Friday, February 24, 2012

Laundry

In St Martin, the only laundromat we could find close by was at the Fort Louis marina, but with only two washers and driers, so we inquired from Schrimpy’s, which advertised on his premises about laundry services. It is located on the channel to the lagoon, across from the Budget Marine branch. Schrimpy’s attracted our attention first, because of the Turkish flag that is hung on its door. When we inquired with the old owner, who sounds like Dutch, about their prices we also asked about the flag. He was oblivious about its nationality, he said somebody must have left it with him, and he hung it. He had other flags hanging from his eaves, so he must be collecting them.




Sometime later we decided to use the service although it was double what we would be normally spending when I did the work myself. In fact, Al would be spending money at a bar waiting for me, whom I would join at intervals. I think this way was more cost and time effective.

When I brought my bags to be washed, and wrote the name of our boat on a piece of paper, the guy asked me if I was from Vietnam. I was so surprised that I could not answer sarcastically. He must have heard about Vietnam and Turkey, but could not place either of the countries in the world. I have nothing of the distinctive characteristics of and oriental face and body, but I guess he mentioned the first exotic place that came to his mind.

His blond assistant reminded me of my sister in law Marlies, who is very quick and efficient in doing housework. While I was struggling with climbing out of the dinghy, she just grabbed one of the bags from my hand without saying anything, and took it inside. But I liked their work, so it was a smart choice to get some pampering!

Some facts about Juliana Airport

Sylvain’s daughter returned to Canada the other day, and he took her to Juliana Airport. Her flight was scheduled to depart for Montreal at 7:30 pm, and arrive around 11:00 pm. The next day we asked him if she safely landed, and he told us an incredible story. Apparently three air crafts, including the Canadian, trying to take off after getting their fuel could not be accommodated due to shortage of fuel. The only solution was draining all the fuel of one aircraft, to give a little bit to the three, so that they could fly to nearby airports, like Anguilla, St Barts, St Kitts etc., to be fueled. Poor girl ended up staying who knows where during the ordeal, which lasted all night and half a day. Sylvain described the reaction from his wife, who was trying to meet her at the airport to drive her to Sherbrook as “TABARNAC! Where is she?” I understand perfectly of course, I would be out of my mind if my loved ones would not arrive safely in time. Anyway, at least she was safe, and a bit tired at the end I guess.

Augustine

There is a marketplace in St Martin, beside the ferry dock, where the islander ladies sell the frilly dresses (made in India) along with hats and beach bags etc., intended for tourists. At the same place there are some nicely made stalls for vegetable and fish vendors. Unfortunately the meager offerings of produce and fish do not occupy all the spaces, but I like checking them when we pass by, almost every day. I found really good tomatoes (my staple) and cucumbers in one of the stalls where the vendor lady chatted with us. The sailing guide recommends this place, and indicates that the wares were coming from Dominica.





The other day I bought tomatoes from an old guy, who tried to charge us too much, but Al told him that we were not tourists off the cruise ships, so he did not insist. Then we proceeded to the lady. I exclaimed that she did not have tomatoes, but she showed me the ones she had, and pointed out that we did not come directly to her. We ended up buying mangoes from her. Then she showed me a page of a Canadian magazine (One), which writes about her, Augustine, depicting her in a photograph. It tuned out that the author of the book “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” had been to her stall in her travels in the Caribbean, and wrote about her, in the magazine and also in a Caribbean cooking book that she wrote later. We expressed amazement about her being famous, and she smiled. She said that she had been at this spot for thirty five years. She does not look too old herself, so she must have started really young.

I have to tell about my connection to the book titled “An Embarrassment of Mangos” by Ann Vanderhoof. A bout six years ago, my daughter gave me that book, which chronicles a year-long trip of a middle aged couple aboard a sailboat in the Caribbean, starting from Toronto, ON. The author confessed that she had not been a sailor herself, but agreed to this adventure to please her partner, and took time off from her work.

After reading it, I identified with her immediately, and realized the possibility of living aboard a sailboat, while spending the winters in hot climates, not too far from Canada. We had thought about Florida for our retirement, but living in US can be expensive and sometimes problematic. As well, I don’t like staying in one place too long. This idea of living in a home that provides mobility without straining one’s budget was so appealing to me, that I seriously discussed it with Al. He thought the idea attractive but alien to our way of life. Then I started to bounce ideas with our friends at our yacht club in Ottawa, and leaned that many of them had done it, spending years in the Bahamas or further down, and loved it. When we listened to the stories, we got convinced that it was doable. And look where we are now! My sincerest thanks to Ann Vanderhoof for opening my eyes, and my daughter for letting me know about it. Our friends first laughed at the idea, but humored us, and helped on the way, to let me have first-hand experience on living aboard, by joining us to charter two boats, one mono-hull, and the catamaran two years after. I did not like the 46 foot mono-hull for limited living space and the heeling of the boat, although it gave such reassurance in the waves that I never got scared in our first trip to the St Vincent islands.

Carnival in St Martin

For almost a week, we have been listening every night, and some days, to incredibly loud music coming from various parts of the village. What we hear is a beat and some lyrics repeated over and over. Apparently the first few days were the practice, and the real carnival was supposed to be on two days, (and nights); the 21st and 22nd which were official holiday for the French side, but not the Dutch. Everywhere is closed; no businesses except restaurants are open. The Dutch are making a killing in trade; they are always open, even Sundays (unheard-of for French), and they observe different days holidays.

Yesterday, after dealing with the anchor etc. all day, we were kind of tired, and I thought that if we would be in the music (or noise for some) and participate, we might be able to stand it better. So we followed some people towards the music, and saw that police cars had blocked a street for about a mile, where the spectators, all black with a few white tourists like us, lined both the sidewalks. Except for some crazy motor-bike crew that burned rubber, the street was clear. So we were able to walk all the way, and explored abundant liquor and some food for sale, nothing inviting, and several stations of musicians with extra loud speakers. When I looked at the people, I thought nobody was having any fun, all stone faces, nobody dancing or even smiling. I guess they were tired from partying all week long. We just turned around and went home. Al was surprised about the lack-luster carnival in St Martin compared to the one he had experienced in BVI. I think we started missing BVI.

