Friday, February 27, 2009

Back to Work - AntiFouling Paint and more

Kyle dressed to kill, well, paint anyway!

[Kyle]I had almost a week off work on my next trip home but I knew it wasn’t going to be any fun – we needed the bottom painted and we’d planned to be hauled out. Haul outs are all of the work and zero of the fun of boating – zero. Boat yards are hot, noisy, dusty, grubby places to do anything. We planned to make the most of being hauled out and had a host of other jobs to be done that are WAY more convenient to do out of the water – a busy schedule. We had been recommended Bobby’s Marina in the lagoon by several people and this is where we booked our slot.

I’ll spare the details, but life once we were hauled out was a miserable existence; we wake up at first light, work hard all day long (until it’s too dark to continue), and then, stiff and sore from the day, limp over to a cold shower where the grime runs off us in streams. It's impossible not to track mud from the yard everywhere. Aboard, all of the cupboards and storage areas are open with tools and parts spread everywhere. Most of the time there is not even a flat spot big enough to sit (no problem, turn around, go outside and keep on working).

Footprint, showing the world her beautiful new bottom

Gradually, slow step by step, by the end of the 3rd day of the haul out, Footprint hung suspended in the slings, all freshly painted and shiny, clean and tidy inside and ready to go in the water. We got done just in time to limp our aching bodies to the St Maarten regular wednesday night Cruisers Sundowner (a social get together for fellow cruisers). The next morning we were scheduled to go in first thing (which around here is first light). We actually splashed down just after 7am, and then we went to pay the bill – ah the moment of truth. This is where things always go terribly wrong for us. This time we had a pleasant surprise. The bill was too low! Now, if you are ever trying to sell a car, I’m the guy you want to buy it from you because I have a certain negotiating technique which goes like this: “Really – are you sure that’s all you want for your car?” “It seems so nice, don’t you want more?”. Maryanne noticed that the bill omitted labour and supplies for repairing yet more voids in our hull (surely we are done now?). Eventually, even after all my complaining, the bill was not even close to the traditional 4 digits, we did all we could and had to leave anyway.

The thing that really freaked me out though was not the bill, but the staff. Typically, boat owners are treated as nuisances rather than customers (a-la FKG), but in this case, the exact opposite was true. I commented to Maryanne that this was the first time I’d got to the end of a haul out and didn’t want to strangle the yard manager. They even said we were super relaxed people (rather than the usual send off – "Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!"). The boat is in good shape, we didn’t get ripped off, ready for further adventures.

[Maryanne]We arrived at our haul out well prepared. We’d confirmed the rate and agreed the work we’d do ourselves (we were unusually allowed to paint the bottom since the yard was already busy – but normally this would not be the case; policy is all work below the water line must be done by the yard). I’m allergic to bottom paint, so Kyle gets that duty, but I was still busy with waxing the hull, and a host of other jobs on our extensive list. Bobby’s marina is a typical boat yard – dirty and a bit derelict in appearance, but it has a great reputation for excellent shoring of boats, and all our dealings had been friendly with plenty of smiles from the managers and other yard staff. Managers Yvonne (in the office) and Lance (in the yard) were both really helpful and a pleasure to be around, they kept us informed and were happy to help with any questions we had. The one guy that did work on our voids was polite and friendly, let us know when he was done, etc - all the things that make the yard life as easy as possible. AND they had wifi – perfect, and the price was right.

So unlike FKG Rigging (which we hope to never see again), we absolutely recommend Bobby's Boat Yard in the Lagoon (Airport Branch), and did I mention they had WiFi?. (They do have a lot of dogs roaming around, so be warned if that's not your cup of tea).

Footprint with her rigging all back to Bristol, and her bottom hopefully free of marine life for at least the next year, is ready for he next challenge... And next time Kyle comes home we WILL NOT be working on the boat, we'll actually get to go sailing again. Yay!

Back to work.. Unstepping the Mast

[Kyle]I spent another week in the frozen northeast USA (at work) and was relieved to come home to St Maarten for a day, even though I knew that it was to have work done on the boat. We had made arrangements with FKG Rigging to do the remaining work on the mast and rigging after our little Atlantic incident. Maryanne (in her way), as soon as we’d arrived in St Martin, visited FKG and followed up with a detailed email explaining the work required, part numbers and everything. We needed the mast unstepped (removed) so we had to be at the dock with access to a crane.

