April 6 - April 19, 2008: St. Barthelemy (St. Barts) - St. Maarten
Sunday, April 6, we finally cast off our docking lines in Basseterre, St. Kitts, to take the 42nm trip to St. Barts. What a trip it was - the first 8-10nm we sailed more or less downwind, under genoa alone, and achieved speeds of between 5.9 and 7.8 knots. Not bad. As we reached the Northwestern coastline, the wind grew stronger and, due to our changing course, it also veered closer to a reach. By the time we were in the passage between St. Kitts and Eustatia ("Statia"), we had fairly large and steep seas, and the wind came from between 30 and 60 degrees relative to our bow. Boy was a glad when we finally were just about 4 nm away from land, saw Les Petites Saintes, actually an unfair name compared to Les Saintes of Guadeloupe as Les Petites Saintes were just two large rocks. The harbor itself is virtually inaccessible by boat, unless one has a reserved mooring (all taken) or is willing to go "stern-to" - not attractive as one still would have rolled, standing sideways towards the wind. We opted for anchoring and found a spot pretty far out. We did not realize how rolly this anchorage was - the worst so far in our entire trip.
As to the island itself, it is quite beautiful, and Gustavia, its capital, is a cute little town with lots of elegant shopping - not the mass type we had seen in all theother islands. There are lots of small boutiques, also some well-known designers (Dior, Longchamps, etc.). There were lots of nice restaurants. We went out to lunch twice, walked around town, bought some good French bread at the local bakery and purchased another pair of really nice shorts for me... The lunch at the "Wall House" was exquisite, the house wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, delicious and a lot cheaper than the less wonderful wine we had the day before in another restaurant (where also the cuisine was not as great as it was here). We met a young couple of Toronto who had taken a catamaran day-trip from St. Martin to St. Barts. We started chatting - it was fun.
We also took the dinghy to the place where locals create place mats, bottle covers, napkin rings, dolls, etc., all made of straw, and purchased a bottle cover - just as a souvenir of the island. To find the particular place, we took the dinghy to a small bay, tied it up at the dinghy dock, and walked up a fairly steep street (assuming that the store(s) were located there). We had a gorgeous view over the harbor and the bay with Impromptu lying there. Of course, we took pictures - see for yourself. As the road ended at private homes, we walked back down to find the straw work just across from the beach. An elderly lady had displayed her wares on her property wall, and she ran inside to get another bag of smaller items to show us. It was an experience.
Checking in for customs and also to pay our anchoring fee - a first in the entire Caribbean so far - was easy, with the officials sitting in a fancy air conditioned office, overlooking the harbor. Everything got done in one step right at the Capitainerie - very easy. Anchoring fees for our boat amounted to Euro 8 per night, not too bad.
Yesterday, April 9, we left our anchorage early in the morning to sail to another small bay where the snorkeling is supposed to be excellent. This bay is situated at the Northern-most shore of the island and is well protected from the wind. St. Barts as well as St. Maarten have meanwhile created protected areas around their islands to preserve their beaches, bays, and wildlife. Thus, this particular bay "Baie des Colombiers" has moorings to tie up to and limits the size of boats permitted as well as the activities, e.g., no anchoring, no jet skis, only swimming, snorkeling, wind surfing, etc.
Well, we had intended to do a little snorkeling. However, things came differently than planned. The moorings have a rather strange and difficult set up: the mooring balls have a very thick line that comes all the way through the ball from the anchor and is then covered with a hose-type material and tied into a rather short loop. Boaters are supposed to feed their own line through this loop. The issue, the loop cannot be pulled up, requiring for them to bend very far down and feed the line through with a boathook. Well, we certainly have not mastered this science and in the process of trying (against rather strong winds which did not permit the boat to stay in place without one of us at the helm and managing the gear), the mooring slipped away and got stuck under the boat. Now, we were "tied up" backwards (with our stern) but certainly could not get off. So, we started working without using the engine (we feared for damage of the propeller), with Juergen in the water. All efforts were in vain. Another boater came by dinghy to help. We tried to tie another line from the mooring to the other side of the boat to loosen the mooring - nothing worked. On the contrary, we damaged our toe rail a little (Juergen sanded most of that away again to the extent possible). A second boater came by dinghy and suggested that the two dinghies pull Impromptu backward so that the mooring line got slackened and the mooring ball freed from Impromptu's bottom. With me at the helm, using the bow thruster, Juergen in the water, and the two men pulling Impromptu, she was finally free. Then Juergen tied two lines through the mooring ball eye while I now was able to use the engine to keep the boat in place - against the strong (18-20 knot) wind. We invited both Tom and Brian over for a drink, but neither came. They just had been happy to help (and went snorkeling thereafter).
