Friday, December 14, 2012

Puerto Rican Excursion

November 28

The ferry from Culebra to Puerto Rico runs quite a few times a day and in various formats.  We learned later that there are a number of boats but essentially they seem to fit into two categories:  the high-speed cat that takes about 45 minutes and the ferry that takes about 90 minutes.  The amazing thing about the trip is that as a foot-passenger, the cost is minimal at only $2.25 per person one-way.  We decided that for less than $10 for the two of us, it was a pretty good deal to go and explore the eastern end of Puerto Rico.

Up bright and early we queued up to get our ticket for the 6:30 am high-speed ferry.  Even before we were aboard, we were chatting with a woman in line who is a live-aboard cruiser currently anchored in Dakity.  The ferry to Fajardo, PR and a short taxi-ride would take them up to the Wal-Mart for provisioning and other errands and this is a typical cruiser's shopping trip in this area.  Once onboard, we were introduced to other folks heading over for the day and before the end of the trip we had met Sebastian who runs a day-charter from Culebra to go out fishing and exploring.  All highly recommended renting a car for the day since the ferry terminal is pretty-much in the middle of nowhere and not even really in Fajardo, so there is not much to see on foot.  Sebastian made a phone-call and before we knew it, we were all set up with a car and the driver was booked to meet us at the ferry to take us to the office.  In the process we got to see Puerto del Rey where Mowzer makes her home in hurricane season and then we were off to explore for the day.

Puerto Rico is such a large island that we knew we had to pick just one thing to do for the day, so we chose to visit the rain forest on the slopes of El Yunque.  This is a National Park that was developed in the days of the depression using make-work programs to build the infrastructure (roads, trails) and today there is a road to the top with various hiking trails and lookouts.  We stopped at a very impressive open-air visitor centre and then proceeded to drive right up as far as we could.  We discovered that the tour-taxis tend to take people to where they can make a quick walk to see something and then get back to the car without spending too much time.  Once we passed the last road-side attraction, the crowds disappeared and we felt like we almost had the mountain to ourselves.

It was hard to believe that these flowers weren't plastic!

View to south-east from Mt. Britton tower.  The clouds rolled over occasionally dumping a rain-shower.

This part of the trail actually was paved with concrete - not a bad thing when 200" of rain a year might have washed it away, not to mention hurricanes.

Not sure what this bird was but he was quite successful at fishing.

At the open-air visitor centre.
Here's a recommendation, if you ever find yourself in this part of the world, go for a meal at Lolita's.  Hand's down the best Mexican I've ever had - about half-way between the Wal-Mart and the turning for El Yunque, on the south side of the road.  ... and they have free wi-fi.

Five o'clock found us catching the ferry back to Culebra.  We watched the trucks getting packed in and then headed off under a rainbow.  Watching the full moon rise over Culebra felt rather an auspicious end to the day.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Culebra - Part 2

As we carried on with our visit to Culebra, following Thanksgiving the crowds left the island and we pretty much felt like we had the place (almost) to ourselves; after Sunday that is.

Since we last visited two years ago, there are more mooring balls but they are still all free - sweet!

November 25

Sunday morning arrived and we knew the bays would be filling up with last-day holiday makers from Puerto Rico; Tamarindo beach on Culebra was no exception.  We headed up to the bay bright and early and were the third boat on a mooring ball.  However, as the morning progressed we had front row seats to the technique of stern anchoring to the beach/breeze and the ensuing raft up.  By the time they were finished there were about 15 boats in the bay at Tamarindo and we weren't too impressed by the guy who rafted up to a boat half his size and then tossed an anchor out the side of his boat leaving no room for our scope on the ball - just a little too close for comfort.

We have not yet swung our stern towards this anchored boat.
With all that excitement out of the way, we enjoyed our time at Tamarindo and the short hike over the hill to Flamenco Beach on the north side of Culebra.  Apparently The Discovery Channel rated Playa Flamenco the second most beautiful beach in the world and it is not hard to see why.

Not forgetting Culebra's history as a bomb practice range for the U.S. Navy there are still unusual sights on the beach.