We’d arranged for the work so far in advance as this seemed the best use of a single day at home for me; I would not be able to do much else with a single day and this way I could prep/watch/learn/help with the process. FKG assured Maryanne (dismissively) that it would be a day job, and they’d reserve the crane so it would be ready. As often happens with boat yards (I recall Portsmouth Boating Center!), we’ve had many instances in which we’ve shown up for work at an agreed time and were told they were busy that day, try again later! With this in mind, Maryanne sent a confirmation email (not-acknowledged), and visited them the week and the day before the agreed work. All to ensure no problems on the day.

We arrived on the dock just before they opened for the day, giving us time to remove the boom and slacken off the stays that hold up the mast (we did as much work as we could ourselves to save time and $$s). Eventually the main guy came to see us and said – “No rush, the crane won’t be here until 1:30pm”. Maryanne asked if they’d seen the list and is there anything else they need to know (she was waved off, “yeah, I just read it all, I’m up to speed”). This made it definitely tight to do all the work in the time available. So, stuck at the dock in wait mode, we checked out some local stores and purchased paint (for the following week's jobs) and a nifty new cockpit table.

First Meal at our new fold up table (with our French Wine!) - Perfect for the cockpit

The crane did arrive after lunch, and our fist real sign that the job would now take more than a day, was the fact that the crane left right after they’d removed the mast (not day rental after all, but hourly rental we assume?). Immediately, this changed the job to a two day job (AND they are charging us dockage by the day!). Worse, it would mean that, yet again, Maryanne would have to manage the work (and get the boat back to the anchorage) while I returned to work. Once the mast was down, I spent much of the afternoon trying to pre-do as much as I could of the work required on the mast (again to speed things up and keep the bill down). At this point, we realized that the new tang (the part that links the mast to the forestay, which stops the mast from falling backwards) was completely different from the old one (was this wrong? Or have they deliberately changed this? – either way it no longer fit in the hole). We pointed this out to our assigned rigger, but he did not seem overly concerned, he said he may have the correct part, or would be able to fabricate it, he’d make something work, not to worry!

Over the course of the afternoon, my treatment from the staff moved from grudging acceptance to rude “get the message - leave me alone” grunts.

Once they’d closed for the day with our mast now locked behind a chain linked fence, we decided to take advantage of Lagoonies bar – just staggering distance from our dock. As luck would have it, Tuesday was “happy day” $1 beers all evening. We met a really nice couple visiting from Boston who’d been to many of the same places we had. It was a pleasant evening enjoying good company. Just as I was thinking “enough”, we were bought a round, and this went on for far too long, far beyond my limit I suffered. The real cap to the evening came after we returned to the boat and collapsed into bed. The mega-yacht beside us (which must remain air conditioned at all times, just in case the owner shows up) ran its generator all night long (it is generally considered impolite to use a generator at a dock, where mains electricity is available to provide the same role much more quietly, and cleanly). We were lucky enough to receive the generator exhaust directly in our bedroom hatch (and later discovered black persistent soot marks all over the water/splash line of our boat). The combination of the alcohol and the exhaust gave me a splitting headache in the morning, which did not make me happy about the 2 mile walk to the airport.

I was still home on the boat when FKG opened. We found them even less friendly. We felt like a definite nuisance and did not feel welcome. By the time I set off for work around Mid-day, it seemed apparent that we would still not have the mast re-stepped that day; I left Maryanne to manage alone.

[Maryanne]Once Kyle left for work, I decided to make the most of being at a dock with ready access to fresh water and set to scrubbing the decks and cleaning up our boat. I did the whole boat, with the back steps the last to be cleaned. I stepped down to the 4th step to enable me to clean the upper steps without bending, the only problem is we only have 3 steps – SPLASH! I took a swim. Nobody noticed, I climbed out, back aboard Footprint, and figured I’d finish off the cleaning and then get myself some fresh clothes and a shower. At this point, our rigger arrived to tell us that there was a problem with our foil (metal sleeve that fits over the forestay wire. It has a groove to accept the fore sail and a roller furler drum at the bottom that allows the sail to roll up / wrap around the sail), it was not put together correctly and was all messed up (he was convinced from original build) and needed some extra parts (which, luckily he had) – much of the repairs we’d scheduled were most likely a result of this build error and not our incident at sea, he explained. I was frustrated, but at least relieved there would be no delay in waiting for more parts. At this point, I made an effort to contact Selden (Makers of the roller furler and foil) and PCI (manufacturers of the boat) to try and understand the tang issue and now the new furler issue. What did we need to do? Was there really a problem? Of course by then it was late, FKG closed and I didn’t expect answers from my emails to Selden and PCI that day either.