Juergen had gotten his left thumb caught (again) between the mooring and the line - another injury which he, however, compares to "accidentally hitting your thumb with a hammer" - that must be fun... and the pain "wonderful"... He was totally exhausted from trying to loosen Impromptu from the mooring's grip and so, we decided to just enjoy the bay from the boat. A huge turtle swam by. Unfortunately, she / it dove down as I got my camera ready - they are certainly photo shy... too bad, because this particular one was the largest I have ever seen, and I am sure you all would have enjoyed the photo. Well, maybe, another time...
Around 1415 we left the anchorage again and sailed towards St. Maarten under genoa but with the help of our engine. We thought the bridge opening was scheduled for 1730 but were not quite sure as most sailors seemed to arrive - like us - an hour or so ahead of time. In the end, we did have to wait until 1730. We had called Simpson Bay Marina for a slip and were greeted by two dockhands in their inflatable right out in the bay. They escorted us to our slip. We docked "stern-to", an easy thing to do here totally protected from any current and wind, and there were enough hands on the dock as well to take our stern lines, a spring line after I had let our anchor out almost right behind the boats on the other dock across from us. Wonderful, we can step easily onto a small finger dock - again, just like in St. Kitts, just a little nicer.
Today, April 10, Juergen took the dinghy to check in with Customs and Immigration while I tried to check in at the Marina office. Well, he forgot his money and had to come back to get it. I could not finish the process at the Marina office because I did not know how long we were going to stay - particularly since we also wanted some work done on the boat (oil changes of our engine and our generator, bottom paint redone - after a power wash, and possible getting our teak sanded). Thus, we needed to speak to Bobby's Boatyard first to see what their schedule.
The payment of bridge and harbor fees became a nightmare. The woman at the Customs and Immigration / Port Authority office first told Juergen that it would cost $ 280 for Impromptu, then, upon his complaint, she indicated $ 185, then after we double-checked for the fees and complained again, her supervisor intervened and reversed the $ 185 charge, reduced it to $ 72. - all this took way over an hour - amazing. Also converting our 48.4 feet of boat length into meters was no small feat (for her), claiming that Impromptu was over 15 m long (which she is not) - some of her charges were even for boats between 18 and 23 m - how she got to that account, we will never know - and don't care to.
In the meantime, we spoke to Bobby's inside Simpson Bay - they could not do all the work and suggested that we take Impromptu to Philipsburg where Bobby's main yard is. There, they can do all the work we need done, and they can even accommodate us for early Monday morning work - for four days. This means that we will / should be done and relaunched on the 18th, the day Peter will come to visit - at least that seems to be the plan right now. We will find out later when we check our emails etc. We have not done so since leaving St. Kitts as in St. Barts, we did not feel like walking around with the computer, particularly since the dinghy ride into town was quite long.
Now,that we know that we will have to be in Philipsburg at 0800 on Monday morning, we hope to stay in this marina until Sunday afternoon for the 1650 bridge opening. We will then sail down to Philippsburg - about 4-5 nm, and tie up at the gas dock for the night. We may need to check into a hotel for the four days of work on the boat - not a bad idea either.
April 11 - Friday We had been walking around the yard when we ran into Dietmar (of Romany Life) and his friend Larry. We had last seen them in Montserrat and spent two evenings and a day with them touring the island. Remember. They had come to look for us as they knew that we were docked in the marina. We spent the evening and the next day with them. We helped Dietmar and Larry to provision their boat for their trip to Bermuda (with crew) as of May 3rd, when they join the 1500 regatta up North, had a small dinner on our boat. Larry had prepared lunch which they had brought over to Impromptu so we were sufficiently strong for the shopping venture. We took two local buses to get to the Grand Marche on the French side of the island. All you do is stand by the roadside, anywhere, and raise your hand when the bus arrives. You say "bus stop" when you want to get off, and the bus stops. It costs $ 1.50, no matter how far or short a distance you travel. It is quite something. As Dietmar purchased quite a bit of food, Grand Marche took us back to the marina by minibus - congenial!!!