New Anchor

Now that hot water tank is fixed at last, Al’s attention is on the anchor. He had been agonizing about changing the anchor, not knowing how he would be able open the swivel shackle to pry it away, carry the new one to the boat, and install it. When I asked the chandlers personnel, they offered to do the installation, but we would have to go into the lagoon and go all the way to one of the chandlers which are side by side, at the far corner of the lagoon.

Yesterday, Monday, the 20th, Al had several conversations with the chandlers to ask if we could tie to their dock to have the anchor installed to the chain. To his dismay, Al learned the Island Water World did not have space to accommodate us, but they suggested other marinas nearby, where they could deliver the anchor. After much deliberation, somebody suggested the marinas at the French side of the lagoon, which are closer to the channel from the Marigot Bay. We jumped into the dinghy, explored the French boatyards on the way to the Port Royal Marina in the lagoon. While looking around, we saw a boatyard with a dock next to a boat launching pad. While I sat in the dinghy, Al went in and explained to an attendant that we wished to tie our 38 ft boat to his dock next morning, to do the work, and he said no problem, and showed us the dock to come. When I looked at the said place, I thought it was too short, since there was a perpendicular pier at one side, and a tied platform which was used as a dinghy dock at the other. But the attendant assured Al that it was possible, and he was going to be there in the morning to help. He also promised to fill our fresh water tanks. Al was happy that the short distance would be easily navigable in the morning.

On our way out on the channel to Marigot, we were passing by a small branch of Budget Marine chandler, which only carries a limited selection of small items. I urged Al to ask if they could be instrumental in getting the anchor, and he made the stop. It turned out to be very convenient for us, since the nice attendant offered to get the 20 kg/44 pounds Delta anchor to our boat while we would be at the dock. All offered to pay immediately, but they would rather wait until they got the merchandise from the main store. He was so cooperative, that Al thought he might get a commission out of the deal. I hope he did, because he solved our problem of making the dinghy ride for half an hour, and carrying the heavy thing all the way back.

On Tuesday, the 21st, we got ready at the base of the channel, jockeying our place among the few boats waiting to make the passage into the lagoon, as soon as the bridge was to open at 8:15 am. It did open at the said time, but out-going boats had the priority, so we waited ten more minutes. Some of the boats around us were running in circles, while we were trying to stay at the same place by going back and forth, since the wind was pushing from behind.

Anyway, the green light came for us, and the boats got in line. Passing through the base of the bridge was a little scary for me, since it felt like we were about to brush the sides. It was a good thing for me to see that a big cat in front of us passed through comfortably, so I just closed my eyes when we got there.
While coming close to the dock, we saw a big mono-hull maneuvering to tie stern-to at the next dock. By the time Al came around to get closer to the dock, the skipper of the other boat finished securing it and hopped into his dinghy to help us. Besides having such a little dock space to approach, there was a small buoy in the middle of the water in our way. Al was worried about buoy’s rope getting tangled in our propeller, and asked the skipper to attend the buoy. To my amazement he was able to just pick it up and pull it aside.

Al tried several times to back up into the small space, while I was looking with horror at some metal protrusion at the end of the pier, ready to cut our side open if we ventured too close, as well as some object sticking out of the platform at the back. Thankfully Al did not insist on forcing his way in, but headed towards the series of mooring buoys installed quite close together. We saw that all of the boats were tied from stern and bow. So I grabbed the front ball, and Al went to the aft one by dinghy, carrying our long line to pass it through.

Al had asked Sylvain to come and help, and he did, such a sweetheart of a man. The chandler guy brought the new anchor and handed it to Al from his dinghy right at the bow, and Sylvain put the shackle on; in five minutes everything done, Al itching to try it. But we had to wait until 2:30 pm for the bridge to open again to let us out.




We decided to take water from Fort Louis Marina afterwards, and headed towards their fuel dock, right after another catamaran. There was just enough room for two boats to dock face to face. A young man helped first the other boat, then us, by pulling the lines, while giving instructions how to drive to get closer. We got our water, then the attendant left, and Al went to the marina office to pay. He came back, and we started to untie our lines, when I heard the attendant yelling “don’t release the lines!” while rushing towards us on his bike. He had Al’s credit card. In the confusion to get the card, the aft of the boat almost touched the dock, so he jumped in to push it from inside, and jumped out to the dock like a monkey.

Immediately afterwards, we anchored somewhere close to the village docks.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tour of the Island

On Sunday, the 19th , we decided to rent a car, so went to the village early in the morning, and found Chucky at the parking lot behind the ferry terminal. There were four stalls next to terminal, for local car rentals with exotic names like Zircon, Xtreme, Lucky’s etc, Of course, we did not go to them, but asked around for Chucky. When he slowly staggered towards us, Al embraced him like a long lost friend, and signed a sheet of paper to get the keys for a brand new white Hyundai. I asked for insurance, so we ended up paying a total of $50.00 dollars cash up front, and got ready to roll. Chucky told us, that because of the carnival month in St Martin, the entrance to the village would be blocked until 6:00 pm that day. We decided to return the car after that time, and he agreed. He claimed that there was a quarter of gas in the tank. As soon as Al started the engine, some annoying and persistent alarm came on, and we saw to our horror that the gas tank was totally empty. When asked, Chucky pointed towards the road, and assured Al that there was a gas station close by. We ran on vapours and made it to the station. Al did not wish to fill the tank for a half day of usage, and asked the attendant how much we would need to go around the island. He laughed and said that one could drive all around in one hour, so we only needed $10.00 dollars’ worth of gas.

We started our trip towards the north, on the only two-lane road that goes around. We passed through the other French settlement, and did some food shopping, then in a flash reached the famous Orient Beach. Al said that he had first heard about this beach from our friends Serap and Ismail, who had visited St Martin/Sint Maarten on a cruise. I could not see what the fuss was about; yes it is a vast north facing beach on the east coast, the water of which is full of reefs, which look like black holes. The colour of the water was not inviting, so I did not swim. We found the restaurant among the hundred lining the beach that offered free WiFi and beach chairs/umbrella, if one paid $8.00 dollars for a fruit punch. Al needed his Internet, so we stayed there for an hour, and resumed our trip.
We quickly reached the southern part, where the main Dutch town Phillipsburg is located. We made the mistake of venturing into the town by car; the roads must have been made for mule transportation in the old times, and renovated recently along with the facades of the original buildings. That is to say, they are only good for walking in. After some sweaty (from fear) minutes of Al’s driving, we got out of the town and headed south by mistake, but found the harbour where the cruise ships were tied, and a marina for smaller boats. We had a good lunch at the marina, and returned to Phillipsburg, to travel to the west side through the narrow strip of land surrounding the lagoon. Once we went underway, the traffic stopped, because of a road construction on a couple of yards of a major turn out to the road to Juliana Airport. The detour for the five minute stretch cost us an hour, but finally we were able to reach the famous Maho Beach, literally at the foot of the runway. All kinds of airplanes, including jumbo jets, land over the beach, so the swimmers get the urge to reach out and touch them. While take off, the back of the planes almost reach the barbed wire fence between the road and the air-strip, and the thrust of air coming out of the engines create such a noise and wind at one section of the beach, that the people who deliberately stay there for the experience, get blown towards the water or run away closing their ears and mouths, because of the sand-storm it creates.