While walking along the dock later, I managed to trip over some rigging that had been left stretched across the path (about 3” above the ground) – I managed an impressive dive, landing first on my knees, then my hands, and then my face – Ouch! Witnesses this time, but as is the way, I was more embarrassed than wanting to share my injuries.

It was a pretty depressing evening for me, but that evening I did get an email back from Selden, explaining the tang was a factory approved replacement for our old tang (so it was correct, and we should go ahead and install it), and explaining some (undocumented) difference in the build of the furler specifically for PCI (so maybe it was built correctly??). The next morning (now our 3rd day at the dock) I printed and took the email to our rigger. He looked at it, dismissed it and told me he was doing things the right way. I felt terribly conflicted? Work was going ahead on our furler and I wasn’t sure if it was correct work, nor if it could be undone if it wasn’t. I could not get an internet signal good enough for a phone call, I didn’t know where to turn for help and advice. About this time Kyle called me, he had a short break between flights and he agreed to call PCI and get better details of the special PCI difference. He spoke with the guy who assembles the roller furlers at PCI (he was extra friendly and helpful) and Kyle was assured that the “special PCI difference” was just an internal core extension down into the drum to stop any rattling. It would not affect safety or performance at all – apart from that minor modification, the Selden handbook build was correct. We decided to leave the rigger to do his thing and put up with any rattle we may be left with.

Later that day, the mast was ready to be returned to the boat. The crane arrived and a host of riggers descended on Footprint. I popped out to offer help (ignored), and offered the lead guy the rigging tension chart for the boat – he waved me away; he did not want to see it. I hoped that meant he knew what he was doing. I watched the work while feeling very unwanted on my own boat, and noticed them not placing the back stays correctly – I intercepted and managed to get them to route it properly (while taking a rash of sh*t, since the guy was sat on the step and getting a wet arse while he corrected the problem). Eventually, the work was done (nobody told me that, they just disappeared and left me to surmise it – with a nice dirty deck now!). I sought out the bill and asked for help to walk my boat away from the crane. Eventually I got the bill – GULP!!!! We had deliberately delayed this final work until we reached St Maarten under the expectation it would be cheaper; that certainly was not the case! It was my fault for not getting a quote from the start. What I did know is that we’d spent 3 days at the dock for work that should have taken a day, and it could have been done in a day if they had only ordered the crane for first thing (as initially agreed) – I asked them to remove one day’s dockage from the bill – they refused “non-negotiable”) – for an $1700+ bill, they wanted to quibble over $20. I did not leave in any way a fan of FKG. I still had to reconnect all the electrics, and the boom.

[Kyle]I arrived home, of course irritated at FKG for both their attitude and their price. The first job was to check over the rig, and specifically the tensioning (Maryanne had warned me it seemed very tight). To their credit, the mast was very straight (no bends or S-turns). However, it was leaning slightly to one side and so tight I’m surprised it didn’t crush the cabin top. It was so tight that they had bottomed out the screws on the check stays (they could not have got it tighter if they tried). I spent the rest of the day loosening and correctly tensioning the rigging to specification – fuming at FKG even more. Now the mast is straight, pointed upright and tensioned correctly – no thanks to FKG.

Jumping ahead a few days later, we were at the cruisers sun-downer and mentioned we’d had work done at FKG; we got a knowing look of sympathy from everyone. We even met with one guy that once worked there who said their poor treatment of cruisers has been a real problem for a while and while he felt for us. He said the treatment we received and the price we paid was not at all unusual for FKG. He explained they favor mega-yachts (with mega-budgets) whose captains want it fixed before the owner arrives, no matter the cost. Cruisers like us who remove all the rigging tape and split pins to save an hour of shop labor are not their core business, and they don’t care. This seems to be policy more and more in the boat world, small spenders are an irritant, not worthy of their service/effort. I wonder if this will change with the poor economy? Lesson learned!

