Archive for April, 2010

Double Dutch: Sint Maarten and Saba

April 26, 2010

Escape From St. John – Wed April 14

(posted from Deshaies, Guadeloupe April 26)

It seemed like we would never leave St. John, but leave we did.  We had a very enjoyable time there – especially in Coral Bay, but it was time to move on.  We left shortly after lunch so that we would arrive in Sint Maarten after dawn the next morning.  This was our last big eastward passage so when we got a window with reasonable seas and wind other than on the nose, we took it.  The trip went as planned – mostly motorsailing, but a few hours of sailing at the end.  We approached Sint Maarten after dawn and scooted into the Phillipsburg harbor just ahead of a couple cruise ships.

We anchored about 7:15.  I noticed a few similar looking “high-performance” boats on moorings as we threaded our way through the anchorage.  It turns out they are retired Americas Cup 12 Meter boats used for day cruises.  We anchored next to Stars and Stripes.

12 Meters: Stars and Stripes and a Canadian boat

Geography Lesson

The island is half French (Saint Martin) and half Dutch (Sint Maarten).  The story goes that both countries colonized the island, but rather than fighting over it they agreed on a contest.  A Frenchman started walking from one side of the island with a bottle of wine and a Dutchman started walking from the other side with a bottle of gin.  Where they met would be the boundry line.  The French ended up with the larger half because the gin was more potent than the wine.

Phillipsburg Beach and "Boardwalk"

Phillipsburg is the cruise ship port.  It has a long “boardwalk” area along the beach and a shopping district about two streets deep.  Because it is a duty-free island, there are many, many jewelry and liquor stores.  Most cruise ships come in the morning and leave late in the afternoon, so the shopping district is packed every day.

Civics Lesson #1

Each time we enter a country we have to clear in.  Most countries also require you to clear out just before you leave.  The process is mostly a formality – you fill out a couple forms, show them your ship’s documents and passports, and maybe pay a fee.  There is an immigration station in Phillipsburg and I managed to find it after a long, hot trek.  I filled out the forms and handed them all my paperwork, but they weren’t satisfied.  It seems they expected us to have a clearing out document from the last country we visited.  Our last port was St. John, VI, a US territory and as US citizens, we are not required to clear out of a US territory.  The previous country we visited was the Bahamas, and they do not require you to clear out, either, so we had no clearance document to show.

I thought I was going to end up in a Dutch Jail.  I apologized, plead ignorance, and looked ashamed.  They decided not to throw me in jail or even fine me, just made me promise never to do it again.

We spent a couple days in Phillipsburg and then a wind change made the anchorage rolly, so we moved over to Simpson Bay.  This was clearly the boating area.  The anchorage was full of cruisers and the mariTnas catered to mega-yachts.  There are two marine stores and some other marine services – it’s a great place to stop for parts and repairs.

Civics Lesson #2

Simpson Bay is divided into two parts – Dutch and French.  If Simpson Bay is your first landing point on the island, you have to clear in on the side where you will anchor.  Once in Simpson Bay you can dinghy to the other side of the island and no one seems to care about immigration formalities. 

Go figure.

We spent a few days in Simpson Bay.  We visited both marine stores many times, did laundry, sampled a couple restaurants, and got fuel.  We did a day trip to the French side and had a wonderful lunch in their marina area.

We saw a a nice weather window for going to Saba (“SAY-ba), a small Dutch island to the south.

Civics Lesson #3

Despite the fact that Sint Maarten and Saba are both Dutch, we still had to check out of Sint Maarten.  In addition to filling out forms and showing documents, we also had to pay fees for the drawbridge, for anchoring, and something else.  $64 later we were free to go – with a clearance document in hand.

The trip took about half a day and we were able to sail much of it.  We often drag a fishing lure on passages and this was no exception.  About 1 1/2 hours out of Saba we got a big hit on one pole.  As usual I raced to the back of the boat and started to try to land the fish.  I had just finished reading The Old Man and the Sea the night before and I was beginning to see how he felt.  This one didn’t want to give up, so it took me about 1/2 hour to get it to the boat.  It was a Dorado, aka Mahi, aka Dolphin fish.  When I think of cruisers catching fish – this is the one I think of.

Me and My Mahi

So what is Jackie doing while I fool around on the aft deck?  She navigates, trims the sails, steers or adjusts the autopilot, gets the gaff and helps me land the fish, takes pictures, and looks up the fish in one of our books.  Then she divides up the cleaned fish and stows it.

This fish was over 40 inches long, and weighed about 20 pounds.  It took a real coordinated effort for us to get it on deck.  Then it took me close to an hour to clean it.  That night we had our friends over for Dolphin dinner.  The rest of the fish filled our reefer and freezer.






