in the water. I ran back to helm, drove the boat forward on to the chain a little bit, ran forward to take the slack off, up to the bridle hook, undid the hook and ran back to helm to wait a little bit in order to let the boat settle on the wind and current, watching all the time if we are moving back at all. There were two other sailboats anchored and with the strong wind and current I had to make sure I was always at a safe distance to both as well as to the breakwater close by. So, I ran back and forth about 4-5 times, moving the boat forward, taking the slack by pulling about 8-10ft of chain each time, then waiting for the boat to settle again. Finally the hook was off the bottom, and I was full throttle onward to sea between the two anchored vessels, sailing close to the green buoy, and accepting the farewell waves of the two gentlemen on one of the anchored boats. The whole ordeal took 20 minutes or so. Bruce Van Sant suggests you take coffee in between the runs to the bow, but unfortunately I had none prepared. The moral of the story for me was twofold; be patient and take things slow when anchoring, and, a remote windlass control at helm is a must if I am single handing often.

With more excitement to report the next time, this is all for now, at least for a few days. I have some repairs and upgrades to do on the boat.

Fun Days in the Sun

01–05 June 2011
Finally there is a bit of wind this Wednesday morning. Ayse and I left Marina Key mid-morning when the wind reached about 15 knots. We sailed for about an hour and a half into the Sir Francis Drake channel, tacking and gybing, playing with the trim while the wind steadily calmed down to less than 6 knots. Then we sailed into Road Town to anchor again just outside the harbour. We had to go into town to do laundry, and before late afternoon that day we motored across to Little Harbour at peter Island.
We spent two wonderful days in this very well sheltered and secluded cove swimming, Ayse snorkelling to and back to the small coral reefs on either side of the harbour. One day we took the dingy over to the great harbour around the reefy point to the East. To our surprise we found “the Caribbean paradise” as you only see in brochures and magazines. On the west side of the harbour there was a “Beach Club” with swimming area, water fun for both adults and children, snack-bar, and facilities (5$ per person to use for the day). Place looked totally deserted almost abandoned when we arrived in the morning. We anchored the dingy right off their peer, and took a swim. By noon a boat full of staff arrived to open the business. I guess this is the low season, and not much business in the middle of the week. Then we dingied around the entire bay, keeping close to the shore, passed by the protected fishery and a small fish farm in the middle part of the bay, and arrived at the perfect sandy beach; that was the paradise I was talking about. It is a pity neither of us thought of bringing a camera, nor water or even some money with us. Unfortunately, we had to return to Ruyam II after a short visit there. I promise to revisit the great harbour on a bright day and take some pictures to share with you.
On Saturday the weather started to change, with thunder showers and intermittent rain, moreover a couple of totally overcast days were forecasted. We motored across back to Road Town to spend the weekend and to get Ayse ready for her flight back to Germany on Monday morning.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Still more work than play; what a waste of a wonderful day!

30 May 2011
We all woke up late this morning and went on to the town to do a list of chores. We still had to finalize our yacht insurance (convert it over to private insurance from charter fleet insurance). For those who are interested; the charter insurance on our boat was US$ 3,585/year which included hurricane season and half a million dollars of liability. Private insurance was only $300 less for a year with the same conditions.
We also had to go to the bank to open an account(Scotia Bank is big in the Caribbean; although they operate as a separate bank, it is nice to have a Canadian bank to deal with.) What an ordeal it was, I cannot tell you. They asked for so many documents from back home, employment records, bank reference letter, professional reference letter, proof of residence address like a utility bill etc. We had found out about these requirements on Thursday when we first arrived here. We got on the phone to our son who had not left Ottawa yet, we also called our bank, our lawyer, Nel’s boss at work etc. to prepare the documents on the same day, so that Devrim could pick them up before he left early next morning. Well, the documents we received were “sort of sufficient!” for the bank staff, they finally agreed to open a checking account for us, and gave us our local Debit cards, yippee!

While we were running around town, Ayse & Devrim had their laptops set up at the Village Key marina by the pool where there was free Wi-Fi, they babysat the laundry we had started at the coin laundromats there and tried to stay out of the blistering sun and heat that we had to endure in town. By three in the afternoon, we had completed most of the chores, we pulled anchor and stopped at BVI Yacht Charters to fill up the water tanks before setting sail back to Trellis bay. Unfortunately for Nel and Devrim, they had to leave the next day from Beef Island to go back to work#@*!