[Maryanne]Just in case you didn't get our very subtle message, we DO NOT recommend FKG.

Marigot and Grumpy Customs/Immigration

Marigot Bay & Fort Louis Marina with its spoke docks

[Kyle]From Grand Case, our next stop was the French side of the Simpson Bay lagoon. We got an early start so as to be ready for the 0830 bridge opening. It took is several tries to get the anchor to hold in the loose shells of that side of the bay, but since we were in only about 2½ feet of water, it was easy enough for me to wade out and make sure it was really set. From there, we rowed ashore to the town of Marigot, the Capital of the French St Martin. From the dinghy dock into the town the street was very busy with lots of traffic throwing up dust just like the Dutch side. There was nowhere sensible to walk, so we were constantly alternating between gaps in the traffic and bushes or puddles off to the side. Traffic was way too close and fast and chaotic for my comfort. I felt like we were trying to cross a freeway at rush hour.

Then it started to rain - hard - and it didn’t stop - like Seattle in the winter. For the next week it was all anybody talked about, that time it rained practically all day without stopping. People kept saying things like it was the most non-hurricane rain they could remember. It certainly didn’t make our traffic situation seem any safer.

Eventually, we made it into a quieter part of town and came out of the rain to have a nice lunch at a café under an awning. I don’t know what it is with these French territories, but they really do make noticeably better bread here.

Afterward, we decided to clear out of the French side, which we can do 24 hours in advance. We walked over to the customs office in Marigot. There was no waiting area of any kind, just a sign on a locked door that said knock hard then wait. We did that, and after a few minutes, a very annoyed looking woman opened the door.
“What do you want!?” she barked
“Yes, um, hi. We wanted to clear out please.”
“There’s already people in here. Wait!” she snapped and then shot a look at the sign, implying that we were idiots for not knowing that it really means wait, then knock hard, then wait.


After a while, a big guy who looked like he would kill us if it wouldn’t get him fired came out.
“What do you want!?”
“Yes, um, hi. We wanted to clear out please.”
“I didn’t clear you in!”
“Yes, we cleared in at the Radisson Marina.”
His eye twitched. “You didn’t clear in here!”
Uh, oh. “We understood we could clear in at the Radisson.”

With that, he scowled and held the door and waved us in in the manner of a police officer holding the door as he’s putting someone in a cell. He gestured at a chair in front of a computer and told me to fill out the online form. He kept asking if I knew where my boat was and then arguing with me that I was wrong. Maryanne finally convinced him that we were actually in the lagoon by telling him we went through the 0830 bridge. Anchoring in Marigot Bay has fees and I think he thought we were trying to get away with something. Eventually, he printed the form, said “You’re done.” and showed us the door. [Maryanne]Kyle had to return later in search of a lost baseball cap, and be very nice to the same guy... Luckily he did find his hat, but not at the Port Authority office.

[Kyle]We decided to walk off our disappointment with a climb to the fort overlooking the harbor, which had some nice views of the bay and the town. It was still raining pretty hard, so we took shelter in the nearby Arawak Museum, where we spent a couple of hours enjoying the very good exhibits about the history and geology of the island.

Fort Louis, Marigot, St Martin

We slogged back through town to the supermarket by the dinghy dock to stock up on some nice French provisions for a cozy dinner at home. I got stuck at the wine section. I had this idea that we should buy a nice French wine, but the selection was overwhelming, so my poor brain went into gridlock. Eventually, some nice Frenchman must have noticed the short circuited look on both of our faces and recommended a Corbières (described online as a cheap, uncomplicated red.) I’d never had a Corbières, but he seemed nice, and it was inexpensive, so we bought two bottles. It turned out to be very nice, very friendly on the palate. Well done, anonymous Frenchman!

The next morning, we returned to the Dutch side, cleared in and found an anchorage that’s convenient to almost everything (except wireless signals!), especially a nice patisserie that lets us tie up the dinghy there.