We couldn't resist naming this guy with delusions of grandeur as "the Puerto Rican Army".
Not sure how I managed to pass up getting a picture, but tucked in by the parking lot for Flamenco is a kiosk stand with the requisite souvenirs, bars and cantinas.  The whole place is built on a wooden platform that keeps the sand at bay, the food is great and running around is a whole passle of cats and chickens.  It's a weird mix of tourism and local charm and with Spanish the predominant language along with the music you feel a bit like you've been plunked down in another world.  Loved it!

November 26 & 27

We loved Tamarindo so much we decided to stay a second night.  On the first we were completely to ourselves after the weekenders pulled up and left, and on the second we had just two other cruising cats in the bay with us.  A hike up the west coast of the next bay and rugged Rosario Beach this time and then back over the hill to Flamenco for a swim and a cold beer.  A pretty laid back Culebra day.

On Tuesday we thought we should actually do some sailing and so we headed out for a little excursion around the cays that run up between Culebra and Puerto Rico.  Up went the main sail on the mooring ball (super easy in the light winds) and as we headed west out of the 'protection' of the bay we soon discovered that there wasn't much to be protected from.  The winds climbed to a whopping 8 knots, the swell topped out at about 3 feet and we bobbed along making 3 knots if we were lucky.  Change of plans was called for so we fired up the engines (to charge the batteries, don't you know) and continued on our little jaunt.  Circling around Cayo Lobo and then Cayo Lobito we checked out the minuscule anchorages on the rocky crags and were caught up with Don Street's description on the back of our chart that with the ground quickly sloping away, if you didn't set your two anchors well, you'd drag all the way to Puerto Rico - not a pleasant thought for the middle of the night.  So far as we could see, there's wasn't much room to swing a cat of the four-legged kind, let alone a sailboat.  We carried on until we'd pretty much circumnavigated the cays and came back up to the bay on the south-western shore of Luis Pena, the largest island just off to the west of Culebra.  Two day moorings are available there and the snorkelling in this bay is great.  Apparently, later in the year the island is a nesting site of Boobies that fly all the way from the Galapagos Islands so as a nature reserve it is unpopulated and off-bounds for part of the year.

We finished off the day back at Culebra on a ball by the ferry dock.  The high-speed ferry comes and goes without too much excitement but I tell you, almost better than watching TV is watching the fun of loading up the ferry with the trucks and cars that come and go to the island (yes, we're lame and it doesn't take much to amuse us.)  Even the garbage trucks come over from the big island and then return at night.  It's quite an operation manoeuvring the big trucks, including dump trucks and cement trucks, in the tight space by the shops to reverse back onto the ferry where they are packed in tightly for the crossing.  One poor fellow must have put his big delivery truck on and off the ferry four times as the loading foreman figured out the best configuration of the trucks and cars that wanted to make that last crossing of the evening.  At one point there was a horrendous crunching sound, followed by lots of shouting and we can only surmise that the last spot in the parking area by the road is not the premium location.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Canadian Registry - at last!

Readers from our last trip out will remember that we did a haul-out in Nanny Cay in March in order to fulfill the ridiculous measurement requirements of Transport Canada to complete our registration.  TC won't accept the original builder's certificate of measurement even on a new catamaran and they have no 'formulaic' measurement such as is used for pontoon boats and monohulls.  I guess there just aren't enough catamarans in Canada for them and this makes a great money-grab for those providing the measurement services.  Anyway, off that rant ... we finally completed and received Mowzer's registration and she can now sail with the maple leaf fluttering off the back-stay.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Week in Culebra, SVI - Part 1

We spent a fabulous week on the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Don't get me wrong, there is wifi available on the island but between us having a problem with our bullet (wifi) connection and then spending loads of time in isolated bays with barely a cell-phone signal, we just didn't get the blogs posted as usual.  Sorry for the length of the post but now we're back home and I'll catch you up on what we saw and did; it's the whole week in one go!

Nov 22 - U.S. Thanksgiving

Thanks to Jim for getting up so early to drive us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning under a blanket of thick, freezing fog.  Flying through Charlotte we arrived perfectly in St. Thomas and got an $8 pp cab ride down to CYOA.  What a change in one day!