It’s pronounced SAy-ba.  It’s essentially a mountain top sticking out of the sea and has no place to reasonably land a boat.  How it ever got populated is beyond me.  We took a park mooring ball off the in Ladder Bay on the west side of the island.  This was the old anchorage – one of the few places around the island where the water is shallow enough to anchor.  Early settlers carved 800 steps into the side of the mountain and until the new harbour was built on the south side of the island, this was the only way anything or anyone got on the island.  To make things easier, the Customs House was built halfway up.

800 Steps to the Top - The Customs House is only halfway up











Civics Lesson #4

Harbor on South Side of Saba

You check in by taking your dinghy into the harbor on the south side.  The harbormaster was out on the dock, so the ferry captain gave us our paperwork and helped us fill it out.  When the harbormaster came in we gave him the forms, our clearance from St Maarten, and $20.  He gave us a stamped clearance form and we were good to go.  Another form and $12 at the park office for fees left us $5 in pocket.  We stopped at Pop’s Diner for a soda and a Caribe ($4.50 + $.50 tip)

We only stayed a couple days, but we were busy.  We snorkled on a reef/boulder field near our boat each day.  One day we caught a cab from the harbor, through The Bottom and over The Road That Couldn’t Be Built to Windward Side.  (I’m not certain, but I think the richest person on the island has the clutch and brake shop). From there we hiked up Mt Scenery.   Amazingly there is a cement path and more than 1100 steps almost all the way up the mountain, but the trail is very steep.  The last stretch is a mud path through the cloud forest and then up some boulders to the top.

Looking down from Mt. Scenery

It takes a hard man to climb a mountain - Eric at the top of Mt. Scenery

We survived the hike up and back down.  Our taxi driver lives in town near the end of the trail, so we walked into town, had lunch and picked up a few groceries, and then crossed the street to his house.  His wife called his cell phone and a few minutes later he was there.  The ride to and from Windward Side was nothing but breathtaking views.  The road runs along the side of a mountain and the stone wall between you and the valley is usually only a foot or two high.  Very exciting.

Next: Guadeloupe

US Virgin Islands

April 20, 2010

St. Thomas (posted from Sint Maarten)

The weather forecast was for typical east tradewinds for the next few days. The winds tend to be lighter early and fill in as the morning wears on, so We left Culebra very early. The winds were already filling in and the seas were still lumpy from the previous day. We did a long tack to the southeast and then one back to the northeast to bring us into the lee of St. Thomas. We expected the waves and wind to be a bit less there. We tacked a couple more times and then motored the rest of the way in.

We anchored in Honeymoon Cove on the west side of Water Island. This put us some distance from the actual harbor in Charlotte Amalie, but we were off a nice beach and within an easy dinghy ride to Crown Bay Marina. The marina has a nice resturaunt, grocery store, laundry, and marine store, and is convenient to other local stores. We could also catch the Safari buses and ride downtown for a dollar. We still got some of the Charlotte Amalie flavor – there was a cruise ship dock next to the marina and they went past the back of our boat on the way in and out.

Honeymoon Bay, St. Thomas

Cruise ship leaving St. Thomas

St Thomas is a typical cruise ship destination and because it is a duty-free port, the waterfront is lined with shops and restaurants. We spent some time cruising the shops, but also took a couple excursions to the post office to pick up a package and to a fabric store to get more sunbrella for boat projects. These side trips are interesting in that we get to places the typical tourists never see.

Christmas Cove (3/28)

We left St. Thomas and motored east towards St. John. There was plenty of wind, but again it was right on the nose. As we approached the east end of St. Thomas we could see the race boats in the Rolex Regatta. We had to thread our way between the race courses and the path took us to Christmas Cove on Great St. James Isle. We motored in, dropped the hook, and watched the races off our stern.

Christmas Cove is a pretty place with two reefs. One is right off the beach and the other splits the cove into north and south halves. It is a fish sanctuary, so there are lots of fish that would otherwise be dinner. A lot of the local day charters bring their customers there to snorkle.

St. John (3/29)

The next morning we motored the few miles to Cruz Bay, St. John. We were expecting a package there. Cruz Bay is a small, touristy town, but it’s much more quaint than St. Thomas. Out package hadn’t arrived yet so we headed for one of the coves on the southeast part of the island to wait. We made it around the southwest corner of the island, but the engine died. We had to replace a fuel filter on the way to St. Thomas and it again looked like a fuel blockage problem. We put up the sails and headed back for Christmas Cove. We decided to rest for a couple days.