Anyway when we reached the beach, which was jammed by cars, we saw one of the cars among the parked ones pulling out. We felt lucky and parked there, then walked to the bar at the end of the beach. Al had a beer, and I jumped into the water, which was pristine and calm, while its bay was open to the ocean, but located at the western side of the island. We spent a few hours there, and I asked Al to bring something from the car, which was visible in the distance. Al looked and saw a white car with an open door, and thought that it was our car, and rushed to its side. Sometime passed, and I saw Al talking to someone, but not coming back. So I collected our stuff, and walked to him. What I saw was that two police officers (one of them a female islander, the other white male Dutch), writing something, obviously a traffic fine. Apparently the section of the road-side that seemed like a parking strip had a sign, forbidding to even stop there, probably because of the proximity to the air-strip. By the time that police arrived, all the other cars had vanished, and ours was the only one left. The policewoman asked Al why he parked there, and Al truthfully told her that there had been others, but she did not seem to believe it. The police probably have a specific time of patrol, which everybody knows. The male officer told Al that he had ordered a tow truck, but cancelled it when Al showed up. It was nice of the officer I guess. When we asked about the amount to be paid, it was something like $30.00 dollars, not that huge, but we have to travel to Phillipsburg to pay it in person to the official collector. There was no other way of being relieved of the crime we had committed. When Al reminded the officer about the practice of fine payments in Canada, he concurred that in Netherlands it was the same, but not in Sint Maarten.

If you ask me, I never liked this island from the moment we set our anchor and foot on it. I guess I had a reason. All our experiences with the people, except the chandlery personnel, had been negative. Neither the whites (almost fifty percent of the French side, maybe thirty of the Dutch section), nor the islanders are friendly or helpful. It is amazing that most of the store owners that we had frequented, and maybe half of their workers are white in Marigot. So far, on all of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the majority of the faces in the businesses have been coloured; Hispanic/African/mixed etc. Whites were few and far between, and the coloured people have the dignity and charm of affluence. I may be wrong, but St Martin should be ashamed to claim this territory as French soil. At least the Dutch side is called the colony of the West Indies, which include some other islands around, and their currency is the Gilder, the old Dutch currency before the Euro. The Dutch side seems a bit more rundown, while the coloured are the majority.

Anyway, we were a bit shaken, and jumped into the car immediately after I changed. Ten minutes later when we passed the spot that we had been fined, we saw at least four cars parked. Go figure. The drivers must stay close to their cars, and escape when the police show up.

When we came to the bridge over the lagoon entrance, we saw that it was open, to let the sail boats in and out of the lagoon. We waited for half an hour in the car, and reached Marigot village to return the car. It was 6:00 pm; the traffic slowly dispersing, but the noise of the carnival in the distance. We reached the parking lot, to give back the keys, but Chucky was nowhere to be found. Al asked some guys lurking around, obviously the taxi drivers or Chucky’s competitors, having stone faces. Nobody knew or cared. It was getting dark, we had some groceries to carry to the boat, so we made one trip with the dinghy, while holding on to the keys, changed and returned to the parking lot. This time, after a bit of waiting, somebody offered to find Chucky, and came back with a young black guy in tow. The guy looked like the pimps in North America, a lot of gold chain showing at various parts of his body, a cocked hat to the side etc., etc. He claimed to be Chucky’s assistant, and looked the car over, and snatched the keys from Al’s hand. He also claimed to have seen us coming to the parking lot earlier, but by the time he came around, we had vanished. His coming around must have taken more than twenty minutes, but he was right. I asked his name, which turned out to be Al. I laughed, and he said that we would never forget his name. No comment. Al called Chucky, who miraculously answered his phone this time, and confirmed that he knew Al.

When we were able to return to Ruyam II at last, the first thing I said was that I missed her desperately during the day. We had forgotten about the life on land, and what a relief it is to be away from the traffic, parking, congestion, dust and grime associated with driving a car! The false security that a car provides is more precarious than the boat in general, as long as one shows the respect owed to the ocean.

Repairs on Ruyam II

We did some shopping, and realized that it was almost 4:00 pm, time to go back to the boat, which was half an hour away. When we came close, we saw that our boat was right next to another, and the owner of that one had his fenders on, and boat hook in hand, trying to fend off Ruyam II. Of course, we sped down; Al barely tied the dinghy and started the engines. We anchored again, a bit away from that boat, but too close (with my standards) to another two at the back. Al told me to monitor the anchor, and off he went to talk to the owner, our insurance policy in his hand, since he thought he heard during the initial discussion from one boat to the other, that Ruyam II had hit the other boat four times.

I sat at the front, from where I could see them talking aboard his boat, but I did not want to stare, so went to the aft, where I could monitor the boats at the back. After a good half hour or more, Al came back. I was furious that he left me alone at a time like that, without checking how the anchor was doing. He claimed to have checked from there, and enthusiastically related what they had discussed, the manner of which had looked quite jovial to me when I looked. No harm done to either of the boats, just four hours of aggravation for the poor man. Apparently the owner (Sylvain) a Quebecois, was a mechanic living temporarily in St Martin doing some odd jobs and private charters for people, and was willing to check our problems on the boat.