On Sunday, April 13, we went to "Shrimpy's" a dive of a bar / repair shop and a "swap" place for anything boating related one wants to sell. We had been reminded of our two old Barrien winches of our Cal 39 before we upgraded to self tailing winches. We were still carrying them around with us on Impromptu. Dietmar was convinced that we could sell them. So, we put them on the dinghy and off we went, found a little spot next to some nice Belgium woman who was trying to swap DVDs and books or, in the worst case, sell them. We chatted with other "neighbors" for a while, then Juergen arranged that Hank would come get him were there anyone interested in our winches. We in the meantime sat at the bar, talking with Larry and Dietmar. Suddenly, Hank arrived and told Juergen that there was a couple showing some interest. Off he went - and came back steaming. He had sold them. The couple would go to the cash machine to get the money and come to our dock at 1500 to pay and pick up the winches. After chatting with Mike, Austrian, manager of Shrimpy's for a while and enjoying a Shrimpy's hamburger, we said good-bye to Dietmar and Larry as they wanted to get ready for their trip up North to Tortola - one leaves in the evening or at night for a daylight arrival there (after about 94 nm). At that time, we saw the couple who had purchased the winches - money in hand. So the business transfer was done dinghy to dinghy. All parties were happy.
Because Winston was sanding our teak deck, we could not go back to Impromptu. We just tied up the dinghy and decided to walk around a little, then we took the bus to Philipsburg. The issue was, we knew where we wanted to go but we did not know which stop to ask for. So we kept sitting in the bus until the driver stopped and got quite upset with us "where do you guys want to go. I keep seeing you sit there. You are not saying anything..." Well, we told him that we wanted to go near the cruiseship dock as we knew that Bobby's Marina was nearby. He told us to get off his bus and take a bus on the other side of the street, i.e., the other direction and to tell that bus driver where we wanted to go. We paid our $ 3.00 for our trip, apologized, and got off. I saw a bus come the other way, raised my hand. The driver, a lady, stopped, waited patiently until we could cross the road (traffic was quite heavy). We told her that we wanted to go to Bobby's Marina. She virtually took us there, albeit with a brief stopover at a lottery place. She tried her luck, as she said, because she had two grand children and needed some luck.
We walked around the marina, talked to the dockmaster to see where we would need to go for the haul out the next day, walked around a little and went back to the bus stop, got off near the Simpson Bay Marina but could still not go back on the boat. So, we stopped for an icecream, walked around some more, even went to a nearby casino, gambled a little - not much, not for long. It is sooooo boooooring! Then, shortly before 1700, we finally went back to Impromptu. Winston was washing off all the teak dust.
April 14 - this morning, we checked out of the marina in very heavy winds, took the 0900 bridge and drove over to Philipsburg. Something was wrong because despite running the engine at around 2000 rpms, we could not go any faster than about 4 knots. Very strange. Juergen thought, the propeller was not properly opened due to barnacles, etc., I thought something had sounded "funny" when he put the engine into gear while waiting for the bridge to open. He does not think so. We will have to have this checked out once the boat is back int he water. Hopefully, it is nothing serious. By about 12 noon we were already hauled and the bottom power washed. They stopped for lunch. We went for lunch as well, checked out the hotel we had been recommended, booked for two nights, went back to the boat. Eventually, someone from the hotel drove me and our luggage to the hotel while Juergen stayed to do some work, supervise, etc. I went back again to bring something to drink for Winston - he does not like soda water, only still water, gave Juergen some juice, picked up a few more clothe items and went back to the hotel to unpack and check emails etc.
We hope to drive around the island tomorrow. Photos to follow.
April 15 / 16- while Impromptu was being worked on, drove around the island, stopped at a bunch of beautiful bays, took lots of pictures, had lunch in a gorgeously set restaurant ("Tastevin") in "Grand Case" on the Northern Coast of St. Maarten - though on the French side. We also drove around to find "La Samanna", an Orient Express Hotel, one of my former clients. That day, we did not, but we did the next day (April 17) after studying the map of St. Maarten again and realizing that we needed to turn into a very small almost private looking street. Upon being asked what we wanted, they opened the gate and we drove into the gorgeous and beautifully situated property. Unfortunately, the service was anything but appropriate for this luxury property. I will not go into detail here but the service was third class at best. The food, on the other hand, was superb, and the wine delicious.
We later on drover to Grand Marche, the supermarket we had been introduced to by Dietmar, and provisioned as best we could for the rest of our voyage to Bermuda.
April 18 - since Winston still needed to work on our teak the entire day and we could not be aboard during that time (and also did not want to), we had decided to take a ferry to Saba, a tiny formerly Dutch Island, still belonging to the Netherland Antilles. - see the separate page of our description of that trip.
April 19 - we checked emails before checking out of the marina after Juergen cleared customs again for our planned 1630 bridge opening. We had wanted to fill up our Diesel tank duty free, but a large ketch preempted us from getting to the gas dock on time to make the bridge. So we left without refueling, not a big issue in terms of our supply but an issue in terms of the costs of the Diesel. O well, ...