[Maryanne]Anyone that knows us will also know that Kyle and I are not the least bit religious, but we did find ourselves in Nevis on a quest to find the famous black Jesus crucifix (we failed, the church was locked up)... In one of the many rain showers we took shelter in a church in Marigot, only to find us a black Jesus painting.... Interesting world isn't it?

Marigot is small (given it's the capital) but there were lots of great restaurants, and sights... We enjoyed our exploring, but took very few pictures due to the frequent torrential rain showers - so you'll just have to take our word for it.. :-)

Grand Case - French St Martin - Yummy!

[Kyle]In spite of the beauty of the mountains and the beaches around Grand Case, The only thing any of our guidebooks mention to do is go out to eat at one of the many fine restaurants in the area. In fact, they all mention that this is a must do – not to be missed. Grand Case considered the culinary capitol of the island. Nearly every business was a restaurant of some type, particularly on the beach side. We rowed ashore in the dinghy to explore the town.

Grand Case

The dinghy dock was rather menacing looking, made out of concrete with pieces of wood jutting out like dinghy-eating teeth. There was a slight surge, giving the impression that the dinghies already there were a cud being slowly chewed by a cow. We decided the best course of action was to set a stern anchor to hold her off the dock. When we got there, It took me several tries to get our little grapnel anchor to bite into the sand. I finally did get it to hold, tied it to the stern line and had Maryanne pull me in (she was standing on the dock with the painter in one hand). She pulled in on the painter while I slowly let out the stern line so that we could get the dinghy into just the right position so that I could step off but the dinghy wouldn’t touch the dock. As the dinghy approached the dock, I pulled on the stern line and – nuttin’ – no resistance. I pulled up the end of the stern line minus the anchor while Maryanne tried to keep the dinghy from submarining under the dock. Musta messed up the knot.

Well, in the manner that all of these things seem to happen, it was almost lunchtime and all of those many restaurants with all of their balconies overlooking the beach had hundreds of people who got to be entertained by the plight of a sailor that couldn’t tie a knot.

Kyle searches for lost anchor! Oops!

Luckily, the water wasn’t too deep. It didn’t take me too long to realize that my best option was to take off my shirt and shoes and go looking for the anchor, much to the amusement of the dinner-and-a-show crowd. [Maryanne]Sure it didn't take him long to realize this, I was raising my eyebrows and pointing at the water - "get in there and get our anchor back you wally!" was the unspoken command!

[Kyle]The water was up to my neck. I paced back and forth, hoping to kick up the anchor rode but was not having any luck. The surf had streamed the line in some weird direction and the anchor was being slowly buried in the sand. Small groups of people were gathering on the beach and on a nearby pier and pointing helpfully at places they thought I should look, most of which were nowhere near where it could be. A guy on a dive boat threw me a mask but the surf was churning up so much sand it wasn’t doing me any good. Eventually I stepped right on it and dove down to retrieve it. I held it out of the water for all to see. Some people cheered. A few seemed disappointed. I think many were hoping I would give up so that they could go look for it. I did my best to swagger out onto the beach with my best I-had-meant-to-do-that-the-whole-time look so well practiced by clumsy cats everywhere, but I don’t think I pulled it off.

Luckily it was hot and breezy and within a few minutes of putting the rest of my clothes back on, I was dry and no worse for wear. Maryanne and I went from one end of town to the other (about a mile) studying menus so we could decide where we would have dinner that evening. By the far end of town we had seen so many menus that they had all run together and we couldn’t remember which specific place had that specific thing that sounded so good. All of that thinking about food and the long walk was making us hungry, so we stopped at a patisserie and had delicious tarts and strong coffee. We also bought a couple of baguettes for later, only one of which made it back to the boat. That was yummy, too.

I love this picture - this is the remnants after a few French friends spend a couple of hours catching up with the gossip - ah the cafe life. Despite the number of bottles of wine, there were only 4 people at the table - You just know they had fun! And, of course, the birds are glad they left a few crumbs.

The patisserie had this adorable cleanup crew. The second anyone left their table, little yellow finch-like birds would descend on it and vacuum up the crumbs.

View from Le California in Grand Case, St Martin - the food was great too!