We were wrong about the source of the major leak into the bilge. About a week before, while we were at Great Harbour, Peter Island, Al woke up in the middle of the night, and decried that we must be losing our fresh water. In the stillness of the night, we had been listening to the periodical and almost simultaneous start-ups of the two pumps, the bilge pump trying to drain, and the water pressure pump filling in the pressure after the loss of water. Al said that he had tasted the water, while trying to completely drain the bilge; and it was not salty. It made full sense, and first thing we did was turn off the water pressure pump. The activity at the bilge automatically stopped. Al then checked all the piping between the water tanks at the fore and the bathrooms and kitchen, and realized that the leak might be from the hot water tank at the stern.

Well, Sylvain and his daughter came the next afternoon to check out the tank, and the loose cleats that Al had been thinking of getting repaired. I entertained his daughter, while sitting at the fore, under the shade of the tent that Al had designed for me. She is a seventeen year old girl from Sherbrook, QC, working after high school for one year, waiting to start CEGEP in the fall, so she was visiting her father for a few weeks in the meantime.

Sylvain found out that the leak was from the gasket of the hot water heating element, and told Al to buy it from Island Water World, which he did. Anchor can wait a couple of days, but Sylvain also offered to help install the anchor, and gave Al tips on how to repair whatever is left. All well and dandy, but we do not know how much we will be paying him, since he does not answer that question. He seems to be a very nice man. I am glad that Ruyam II was smart enough to find her savior all by herself.

After three days of checking, disassembling the hot water tank, buying parts, and re-assembling, creating gaskets by cutting from an old rubber flippers etc., Al’s obsession with draining the bilge is over. Thank God, our fresh water will not be lost to the sea anymore! And Al was accusing me of using too much water.

The hardest part of the ordeal was buying the parts from the chandlery which was half an hour away by dinghy. Marigot, where we are anchored, is just a small village, catering mostly to the cruise passengers. All the marinas and their support industry are operated by the Dutch in the Simpson Lagoon. Al had to go the way every day, sometimes more than once. Of course he always drags me along, but once I got to stay aboard, since Sylvain was tinkering with the tank. Anyway, after a lot of chatter and laughs, Sylvain finished the work, and asked for a mere $100.00 dollars for all his effort, which was considerable.

Marigot Bay, St Martin

On Monday morning, after anchoring, we slept for a few hours, but could not stay on the boat for long. Al wanted to clear in to St Martin, and inform our children and friends about our well-being, so dragged me to the shore just before noon.
First stop, Customs. Al knew where to go from his previous experience, and pounded on the locked door, around the corner of the ferry terminal. A guy who was waiting there for his skipper to clear them in, told us to wait patiently until the customs officer would open the door, since it was a small office, and people were let in one by one. After a few minutes, the door opened and shut, to let somebody out; and Al forced it immediately. The huge islander inside glared at Al and rebuked him for almost hitting his head with the door. Then he asked what we wanted (!) Even though Al apologized, he could not charm the officer into civility. He gruffly said that one of us should sit at a chair in the middle of the entrance, facing the washroom, and the other should come into the small office. I thankfully sat down, and Al tried to pull out the papers and his reading glasses from the backpack in my lap. The officer came out and urged Al to be quick, although afterwards he made Al sit at one of the two computers, waiting for instructions to fill the document, while he argued with another customer in French. The only plus in the process is their providing a computer to the people to fill the form, instead of getting them write by hand. I guess the officer was frustrated with too much work. After we left the office, Al expressed surprise about the treatment we got from the officer, whom he had seen the last time he was here. According to Al, the officer had been really nice to him then, even introduced him to an islander on the street, who was renting cars on the cheap. I am not sure if those people can be trusted to have insurance in case of an accident, but Al wants to try renting a car and going around the island. I showed him the ads from Avis, Budget, Thrifty’s, but he thought they might be expensive. Really?

Anyway, next stop was Patrick’s cafĂ©, La Vie En Rose. Last time he was here, Al and his friend Ergin, who had been visiting from Turkey, had spent all their time there, using the free WiFi, while drinking home-made passion fruit juice. We did the same this time, and sent our messages to friends and family, and chatted with Patrick, who remembered Al. We did not spend too much time there though, since Al wished to introduce me to Mehmet, a young Turkish man who was operating a nice restaurant at the Port Royal, situated at the northern tip of the Simpson lagoon, and in the heart of the Marigot village.

Mehmet warmly greeted Al, kissed us both, and settled us at a table. He was a very nice but hyper man, who was talking to us one minute, then to people passing by, and jumping up to steer them inside. He was kissing some of the people, shaking hands with most, and pulling them in. I laughed a lot watching him. We had a very good lunch; I found his tuna tartar excellent. About five years ago, I had tasted seared tuna the first time, at a restaurant at the harbour in Vancouver, BC, which had amazed me. Since then, Mehmet’s was the only tuna dish I liked at a restaurant. It is very easy to spoil tuna by cooking, and most of the chefs around do not have a clue about how to make it.

Mehmet came to our table several times, started telling us some jokes, without being able to finish them. He was convinced that if he did not literally pull the customers in, he could not beat his competitors along the walk-way. He could be right, but this persistence in calling people in from the side walk, which I had seen in Turkey; Bali, Indonesia; and the Chinese quarter in Singapore, really turns me off completely. So I can’t understand how it could be effective in filling the restaurants or shops. During my visits in Turkey, I strongly argue with the “crier” (as we call them in Turkish), trying to show them, that they annoy the hell out of the customers to be; but they argue back, that they were just making a living, working for the proprietors.

Anyway, after lunch, Al had to activate his SIM card for his smart phone, his lifeline to the world. We looked for Orange, which provided a data plan, pay-as-you-go. The last time he was here, he had obtained the telephone number from them, so he wished to buy air-time. He had complained then, about Orange being very expensive, and used his Lime (a BVI company) number, which gave him better rates even with roaming charges.

I hate waiting around while Al deals with the telephone companies, everywhere we go. It takes too long, and I get really tired standing on my feet. The episode in Orange was much longer than usual, since the lady did not speak much English, and Al was too tired to listen. Both of them tried to explain their sides for a long time; Al saying no, no, no, and the lady, although getting frustrated, patiently telling and showing him things. I was sitting down on a chair far away from them, but could hear bits of their conversation. After half an hour, Al was able to put in 50.00 Euros towards his data and cellular telephone air-time, and we came back to the boat.

