Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's been a long time!

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

April 24th 2016
Position 18° 20.094’ N
                64° 55.508’ W

I've been terribly lazy this past year, there is an explanation however, more like an excuse actually... Since buying 'Partners' over five years ago and moving aboard her permanently, to find a viable and accessible internet connection using our Wirie AP signal booster has become more and more difficult. To find free stations to use onboard they must be password free or one must know the password, they also must be strong enough to be viable from a speed standpoint. Most people and businesses, like us all, have become much more security conscious over recent years and protect their systems with a password, so accessibility is not possible for those stations. Internet in the Eastern Caribbean is not like on the mainland of first world countries such as most European nations, the United States and Asia. Some islands are only now just beginning to introduce 4G, only in Puerto Rico have we come across LTE service. We could access reasonable WiFi ashore in many of the cafés that provide it to their patrons. The thing here though, packing up ones laptop in a splash proof dry bag, dinghying ashore and then walking to said café becomes a low priority. Sitting in a café requires one to buy a drink/food to justify ones tenure so after five coca cola's i.e. sixty spoons of sugar, participation in this excursion should be avoided at all cost! So, this ramble is to explain that once it becomes difficult to write and publish a blog, also to post high definition pictures, guess goes to the 'back burner' list and doesn't get addressed, I'm guilty! We are presently in Chaguaramas Trinidad where we are taking shelter from the risks of storms during hurricane season and here we have fairly good free internet onboard provided by Crews Inn Marina where we are berthed, so here I am tapping the keys again...

It has been over a year since I have written and much has happened; After leaving Chaguaramas in Late November 2015 we set sail north for a non-stop passage to Sainte-Anne, Martinique, the route took us to Point Saline at the SW corner of Granada and then a rhumb line course directly to Sainte-Anne, a total of 258nm, we stood 'three on and three off' watches during the night hours, 19:00 - 07:00, which suites us. During the day it is a free for all with whomever wanting to take watch staying in the pilothouse while the other either sleeps, eats or reads. The passage was uneventful. We stayed in Sainte-Anne for two weeks enjoying the wonderful French food, wine and cheese. Being a full department of France all the goods required to sustain the island are shipped or flown in from France, very little, if anything comes from the United States or other Islands. We feel the quality of all produce and foodstuff is of the highest standard. The influence of Europe is evident where there is a move away from and to ban any foods that are genetically modified. The meat is void of hormones and the cattle are grass fed. All this adds up to, what we feel, is a more healthy lifestyle. Anyway, we love the civilized way of life, lunchtime is sacred with almost all people stopping to enjoy an hour or two's break; the shops close and the restaurant's buzz with activity. Lunch, for many here, is the main meal of the day and those eating a good lunch may have a light leisurely dinner later in the evening. It is not unusual to find many restaurants' still open after 10PM full with patrons enjoying conversation, wine and a little food. Weekends too remain sacred with some shops closing on both Saturday and Sunday and most shops closing on Sunday.

By early December we began to prepare for our next passage which was to Antigua where once again we had planned to spend the Christmas Holidays. A group of us had planned a Christmas gathering many months previously and having had such a great time in Antigua for Christmas 2015 Gavin, onboard 'Secret Smile,' was the instigator to, once again, try and repeat that event. Many of us were now anchored in Saint-Anne so the plan was to travel north together stopping in Portsmouth, Dominica and Deshaies, Guadeloupe for overnight rests before reaching Antigua. In Deshaies we went ashore to clear out from France and also to visit one of the best pizza restaurants in the Caribbean, oh it was good! All was well overnight and in the early hours of the morning half a dozen boats set off from Deshaies towards Jolly Harbour, Antigua. the conditions were favourable with steady east winds and 4' or less seas, ideal conditions for the sailing boats and perfectly okay for 'Partners', while our stabilizers were working! You guessed it, half way to Antigua, a 40 plus nautical mile passage, our stabilizers stopped working. Upon inspection it was apparent that the system had lost oil pressure indicating a leak somewhere. Without stabilization our round bilge, full displacement hull, was rolling! Life became quite uncomfortable, not dangerous but uncomfortable. We finished the trip and were very happy to arrive at Jolly Harbour. We cleared in to Antigua at the Immigration, Customs and Port Authority offices which are a short dinghy ride from the anchorage. We only stayed in Jolly for a couple of days before we travelled south and east round to Falmouth Harbour which was to be our anchorage for the Holidays. We were able to find a hydraulic technician to work on our stabilizers. We carry many spares and the technician determined that we had a defective hydraulic ram on our starboard unit, fortunately we had a spare! It didn't take long to effect the repair and after a good test ride we approved the job.