A Caribbean Celebration

27 May 2011 (cont.)
We successfully took a mooring ball ($25/night) and started waiting for our son’s arrival that night. We couldn’t go for a swim off the stern as we wished however. We thought the calm bay would be polluted due to crowded anchorage and the relaxed rules in BVI regarding holding tanks on yachts. They do not require holding tanks, and most yachts sailing in these waters either don’t have them, or the yachters do not use them.
Devrim arrived, an hour late on an 8 seater Cessna twin engine airplane (Cape Air) connecting from Porto Rico. It was fun and a pleasant experience walking right out of the terminal building to the shore (a short 250m pathway!) where our dingy was tied at one of the small jetties.
28 May 2011
It is a nice sunny day, perfect for lazing on the deck. Around noon we ventured out to the east end of the bay on our dingy, however, the rocky and grass bottom with lots of shell fish close to shore prevented us from beaching the dingy, although the white sandy beach was inviting. At 4:30 Nel and I “dingied” over to the airport again, this time to see our daughter Ayse arrive from Istanbul, via Paris and St. Martin. That night we lighted up the charcoal barbeque on Ruyam II and had wonderfully marinated grilled chicken with Shiraz. (Nel created a special marinate just for the Caribbean that night. She may share the recipe with you in a future blog, after trying it out one more time.)
29 May 2011
It is a “big” day; It is Nel’s 60th birthday. We all had a quite night at Trellis bay, and to my amazement everyone was up early. We sailed (actually motored most of the way due to very light winds) to Road Town, and dropped anchor again just outside the harbour. Looks like we will prefer staying in the breeze outside of the sheltered harbours this time of the year when the winds are light and the stormy season had not started yet, because the marinas and inner harbours get very hot and are full of bugs. The children complained that I anchored too much out and in the middle of the channel entering Road Harbour, but I wanted to stay a bit away from the two rocky break-waters and the Ferry dock lining the two sides of the channel. I took the old leaky dingy with a temperamental outboard engine over to the BVI Yacht Charters, who had promised to lend me another until I bought myself a proper one.
We all dressed up that night, had a quick celebration of Nel’s birthday on deck with champagne and went into town to have a wonderful dinner at the Marie’s by The Sea hotel (was it spelled Mary’s? I don’t know). We tried Conch and other sea food dishes that were very well prepared and very elegantly garnished and served on proper tablecloth and china. We were all impressed by the quality of the restaurant, (although I did have lunch at that restaurant earlier when I visited Road Town with my friend and our long time skipper Capitan Deniz during Tortola’s worst storm and floods 6 months ago. At that time they had reluctantly set up a table for us on the patio, thinking of us as the crazy tourists from Canada, who were willing to sit out at a dry corner of the partially flooded veranda. But they didn’t have the same elegance on that day). Before the dinner was over the server surprized us with a complimentary slice of cake on a nicely decorated plate, with Happy 60’th Birthday written with chocolate sauce and four forks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Here we start! With a bang!

Hello Friends and Family,
It has been both wonderfull and at the same time hectic week since the Odyssey started on My 24th.
Internet access during this time was non existent since I have not set up my systems on the boat yet.

The following copy of my journal should keep you up to date to on the first few days here at least.

The rest are coming soon with pictures and videos.

24 May 2011
Early morning we have officially started our Caribbean odyssey by leaving our home In Ottawa in a taxi to go to the airport to catch our WestJet flight to Toronto, connecting to St. Martin from there. We arrived at St. Martin on time and started to wait for the short hop over to Beef Island airport, at the east end of Tortola, BVI. The small 25 person turbo-prop took us to Tortola one hour late, and we were settled on RUYAM II, which was docked at Port Purcell near Road Town harbour, around 7 pm.
26 May 2011
Late this afternoon we have left the marina at Port Purcell for the first time and motored out of the bay into the main Road Town harbour where we anchored (in a fairly crowded area) just outside the harbour limits. We had a very successful first anchor after only! two tries. The hands-free two-way radio headsets worked very well for communications between the helmsman (me) and the crew (Nel) at the bow during anchoring. (I have been told by the admiral on board that the roles will have to be reversed next time!)
Earlier that day, we took the dingy out to Village Key, tied at the sea-wall by the restaurant and went onto Road Town on-foot. We visited the bank, the insurance company and had lunch at Pusser’s.
 27 May 2011
This morning we went again into town on dingy to do some provisioning. I also checked my emails (for the first time since we arrived) at the Village Key Marina. There is free WiFi by the pool side, but the lemonades cost $3 each!
Then we sailed RUYAM II into the Sir Francis Drake channel. Winds were non-existent (2-3 knots from SE). We motored for a while then we decided to try the sails. We somehow had hard time hoisting the main sail. (We later found out that the tangled state of the jiffy-reef lines left by the last people chartered our boat, combined with our inexperience with reef system caused the trouble.) After playing around with the sails, trying to tack and gybe (if you can call turning the wheel and waiting a while for the boat to come around for many minutes tacking or gybing), we took all the sails down and motored straight to Trellis Bay. Trellis Bay is a small protected bay, right at the end of the runway of the Beef Island Airport , at the east end of Tortola.