After sleeping like babies, we felt much refreshed in the morning. The first thing Al does every morning is to look at his telephone, to check his messages and read Turkish/Canadian newspapers on line, while I make tea. This morning, I heard him cursing at bed, calling Orange highway robbers. Apparently the 50.00 Euros was gone in half an hour, while his smart phone made some updates as soon as it was turned on. Al got furious, and threw the Orange SIM card in a plastic ziplock bag, and re-installed his Lime, which still had some credit for the month of February.

I wanted to check out the beaches, since the water in the bay changed completely during the night, and became muddy, with mountainous swells. It was really interesting to watch the mono-hulls rocking like pendulums, while the cats staying stable, since the swells were quite wide apart. I think that the reason for those awful swells is the water in such a large bay being too shallow.

Anyway, we got ready, jumped into the dinghy and went into the lagoon to find a passage to the ocean on the thin strip of land surrounding the lagoon. We rode about half an hour and after consulting with a nice couple on a boat anchored near-by, found a small dinghy dock to get on land. We walked five minutes and found a beach bar; but the beach was nothing like I had grown accustomed to lately. So we returned to the dinghy, and contemplated about changing our plan, and checking out the chandlers instead, all of them around the marinas in the lagoon.

Al had made a long list of items we needed, anchor being the first one, and we started looking in the chandlers called Island Water World. We got help from a nice young man, who answered many questions that Al came up with. I jokingly asked if we could go to him for all of our questions, and said he would be happy to oblige. Then I asked for advice about the best place for summer storage for Ruyam II, during the hurricane season. He seriously contemplated, then asked one of his colleagues, who was almost our age, and very gracious. He suggested we follow him to Grenada, where he was working at the branch of the store every summer, since he had a 37 foot Lagoon catamaran, an older one than ours. He said Grenada was cheap, very secure, below the hurricane belt, and a country where English was the official language. All important points, which we had heard from many other sources; but Grenada seems so far away to me, that we are thinking of stopping somewhere like Guadeloupe or Antigua in our remaining two and half months; and try to reach Grenada next year. When I told him that, he laughed, and stated that he had made the voyage from Grenada in four days, on his way in to Sint Maarten this year. He also mentioned that because of the storm, he had to double-reef his sails, but he made a steady 7-8 knots an hour for about 8 hours every day. I wonder if we can really do it this year, but we started looking at the charts again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Passage

At 4:05 hours, we let the lines go, and started the dreaded voyage. Sir Francis Drake Channel was as calm as could be, no wind or waves. We passed the Round Rock in about an hour and half, and set our route at 118 degrees on the auto helm.

Slowly the swells started to come, but wind on the nose was never over 15 knots, apparent. We sat at the captain’s bench together and watched sun setting at our backs around 6:30 pm. Darkness came quickly, and we set the radar at three miles, to be alerted to the presence of any dangerous boats on our way. We observed that it was good to have such a gadget; it gave us entertainment, although we never saw a completely dark boat, except a sail boat which had a green light at the top of its mast, and nothing else. If we had not been alerted by radar, we might not have spotted it.

When I looked back, I saw the lights of a cruise ship reaching Round Rock. All the way to St Martin/Sint Maarten the ship was within visual distance with all its lights on and looking like a floating apartment complex, which gave us some comfort.




Later on two more appeared at our backs, and started following the first one. We figured that two of the ships were the ones we had seen at Road Harbour, almost following us. The third one could have started in Charlotte Amalie, USVI or some similar port. But all were headed to Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten (the Dutch side at the southern part), waiting to dock at 7: am sharp.

The hardest part of the night passage is the need to be alert and functioning all night long. Although I did not feel comfortable being alone at the helm, I urged Al several times to take a break. He only took half an hour, while I had to sleep twice, for an hour or so each time. Al is used to staying up all night from his guard duty at our yacht club in Ottawa. I had sometimes accompanied him at the club, but every time ended up sleeping in our old power boat. Last night on the way, we reminisced about those nights, how I would drive to Macdonald’s early in the morning to bring him breakfast, before going to work by my bike; while he would stay on to finish his shift.

During the passage, Al claimed that the Caribbean Ocean could not be calmer than last night. Perhaps, but the swells rocked the boat like clock-work with an occasional shake, which even made standing up an ordeal, let alone walking. We had our life jackets on for a while, but they felt too heavy, so we took them off. I got hysterical if Al walked about without holding on, so I did most of the foot-work. But mostly we sat together and looked at the numerous lights passing by.

At 11:30 hours, we saw a red glow in the distance. It took us several seconds to realize that it was the rising moon, which was almost half, but full of light; the threat of darkness vanished, and it changed our mood.

After my second nap, which was around 4:00 am, Al showed me the lights ahead of us; we were able to distinguish Anguilla to the port and St Martin, which was dead on.

I think Al was most nervous in the subsequent two hour period until the dawn. He complained that he could not distinguish the lights for the boats, which appeared on the radar, from the ones on land. Both of us peeled our eyes several times to make sure we were not on the collision course with a ghost boat. Al set the radar so sensitive that it gave the echoes of the waves as numerous spots in front of us, but they were not persistent like the echoes from the boats. I thought he was over-reacting, but who knows, he might have a point.

I was afraid that the sun would be in our eyes while entering Marigot Bay, St Martin (the French side on the northern half). The sailing guide to St. Martin warns about two steel mooring buoys at the entrance and urges the readers to always come there in daylight.

When we cleared “the Bluff” at the southern tip of the wide bay, where Marigot village is located, the sun rose in front of us behind some clouds, so it was not in our eyes. We entered the bay, but for the life of us could not spot the buoys. Perhaps the authorities got rid of them lately, since they seemed to present a problem.

The bay was full of hundreds of different sized boats, but we were able to find a good spot, and anchored. The shallow water was incredibly clean, we could clearly see from the bow, that the anchor had securely stuck into the sand, no need to dive to check.

Thank God, the dreaded part of our odyssey was over. One of the guides says that there was no need for him to give any advice on the passages after this one, since most of them were short and straight forward sailing in the southerly direction, presumably a breeze. We shall see how it is going to be for us.




Waiting for passage to St Martin/Sint Maarten

The only thing about the Road Harbour is the entertainment it provides. Yes, we are back there to get our clearance, which we did yesterday, February 11th; and this afternoon, around 4:00 pm we are to be off to St Martin.