We found the blocked fuel line and hope that the problem is now solved.

We ruturned to Cruz Bay two days later, but still no package. The next day we motored around the island to the Coral Bay area. Coral Bay is quite large and has many smaller bays off it. We anchored in the Coral Harbor area. The settlement stretches around the harbor. It’s a haven for hippies who never left the sixties, but for better or worse, the modern era is slowly finding Coral Harbor. It’s iconic Skinney Legs restaurant and Love City market now share the area with some more trendy, upscale competition.

Welcome to Coral Bay

Coral Harbor was fun, but a shift in the wind brought rollers into the harbor and Compass Rose rocked incessantly, so we moved across Coral Bay to Johnson Bay. Coral Harbor might seem like the end of the road, but Johnson Bay is really quiet. There are homes and a small campground along the shore, but except for a couple of day cruises coming from Coral Harbor and a small turnover in cruising boats, it was quite peaceful.

Failed/patched solar charge controller - why we wait for packages

There was a nice little reef with glass eyed snappers just waiting to be speared and a field of conch.

Dinghy load of conch

I finally caught some of the elusive conch and learned how to clean them.

This small, tasty grunt was swimming behind the snapper I missed

Hard to believe it, but between recovering from sore throats and waiting for packages, we spent two weeks in the Coral Bay area. Finally a weather window opened.

Next: Sint Maarten

Spanish Virgin Islands

April 2, 2010

Viequies  (posted from Coral Bay, St. John, USVI)

On Monday, March 15, we left Puerto Patillas, Puerto Rico and motored east to Viequies, one of the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Viequies is a long, narrow island with a fairly small population.  Much of the island was owned and used by the US military for various purposes.  These areas were closed to the public.  Most (all?) of these areas have opened again.

The trip over was uneventful – a lot of motoring.  Mark and Michelle were out ahead of us on Reach and spotted a mother whale and her baby.  We were too far back to get more than a glimpse.

We planned to work our way along the south side of the island to Sun Bay and stay there for the night. We reached Sun Bay and it didn’t look very protected from the swell.  Not wanting to rock all night at anchor we continued on to Ensenada Honda.  The bay goes back in and around behind some reefs, so we figured it would be still all night.  We find being rocked to sleep is over rated.

Just as we turned into the bay and looking for the reefs we got a hit on the fishing line.  Luckily there was room to slow the boat, reel in the fish, and then negotiate the channel back into the anchorage.

Dewey, Culebra

Mark and Michelle planned to stay a day or two to snorkle and fish.  Jackie and I decided to continue on to Culebra.  We were hoping to catch up with our friends Roland and Kathleen on M’Lady Kathleen.  We met them when they passed through the Chesapeake on the beginning of their cruise. Now, about five years later they are on their way home.  We had been staying in contact by email when we had a connection and last we heard they were in Dewey, Culebra, but we had no idea how long they planned to stay.

The trip up to Culebra was easy and as we motored into the harbor, there was M’Lady Kathleen.  We anchored and tracked Roland and Kathleen down at the Dinghy Dock restaurant.  It’s lucky we arrived when we did because they planned to leave the next day for Sun Bay, Viequies – they would have passed us going the opposite way!  They decided to stay a few more days and we had a lot of fun visiting with them.

Beautiful Flamenco Beach, Culebra

Tanks for the memories, Flamenco Beach

Culebra is also a small island, but it has a nice little town, ferry service to Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and an airport.  It also has some very nice beaches and good coral for diving. We spent an afternoon at Flamenco Beach, perhaps the nicest beach on the island.  Oddly, there are no flamingos on Flamenco Beach, but there are a lot of Pelicans and we had a lot of fun watching them fish.  Culebra was also used by the military and at the far end of the beach are the rusty remains of a tank.  The salt has corroded it away quite a bit, but occassionally people paint it in various gay colors to spruce it up a bit.

Reach arrived after few days.  They had been exploring a cove on the east side of the island and the small neighboring island of Culibrita.  We accompanyied them to an anchorage on the west side of Culebra and dove on a nice coral bed.  Lots of great fish, but being in a preserve we could only look, not catch, clean and eat.

We move back into Dewey were we waited for a package to arrive.  While waiting we decided to take the ferry to Fajardo, PR, and do some shopping.  The ferry is a great service and only costs a couple dollars each way. The only downsides are that it leaves at 6:30AM and they don’t serve coffee on board. One of the pastimes on the trip is sleeping.

Sleeping on the ferry is no special feat

In Fajardo we found a plaza with a Walmart, a West Marine, and a few other stores of interest and had a relatively successful day of shopping.

Next: St Thomas, USVI