We took a couple of hours strolling back along the long beach, taking our time. Eventually, even though it was a bit early, we settled on Le California restaurant, which we chose because it had a balcony relatively close to Footprint and because the menu looked good. We took our time enjoying a nice slow dinner while the sun set. The appetizers were wonderful, the main courses were incredible. I don’t like Pina Coladas but Maryanne had one that she let me taste and it was yum-yum-yummy. Those coconuts were still breathing! Then, even though we knew we had already spent way more on a dinner out than we should have, I allowed the server to talk us into a dark chocolate fondu for dessert. Oh, magnificent chocolate fondu, what an unbelievably fantastic chocolate thingy you are. Wow! That was one of the very few times cheap old me spent that much on a meal and didn’t mind one bit. Everything was absolutely delectable and worth every penny. Ahh, the French and their relationship with food, you’ve got to love it.

Typical Lolos (Food shack) found in St Martin - this is one of many in Grand Case

Our next day in Grand Case, we slept in and went ashore to have an early lunch at the lolos. Halfway between a restaurant and a roadside shack, the lolos are individual kitchens, mostly barbecue, that in Grand Case occupy a common area – kind of like a French/Caribbean food court. Prices here were much more reasonable (ribs for $4 US) and Maryanne and I were able to get a nice lunch for $13 for the two of us, including a cold beer each. As lunch proper rolled around, it began to get a little crowded, so we took yet another beach stroll and ended up at Calmo’s beach bar. Calmo’s has such a nice atmosphere. In the back, away from the beach, they have cozy places to sit with wood floors that resemble what you would find in an arty coffee house. As you go toward the beach, the place very gradually morphs to picnic tables with a sand floor, then to tables in the shade of palm trees, then to beach chairs in the blazing sun, where you can put your feet in the surf. It happens so gradually and seamlessly that it is possible to get exactly where you want to be on the sliding scale of coziness versus beachiness. They make a good strong ti punch there, which I drank slowly, while Maryanne nursed a beer. We stayed for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to take the sunset walk back to the dinghy and Footprint.

[Maryanne]Since this is the last break for Kyle for a while before we focus on boat maintenance, we agreed to spend this trip chilling out. We ate out way more often than we would normally do, and also didn't restrict ourselves to the cheapest of menus we could find. We were both relaxed and enjoyed it... Of course, now we are happy we don't have a motor. We need to work off all these wonderful extra calories!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Anguilla to French St Martin

Checking in, at the Radisson Marina, in Anse Marcel, St Martin

[Kyle]From Road Bay, we cleared out of Anguilla and sailed in nice tailwinds along the coast. Swells from a storm further north crashed into the cliffs sending spray flying. We came around Anguillita and headed hard on the wind toward Saint Martin. The chop wasn’t too bad and after a couple of tacks, we entered the Radisson Marina on the French side of the Island.

Earlier that morning, we had a minor crisis when we realized that French customs was closed from Saturday noon until Monday morning, which would have meant that we couldn’t legally go ashore for two days, thus defeating the whole point. Eventually, I noticed a note on about the Radisson being a port of entry. Our coast pilot did not list it as such. Eventually, I called them on the Iridium phone and in broken French and English was able to determine that they were authorized to act as an after-hours agent for customs – for a fee. “Oh, great! That’s how they get you!” I thought, but it turned out the fee was only five Euros so I shut up and we headed over.

We paid our fee and topped up our water tanks for 10 cents per gallon, which were getting critically low. We had intended to anchor in the harbor outside the marina for the night but once we got there, we found that there was nowhere that wasn’t either too close to the rocks or being hit with the really bad North swell, so we continued around the corner to the anchorage at Grand Case.

It was late and we were really too tired to get the dinghy out and venture ashore, so we just stayed aboard for the night. From the anchorage, Grand Case reminds me very much of Deshaies, Guadeloupe. There are open air restaurants all along the white beach, each with balconies overlooking the surf. Music and people's conversations drifted over with the trade winds. Occasionally, we’d get a whiff of smoke from a barbecue. It had a very lively French feel.

We enjoyed the sounds and sat in the cockpit looking up at the stars and talking about our good fortune. It so did not seem like February.

[Maryanne]Our first impression of French St Martin is that it clearly has a different flavor from the Dutch side. It is much less developed (no casinos, nor high-rise hotels). And of course they embrace their modern European ways (while retaining that Caribbean touch): there is recycling everywhere for a start! In that same eco-friendly vane we spotted these two cute small vehicles.