This morning about 7:00 am, a cruise backed into the huge dock, almost next to us. Well, the ship is so big that it seems close, but the crew inside look like small plastic figurines with hard-hats, that my daughter loved to play with as a child. When I saw the several hard hats appearing at the lower back side openings, who are in charge of letting out the lines to be secured to the dock, I remembered my daughter. The harbour crew of three people, who get hold of the lines on the other hand, always strike me as leisurely and slow to respond. Nobody makes any haste, no running or even brisk walking to sling the lines over the bollards, after catching the guide lines. I remember watching the ferries docking in Istanbul during my summer holidays. In Istanbul, ferries have always been a part of life, tying the European and Asian sides. Moreover, it had been my main transportation in every summer, since my grand-parents owned a summer house on an island, an hour away from the city centre.

The dock crews around Istanbul would mostly shout (usually at the passengers, who try to embark/disembark before the ferry is fully docked) and run around to secure the aft line around the bollards, pull the ferry closer, tie it tighter several times, then run to the fore to get that line. All my life, I loved watching the process, while waiting to embark among the crowd that gets tighter with impatience.

Anyway, in Road Town tying the cruise ships take a good half hour, and Al and I have been watching it while having our morning tea after breakfast, almost every day that we anchored at the Road harbour channel. We always wondered where their next stop would be, since they travel at night and stay at a port during the day until around 5:00 pm. This morning two of them came and entertained us, before we started our preparations to make our passage to St Martin/Sint Maarten.

Our preparations included clearing all the clutter around the galley/our living quarters; having a nutritious lunch with a subsequent siesta; and making sandwiches, filling the thermos with hot water, closing all the drains to avoid any seepage from the pounding of the expected waves. We got tied at the BVI Yacht Charters marina for the last time, to fill up our diesel and water tanks.

Al tinkered with the radar that we had never used before, to get acquainted with it. He had heard of boats making crossings without turning on any lights, and he was afraid of hitting one, so he was convinced that should keep his eyes glued on the radar.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Peter Island Resort

We came back and tried to anchor, but did not venture in the deep waters that almost come to the shore. We took up a mooring close to the eastern ridge, seeing that the water was calmer at that end.

You know, we watch other people and learn a lot from them. Earlier we had seen dinghies full of people going to the small beach at the base of the eastern ridge, and vanishing there after beaching their dinghies, usually in the afternoon. The next bay after the ridge is Sprat Bay, home to the Peter Island Resort, a very posh, luxurious but relaxed place. We figured that there should be a walkway to the resort, and we should go and explore.

Next morning just before noon, I took my first ever lesson of driving a boat, our dinghy, and took us to the beach, the laptop in Al’s backpack. When Al drives, I am the mule, but this time it was his responsibility. We beached the dinghy and locked it on a tree branch. Sure enough, we found the short path that led to Sprat Bay, which is very narrow but long harbour, where three mooring balls ($65.00 US dollars per night) and a dock are situated.

We have been in this place when we had first came to BVI in a chartered catamaran, with our good friends Deniz – Zeynep, their son Mehmet and his friend Karin. Mehmet and Karin had to leave earlier than us, so we took them to the resort, for them to take the ferry across, to catch their plane. We had spent an afternoon at the resort and moored the night, to send the youngsters off early in the morning.
The resort has a sandy beach called Dead Man’s Bay, which is somewhat open to north-easterly winds, but very clean. While we had spent some time swimming during the afternoon, Al had sat at the beach bar, and struck up a conversation with the bartender, a young but mature Islander girl. I joined them, and asked about the history behind the name for the beach. She was really reluctant to tell it, but I insisted. Then she became emotional, and said that in the old times, the white masters of the cane fields used to throw unwanted slaves to that beach, completely deserted and arid at the time; and would give them a flask of rum to fend for themselves. No way of escape or survival. I consoled the girl, by saying that it was much better now, thank God. I also reminded her that, if she looked around to the guests of the resort, she should feel better off. Right before going into the bar, I had used their bathroom. While still in the stall, I heard two young bimboes, coming in and locking themselves into the next stall together, where they started giggling. I made some noise outside, and the giggling stopped immediately. I was sure that they were taking drugs in there. After a while I saw them coming out and joining two bald guys in their fifties, obviously rich. What an existence!

That was a few years ago, the name of the catamaran we had chartered was Amnesia then, Ruyam II now. We were lucky enough to learn about that particular boat going into the market last year, and were able to snatch it immediately. Our comfortable life aboard Ruyam II started with the help of Deniz, who had made all the arrangements then, being the experienced skipper. So thank you Deniz!

There is a small island across Dead Man’s Bay, which is called Dead Man’s Chest. I learned about its history from a novel about the Caribbean, so it might not be accurate, but the story is interesting. Apparently, there was a pirate in the old times, who was in love with a married woman. He used to visit her occasionally, and hide at that island when need be. After a while the woman’s husband died, and the pirate married her, but she did not live long. The pirate was heart-broken, and died shortly afterwards. His ship mates had heard a rumor that the pirate had left a treasure chest at the island, and three of them came looking for it. Sure enough they found the chest, but when they opened it, they saw that it held the dead woman’s remains, apparently his only treasure. One of the mates was so spooked, that he tripped over something and fell to his death.

This area is full of sad stories, but so beautiful, that sometimes it is hard to take it all in! I hope it will stay clean, but the boaters and the inhabitants do not think that the vast seas can become dirty. Well the middle of the ocean might still be OK, but the harbours have started to show the effects of open sewers emptying into them. I have to mention that the boaters (all westerners) seem to forget about holding tanks here, while unthinkable in US, Canada or anywhere in Europe, including Turkey! When looking from above, the colour of Road Harbour is literally grayish brown, becoming shades of blue in about a mile off. What a pity for progress to mean destruction.






BVI Immigration

The window for passage never came before our one month visa expired, so we had to make a run to Road Town to see an Immigration officer to extend it. On Tuesday, February 7th, we started at 7:30 am, and anchored at our usual place. Of course the harbour was rolling like crazy, but we did not have too long to stay.

Al put on white dress pants and an islander shirt, brick in colour, to look formal; I had my usual colourful dress that my sister in law Marlies had bought at a market in Istanbul, and we dinghied to Village Cay, without getting soaked by the waves, since the wind was at our backs. When on land, somebody asked Al if we were going to the Immigration office. It seemed that we looked well dressed! Usually people are in shorts and t-shirts, flip flops on feet; nobody bothers to wear pants, except islanders who work in banks and offices. What I do not understand is how the ladies can survive in the heat with those long dark pant suits, long sleeved shirts inside and ultra-high heels! I guess it is their winter now, and their attire might change in summer. Of course their offices are air-conditioned; they might not feel the heat inside.