By this time it is mid December and all the participants have arrived. 'Life on the Corner' the restaurant we enjoyed our Christmas Dinner in last year sadly was closed! We all made suggestions for a venue and eventually decided that Pillars, a very nice restaurant in Nelsons Dockyard was to be the Christmas dinner venue. We had many good evenings leading up to Christmas and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Pillars. After Christmas we left Falmouth Harbour and visited many of our favourite bays, Antigua is blessed with so many lovely beaches and bays and claims to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year! Soon it was time for us to depart...

Lavinia and I with Les, our good friend onboard 'Golightly', had decided to visit St. Martin. Neither of us in three years of cruising the Eastern Caribbean, had cruised there. We planned to stop at Saint Bart's for a few days too. Our passage was uneventful and we made a safe arrival to Anse Colombier. In the bay there are many mooring balls which we used. Saint Bart's is a beautiful Island but being a playground for the rich and famous, is expensive! We enjoyed two days ashore walking around the capital Gustavia. We also marveled at the congregation of so many of the worlds biggest mega yachts which gravitate here for New Year festivities. St. Bart's is the place to be for New Years Eve; the island has gained a reputation for great festivities and a good time, the word has definitely spread among the rich and famous...
Roman Abramovich yacht Eclipse
(533' Long)
Arctic P, with Mariah Carey and
her children onboard

Leander G, the yacht the
Queen Elizabeth II of England
was lent gratis by Sir Donald Gosling 
to complete her Diamond Jubilee tour
around the UK in 2012
Just 14 nm from St. Barts is Simpson Bay, St. Martin which is our next port of call. In over three years of cruising in the eastern Caribbean neither Partners nor Golightly, our sailing companion, had visited St. Martin. St. Martin is an island shared by the Netherlands and France, essentially split equally the French half is the north side of the island and the Dutch side is the southern side. The island does not have a boarder as such and once one is cleared into either country one has free rein to visit the whole island. St. Martin is completely duty free and therefore is an attractive destination from a shopping and provisioning standpoint, the selection of goods is fantastic and there is very little one cannot purchase here. For the items one cannot find the shipping of same is inexpensive, easy and duty free. In the centre of the island is a large lagoon providing a calm sheltered anchorage in all weather. The downside of the lagoon, however, is that it is extremely 'fertile'; barnacles grow overnight here irrespective of the type of antifouling paint one may have and a monthly scape is required to negate this unwelcome marine growth. For those cruisers planning a visit here it is my suggestion that if you are to enter the lagoon you do so through the Dutch bridge as the navigation is easy and depths are less worrisome than on the French side where groundings are common place. Once in the lagoon travel to either the Dutch or the French sides are possible. We decided to enter the lagoon and anchor on the French side in Nettle Bay...the water here is a little less fertile and clear, clear enough in our opinion to swim and make water. The area is also less crowded and generally quieter. Once anchored we all took Partners dinghy ashore to Island Water World chandlery on the French side where we could clear-in using the usual and inexpensive (2 euros), simple computer system common to all the French islands. By the way one must clear-in and out from St. Bart's and similarly the same in St. Martin which is unlike Martinique, Les Saintes and Guadeloupe where one clearance is good for travel to all the islands providing the visits are consecutive. There are bays on both the French and Dutch sides suitable for anchoring, the most popular being Marigot on the French side; the advantage of using Marigot is the clear blue water and less marine growth. It is almost as convenient as the lagoon and only requires a slightly longer dinghy ride to transit to the Dutch side of the island. The bay is well protected except from a northerly swell. St. Martin is an excellent place to have work done, there is every type of marine related business here and most appear to be reasonably priced. Les, unfortunately, had to replace his windlass while here and had unlimited choices of windlasses in the well stocked chandleries plus lots of choices of skilled labour to complete the installation. The provisioning choices here are limitless and we took advantage, mainly in the French supermarket's, to literally 'load up' with great French food before we left, it's sooo good. We all enjoyed St. Martin and will return...