Small is beautiful, and Environmentally friendly


I just love this picture! Taken on the beach at Road Bay Anguilla

[Kyle]After having spent a week working in the depths of a Northeast winter, Maryanne and I had a week and a half to go sailing. Our first stop was Anguilla, half a dozen miles to the North of St Maarten/St Martin. We got up early to transit the French side and pass under the Sandy Ground drawbridge into Marigot Bay. Once clear of the shore, we unfurled the sails and had a nice fast reach across the Anguilla Channel to the southwest tip of that Island. Once safely around Anguillita rock, we reduced sail and found ourselves beating hard into the trade winds in a flat sea shielded by the limestone cliffs of Anguilla. We weren’t quite able to parallel the coast and ended up gradually diverging north into rougher and rougher seas and stronger winds. This took us toward many of the uninhabited islands of the Anguilla Marine Park system. We weaved our way amongst these islands until we were sure we would have a downwind course to Road Bay for Customs clearance.

Of all the places we've been so far in the Caribbean, Anguilla has the strictest cruising and anchoring restrictions. Fees are high and based on tonnage (a quasi-measure of volume, not actual weight. Even though Footprint actually weighs about 4 tonnes, we have a documented net tonnage of 8 and a gross of 10, mostly because she is wide and has a deep draught with the centerboards down.) Road Bay is the only approved anchorage in the whole of the country without purchasing (in addition to normal port fees) a cruising permit for $100/day or $600/week. Even with a cruising permit, the only other anchorage where it is legal to anchor overnight is in Crocus Bay, just around the corner from Road Bay. All other anchorages on any of the islands are for day use only, many with additional fees for use of the Park moorings.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Footprint’s tonnage is below the bottom tier for the Anguillan fee structure. This means that if we only stay in Road Bay (and we can’t afford to go anywhere else), our entire stay is completely free. The other good news is that Road bay is a beautiful anchorage.

We got in and went to Customs and Immigration. It was one room occupied by two women who called each other Customs and Immigration. Poor Immigration was in a state of constant annoyance at everything in the manner of a teenager who doesn’t like anything. She was particularly annoyed at the Frenchman trying to clear in in front of us. He was having trouble with all of her questions in English and kept asking her to repeat and speak more slowly, which only made it worse. I thought she was going to send him back to where he came from when she asked him for his birth date ever and ever more loudly as if he would somehow comprehend. Maryanne eventually saved the poor guy by translating the phrase for him, thus enabling him to finally escape her ire so that she could focus it on us.

Apart from a lot of eye rolling, she wasn’t so bad with us and we got in quickly.
Next was Customs – Yin to Immigration’s Yang. She could not have been more pleasant. She even told us that if we wanted directions or information at all about anything on the island, feel free to pop in any time and ask. Now I know why they call each other Customs and Immigration.

Road Bay Beach - Anguilla

After that, we took a tour of the town. We went up the main road to the edge of town. Then, for the second minute, we went back to the dinghy via the beach.
Oh, the beach. What a marvelous beach Road Bay has. The sand is about half a step coarser than dust – just heavy enough to keep it from floating around in the air and the color of eggshells. It is so soft. The water in the bay is that amazing Caribbean blue that still doesn’t seem real to me. It looks as if someone liquefied a clear mountain sky and poured it into the harbor. Add in the sound of the surf and the palm trees hissing in the trade winds and it becomes the stereotypically perfect Caribbean beach.

Except for one thing. The commercial wharf dominates the south end of the beach. It is constantly full of barges and cargo ships loading and unloading. Twenty four hours a day there is the constant rumble of tractors and trucks in an almost unbroken line. It actually made for some pretty entertaining ‘TV’ to watch the ships deftly maneuver into the harbor without disturbing the anchored boats. For the life of us, though, we couldn’t figure out why the port was so busy. There are only 12,000 people on the island. They can’t possibly need all of those dump trucks full of dirt or all of those shipping containers. Perhaps there’s some evil genius building an underground lair…

Our second day in Anguilla we really didn’t do much. It was nice to have the freedom to loaf. We got up deliciously late. I had intended to have a nice slow morning, but then I got out of bed and looked out the window.