Anyway, we took our number, and were called in without much delay. The officer was a middle aged Islander lady, very nice and charming. She asked why we needed an extension to our visa, and we explained that we were waiting for favorable weather. She agreed whole-heartedly, said there was no need to take any chances while making that long passage to St Martin/Sint Maarten, and gave us the latest mishaps that occurred because of reckless boaters; first, three people were missing, and their deserted boat was found in Vieques, Puerto Rico; the second had to come back half way to St Martin, because of a leaking vessel. She said she would not set foot in a boat, if the weather were not crystal clear (a rare occurrence in Tortola), and her husband was a captain of a big power boat, taking people around in BVI for sight-seeing. She said her husband urged her not to tell anyone that she was the wife of a captain, when she talked about her attitude about boating. She also mentioned that she did not allow the captain to take somebody’s one engine boat to St Vincent, just because the owner wanted to take the plane, and not accompany her husband. I think she is a bit extreme, even with my standards, but she might have a point. The only thing I did not understand is her outrage about the engine, for instant do not most of the power boats and mono-hull boats have single engine, except the multi-hulls. She probably likes catamarans.

After all that, she extended our visa until March 15th, longer than a month. We were delighted, and started debating about going back to Cane Garden Bay or Great Harbour. We ended up staying the night and checking the weather before making any decisions. While looking at his multiple sites, Al saw that Sunday, the 12th looked promising. So, back to Great harbour to wait out the few days.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Out of Road Harbour, hopefully for the last time

Friday afternoon, we were ready to get out of the marina, and Al thought that we should anchor at the harbour one more night before getting out, waiting for an opening to make our crossing. The idea did not appeal to me, anchoring there again that is, and we made a rash decision to sail instead to the Great Harbour at Peter Island, almost directly across the channel. We untied the boat around 3:00 pm, and reached there around 4:00 to pick up a mooring, quite tucked up into a small bay, which seemed more tranquil than the rest of the few spaces that were available. There was another ball in front of it, but Al chose the one at the back. I was ready with my boat hook, looking at the water. I saw the white bottom, under the pure greenish blue water, truly Caribbean; and asked Al about the depth. 38 feet he said! Incredible. In many places that we had anchored before, we could not see the chain after five feet. This is a deserted harbour, save the Beach Cub bar at the corner, and many boats moored.



Technically it was prohibited to anchor around Peter Island since 2003 to protect the fish spawning areas, but nobody seemed to enforce it. There were a few boats anchored close to the beach at the eastern side of the bay, but most of the bay is quite deep. We did not venture into anchoring there, since Al lost his confidence on our anchor, and forecast talks about some possibility of high winds for a couple of days.
Anyway, we got our mooring and settled down. We were close to a high cliff, with big boulders that seemed to be cut by a razor. It is spectacular, and the water in front of it is so light colored, that we have a pool of our own to swim, and an aquarium to watch from outside!



Serenity spoiled; a cat bigger than us sneaked its way onto the ball in front of us. The captain was an old lady, apparently an expert helmswoman, and did not heed Al’s protests. She and her old husband promised to keep their bridle very short, making sure that their stern was just clearing our ball, and settled there. I suggested Al took the name of their insurance company, and we resigned to our watch.

The couple were so close, that we could see what they were doing. The captain must have been tired; she sat at a corner, and started drinking and eating, while the husband did the tidying around. Their sail was let down in a heap, and stayed that way during their stay. They had a wind generator, but it was tied down. So they started their engine for a while, sometime in the evening.

Early in the morning, we saw them up, the lady in her corner, the guy silently watching us. Then we saw him looking through his binoculars at a distance. He had started watching two young couples, kind of snorkelling/beaching around their dinghy. I could see that the old geezer literally following one of the couples riding in their dinghy back to their boat. I felt sorry for both of the old people, life seemed depressing to them, passing them by.

My sentiment quickly turned into anger when they started their engines again. Their exhaust fumes were directly coming to us, nowhere to hide. I asked Al to bring down the dinghy, and leave the boat to swim at the beach club. We stayed away for a few hours. When we came back around 3:00 pm, I saw the lady sitting at her helm, and gave the good news to Al. He thought nothing of it, since there was no other activity at that moment. It seemed to me that she got tired of sitting at her corner, and got the bug of sailing. Yes, after a short time, the guy got to work, and let go of the ball.

We contemplated of getting that ball, but Al was wary of starting the engine just for moving a few yards. He also argued that if we got the front ball, the one at the back would be a prime spot for the new comers, and we would be in the precarious situation. He would say anything to get out of work.

Not too long after, a big mono-hull literally crept in and caught the ball, while we were watching a speed boat pulling a surf-float behind, which seemed to have a mishap. Anyway, when Al saw the helmsman on the boat next to us, he jumped and shouted that they were too big to fit into that space. He showed them a better ball a bit further away from us, and they agreed.

In front or back, that ball was a prime spot, which caught the attention of another helmswoman, while the guy was looking at other places. Shucks, they turned and came to it. But thankfully, their boat was a 34 feet mono-hull, and seemed to fit into the space. We had a short discussion, and heard that it was their first day of charter starting late, and she was apprehensive of not being able to find a calm mooring before dark. I understand perfectly. Poor lady said that they were quiet people, and would like to stay there, since all the other moorings seemed rolly. No arguments there.

The two mornings of our stay we had a wonderful experience with some fish that seemed to live under us. Al saw one fish coming to the surface to check out a piece of dirt floating, but snubbed at it. So Al threw some bread crumbs from our breakfast. Oh my God, it was a scene, how one communicated the existence of food to a hundred of its friends in a flash. We kept on crumbling some crackers that we did not liked, and they kept on coming, catching the crumbs in the air. Al took many pictures and several videos. We looked at the map of St John, which showed the fish living around the Virgins, and spotted our school as the Yellow Tailed Snapper. They are a purplish grey with a fluorescent yellow stripe on the side, and at the tail. Unfortunately it is forbidden to fish here, otherwise we would have caught some with the bucket.