Partners parted company with her sailing companion Golightly and we headed NW to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. I had a doctors appointment in St. Thomas in April and we wanted to cruise the British, US and Spanish Virgins.

North Sound Virgin Gorda
Our anchorage with pink flamingo
in the salt pond

Friends enjoying the view and lunch at
Hog Heaven, a must visit!
We arrive safely in Virgin Gorda and cleared in at Gun Creek where the dinghy dock is literally outside the customs and immigration office, very convenient. We always enjoy time here and visit both the Bitter End Yacht Club, Saba Rock and Hog Heaven, the view is not to be missed. Our anchorage here is just south of Prickly Pear towards the west end, we can dinghy everywhere within the North Sound from here. After a few days of relaxing we cruised west down the Sir Francis Drake channel to Jost Van Dyke in the BVI where we cleared-out. We love to anchor just south of Little Jost Van Dyke island it is usually empty, the water is crystal clear and swimming and snorkeling is a joy. The island is uninhabited although there is one very nice beach bar at the west end. Just across on the main island is Foxy's Taboo which is an annex to the legendary Foxy's located in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke.

We spent the next month just island hopping in the Virgins before arriving in Farjardo, Puerto Rico. We stay in Sunbay Marina which has become our 'Northern' marina home. Olga, the owner, takes exceptional care of us and 'Partners' during our visits. We fuel up here, visit Costco's, Walmart, Home Depot and many other stores...Lavinia visits TJ Maxx and all those 'women' shops! By time we have completed our stay we are provisioned well enough to cruise for a couple of months without having to plan food stops, perfect for the British Virgin Islands where food and supplies are expensive. The USVI island of St. Thomas is a duty free island and is also reasonable for shopping although not quite like Puerto Rico. We like the Charlotte Amalie anchorage and the comings and goings of the cruise ships, is entertaining. Our favourite bay is Magens on the north side of the island it has a beautiful beach and is huge, bigger, in fact, than Charlotte Amalie. The beach is beautiful and the odd thing is that the bay is usually empty! A note for other cruisers is: one cannot beach ones dinghy so there are two options, one is to anchor just off the west end of the main beach and wade in, the other is: one can beach ones dinghy on the small beach on the west side of the bay from here it is possible to safely wade in; we often spend time on the little beach relaxing and swimming , it is so private and unspoiled. While in Magens Bay we met Tony and Angela, husband and wife crew of the 118' yacht Andrea Cay.
Andrea Cay
They invited us aboard to have a tour and oh, what a beautiful yacht and the room, the boat is huge! The engine room is a whole deck! We enjoyed each others company immensely and had a great few days together, subsequently have stayed in touch with them through Facebook. We sincerely hope that our cruising courses cross again soon. April has arrived and back to Charlotte Amalie we go, after my routine doctors visit we will begin our trek east and south. On our way round to Charlotte Amalie we stopped at several of our favourite anchoraged, Francis and Maho on St. John then to Christmas Cove where, of course, we had to have a pizza from the pizza boat 'Pizza Pi'.

One other obligatory visit was to the 'Room With a View' in Charlotte Amalie. The happy hour prices are terrific!

It is now the third week in April and we are looking for a weather window to set off back to St. Martin. Our plan is to 'Yellow' flag it through the BVI...


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