The water! I forgot about the water. Suddenly, I’m a kid at the amusement park. I don’t need food. I don’t need coffee. I need to throw on some trunks and go swimming! Aaah, what lovely blue water – just barely below lukewarm so that it takes the bite out of the midday sun. After an initial dip, I did go back for coffee and breakfast, but it wasn’t long before we were both outside diving off the boat. Maryanne had decided that she wanted to work up the courage to jump off the cockpit roof. She spent the better part of an hour watching me demonstrate and then doing test runs before finally chickening out in the end. She said the height didn’t bother her, it was the prospect of not clearing the lifelines.

We swam to the beach, then carried our snorkel gear to the reef at the north end of the beach before going back in to explore. It was the usual reef stuff: pretty coral, pretty fish. Maryanne gets the award for spotting a ray which circled us a few times at just the range of visibility.

Elvis' Beach Bar - Anguilla

We swam back to the boat and dried off. Then we took the dinghy to Elvis’ Beach Bar. (Elvis is a local Rasta Man) What a spot. Part of the bar is a boat that had been cut lengthwise and widened just enough to get the bartender in, serving drinks on the ‘deck’. The place was full of other cruisers and we spent most of our time with Jan of Woodwind. She is a contributor to Sail magazine and gave us lots of good tips about the BVI. We couldn’t help but think about our friend JD. He would love it here (well, I guess most people would).

The next day, we just kinda chilled and enjoyed it all. Aaah... Just what we came for.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dutch Sint Maarten

Kyle relaxes at a roadside Mexican in St Maarten

[Maryanne]We are hanging out in Dutch St. Maarten for the Month of February - it is an easy commute for Kyle, and we have great resources to get some final boat project completed for a potential Atlantic crossing over the summer.

However it is not such a great island to tour (remember the warnings we received when we first checked in). The local trails to the beautiful mountain tops are likely places for theft, and physical threat (Think group of guys with a machete) - so we shall not be doing our usual hiking (certainly not me alone). We do hope to visit the Capital (Philipsburg) and in particular the Guavaberry (local killer liqueur) HQ. So far we have stuck to the lagoon area, and streets around, and had absolutely NO issues or ever felt under any threat, so there doesn't seem any need to avoid the place, just be cautious.

The main good thing here though is it is such a great cruiser community. There is a cruiser net every morning (7:30, channel 14), where new visitors are welcomed, and all sorts of advice dished out (along with a buy/sell/swap opportunity).

I've also attended a boat Insurance seminar kindly hosted by a cruising broker for IMIS, and a presentation from a British couple just starting a seabird survey for the lesser Antilles - there always seems to be something going on.

It is easy to get between the Dutch and French side of the island (bike/bus/dinghy, or even water taxi don't require any customs, etc) - so we have plenty of places to shop for groceries and boat supplies.

We've moved our anchorage to be a little nearer to the boat stores, laundry and propane providers. But have been unable to find free internet from the boat, so we use the local "Cappuccino" bar (open 24/7) where we get free wifi and power while I sit drinking and soaking up the atmosphere (alternatives are McDonalds, or Ric's). There are various sign up options but way more expensive than we are used to - I signed up to SMART WIFI for a week, and after paying, never got a signal again... Doh!

All in all, Dutch St Maarten is fine to stop and provision and get any boat work done - It's also fine if you like the bar life, with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from, enough to keep you busy for at least a month, but otherwise I wouldn't plan to hang out here. There are very few inexpensive places to eat out, but there are plenty of happy hours around to ensure drinking need not cost more than $1 a beer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We're Just Fine

Oops, we haven't posted for a while.. Two main reasons! Firstly, well,
we've been busy having fun, and secondly we've had terrible, lousy,
internet service from the boat (unless we want to pay mega bucks, which
we don't). I've taken the computer ashore a few times, but its a pain;
I generally try to multi task if I have to row ashore, and taking the
laptop is no fun if I'm also doing laundry, or grocery shopping etc.

So - what have we been up to? We Left Sint Maarten and headed to the
quiet Anguilla for a few days, then came back and spent some time on the
French Side (St Martin). Now we are finally back on the Dutch side and
getting Kyle ready to go off to work again. We'll post properly soon
with photos and all, but for now at least you know we are safe and well.