It seems that we had missed the window of crossing, and might stay in Tortola a while more. We have to extend our visa for another month on the 8th, and probably spend the waiting period at Cane Garden Bay, where we can anchor, and live comfortably, with WiFi and Internet being accessible. Al is angry if he can’t get instant access to internet, and starts cursing the system. I, on the other hand, need clean waters to swim and do my regular exercises; otherwise my back gives me trouble.

Mystery of Road Harbour

On Monday, 29th of January, Al decided to return to Road Town, since he had obtained a general kind of an appointment from BVI Yacht Charters for engine maintenance and battery overhaul for Tuesday or Wednesday, or any other day that might suit them. We had some trouble with the start-up battery for the port side engine, so Al wished to have it checked before we start our passage to St Martin/ Sint Maarten. He looks at the weather forecast almost every hour, and saw a promise of 10 – 15 knot wind and less than 1 foot of waves. I don’t understand the forecast; wouldn’t wind and waves go together, if there is wind, shouldn’t there be comparable waves?

When we left my beloved Cane Garden Bay, we headed south west in the lee of Tortola, so the wind was at our back backs, and the waves were mild, perfect for sailing. We had put up our main sail while at anchor (we saw all the Sunsail people doing it, and thought it a good idea), turned around and went underway. We were aiming at Great Thatch and Little Thatch islands, which stand guard at the entrance of Soppers Hole, located at the Western tip of Tortola. There are two narrow passages between the Hatches and Tortola, which is called the Thatch Island Cut, quite narrow with 1.5 knot currents. Since the wind was favorable, and one of the engines was iffy, we did motor sailing with one engine most of the way. When we almost reached the Great Thatch, Al tried several times, to start the second engine, and became nervous when he could not. Of course, he had forgotten to push the choke all the way. It was a good thing that he had earlier told me to check that, when he was showing how to start the engines. Anyway, the engine started, and we mostly motored trough the cut. The second narrows lies at a South East direction, and one finds oneself in the Sir Francis Drake Channel, with a sharp turn to East, from where the wind blows with full force. We had to bring down the sail quickly, because the wind pushed us onto the land. Al was telling me to release the line, which I did, but we could not completely head into the wind, so I had to run up to the boom, to literally pull the sail down. It was a bit scary, since Al had trouble with the port side engine, which was overwhelmed with the force of the wind in the sail.

No harm done, just an adrenaline rush for me. The rest of the trip, which was about two hours along the southern shore of Tortola was not too much fun. Waves matched the 20 knot winds on our nose, so it was up and down, up and down. My hands and arms got tired from holding on to the back of the captain’s seat. Al can hold the railing at his side, but on mine there is nothing.
On the way, my brother called and asked us to discuss something on Skype. So as soon as we reached and anchored at Road Harbour, we rushed to Village Cay Marina/Restaurant, and set up the computer. Our favorite waitress Sharon looked at me, and said I looked tired. That was an understatement, just three hours of beating, and I was beat.

Of course, the harbour was rolling like a raging river, and we were stuck in the middle of it. Reaching the anchorage was no escape from constantly moving up and down on the boat. At night, the winds calmed down, but rolling did not subside. That is the mystery; one looks out the window, and sees dead calm waters all around. Is there an undercurrent that pushes the boats or what? Right before it got dark, we thought we should take refuge in the inner harbour, where three marinas are located, with a little space for anchored boats. We anchored at the last space left, very close to the million-dollar catamaran, the Necker Belle, owned by Sir Richard Bronson, some kind of a tycoon, who is aiming to market parts of the Necker Island, also owned by him. Anyway, we were dangerously close to the boat, and I could not take my eyes off the distance between us. We spent a couple of hours there, quite apprehensive of the sudden gusts of wind. All of a sudden, we realized that we had passed Necker Belle’s side, and was headed towards another mega yacht docked at the marina behind us. Fire up the engines, and return to the harbour entrance in the dark! Since Al always anchors there, he knows where to go, so we dropped anchor somewhere in the middle of the channel. I could not see where the chain was going, but hey, we knew that the bottom was holding well there. Also, rolling is better than damaging a boat. Especially such valuable ones, which would be the end of our meager finances.

In the morning, BVI Yacht Charters told us that the work could be done on Wednesday, but we decided to dock there a day before, thinking that marina would be better. Wrong! The other mystery, why would the marina roll like crazy, since it is surrounded by another breakwater? Now rolling was accompanied by sudden jerks of the multiple lines at both our sides. I almost lost my balance several times, when the floor suddenly shifted violently under my feet.

I am telling you, I am not a happy camper! However, I changed my mind about the passage to St Martin. We have been exposed to the same kind of constant movement on the boat for 48 hours, 14 is going to be a breeze. I read the guide books, and convinced myself that starting the trip early afternoon and hard motoring during the night seemed doable. Who knows, maybe I will shake my phobia of going at night.

On Wednesday afternoon, the technician gave a shopping list to Al, for the parts to be changed during the engine service. We went to a nearby chandlery, and got most of the items. Al thought that we needed a new battery, so he asked for a “maintenance free” starter battery. The nice man at the counter said that those batteries were three times the price of the regular ones, and he was not carrying the cheaper, so called no maintenance, because they did not work. He pointed out that the batteries needed water to be added every two – three months, especially in hot climates like the Caribbean. Al was quite surprised; he later told me that those batteries had been extinct for almost twenty years in cars! It never occurred to him to check the water level of our batteries. We came back, and of course the first thing he did was to look. Lo and behold, the malfunctioning battery was almost dry inside. He added some water, and it was good as new!
We had some good news from the technician; the source of the small amount of water seeping into the port side bilge was determined as the swimming ladder connection. Al had been constantly trying to pump the water out without success. The on and off running of the bilge pump was getting on my nerves, and I was occasionally ordered to run to the side, to check the discharge. Most of the time, there was nothing coming out, despite the grinding sound of the pump.
Today (Thursday) Al went into the port side engine compartment to fix the problem. Engines are located under the back steps, and the swivel ladder is mounted on the lowest step of the port side. He took the swim ladder off, successfully cleaned the corroded bolts, nuts and the washers, and used the marine 4200 glue around the washer as the sealant before re-installing it. Somebody gave Al a tip to store the glue in the fridge to keep from setting inside the tube, once opened. Al uses it quite often to fix many problems around the boat. . We are hopeful that there are no other leaks into the hull.