Being Thanksgiving and not being near a mega mall preparing for Black Friday, the island retail was actually shut down, so finding a meal and groceries was going to be a little more of a challenge.  Wonderful Nancy however invited us to join herself and friends just next door to the docks for a fabulous pot-luck turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings, all topped off with an evening of music.  What a great welcome; never before have we sat out in the tropical breeze enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as the moon rose over the harbour and the lights twinkled on the hillsides.  Definitely something to be thankful for.

Nov 23 - Just Around the Corner

Friday morning saw us up bright and early for a walk up the 99 steps in Charlotte Amalie. I missed my usual walking companion Jan, but Henry came along and enjoyed the early morning views of the harbour as a cruise ship pulled into the dock.
Yes...we broke down and had Egg-McMuffins for breakfast (guilty yum)
Provisioning was done at Pueblo since we didn't have a car; what a difference in the grocery store in the morning, compared to when we are usually doing our shopping in the evening, when we're completely bagged from the full travel day. It was so quiet that there weren't even the usual complement of taxis lined up out front, so I'm not sure who actually gave us (and our groceries) a ride back to Frenchtown, but his 2 year old in the back seat wasn't quite sure what to make of us either.

We have decided to head to Culebra in the Spanish Virgins this week but the winds were very light, only 5 to 8 knots from the south so we decided to take a very easy day, got off the dock and just headed round the corner to Linberg Bay for lunch. We've always thought if anyone arrives in St. Thomas that we were meeting at the airport that it would be fun to pick them up in this bay and dinghy them out to the boat, and that is exactly what we saw others doing. After the excitement of doing a lot of nothing ourselves we decided to pick up and move round to Brewers Bay for the night. We were the only ones in the bay other than some moored boats so we had a charming evening until a front arrived bringing heavy rains and black skies. In hind-sight, with the winds forecast to swing around to the north overnight we should have probably moved a bit closer to the airport side of the bay, but our anchoring proved worthy to the high speed winds whistling down the steep hillside overnight and in the morning all was calm.
This was our view of Brewer's Bay a week later as we departed the island.

Nov 24 - Off to Culebra

Another early start, but this was most likely due to the fact that with the rain last night we were in bed by 9 pm. This morning we had one of the most perfect sails over to Culebra. We were off the hook at 8:30 and with winds of 8-12 knots on or behind the beam and flat seas, we were over to the west side of Culebra and tied up on a mooring ball near the ferry dock by 1:30. The sail was so relaxing, with no anxious moments, high gusts, squalls or anything else to deal with, other than watching for wind shifts and avoiding the dreaded gybe.

Sadly we discovered, as we wandered through the town of Culebra, that Mamacita's - the little bar that we had enjoyed so much with John and Eleanor - has closed down, as has also the Dinghy Dock Bar. We popped into the dive shop where they told us that Mamacita's owners are moving to the Dinghy Dock and hope to have it open as the season gets underway, but they are suffering the loss of two great hangouts at once in town.

Last night with the wind from the south and then the north we didn't have to contend with the sun shining into the cockpit as the day wore on. Today, being a much more typical Caribbean day with the winds settling into the east, we unfurled the sunshade that I made at home, and it fits and works perfectly. I can tell already that it is going to be wonderful having the additional shade at the back if the boat.
So pleased with the fit and effect of the new sunshade - it is so much cooler in the cockpit and cabin as the afternoon sun beams down.
Stay tuned for part 2...

Friday, April 13, 2012

P.S. and Back in Ottawa

Just a last couple of notes to finish up our 2012 Spring Trip...

Given our earlier flight this time out of STT we opted to fill up with fuel at Yacht Haven Grande on Wednesday afternoon, dodging three massive cruise ships definitely feeling quite miniscule. 

Notice the golf carts that the dock attendants use - definitely out of our league!

Back to CYOA, Jay had us reversed up to the dock in no time so we had the luxury of the showers and shore-side toilets at our beck and call for the remainder of our stay.  This time, not being in a rush to provision or pack up to leave we had time to enjoy the restaurants of Frenchtown and so we selected The Pie Whole.  They have an amazing selection of imported beers and delectible pizza to satisfy any craving you might have - delicious!

Thursday morning dawned clear and unable to sleep I decided on a final walk up the 99-steps in Charlotte Amalie.  Then, all packed up we said our farewells and headed to the airport jumping through Washington, Toronto and then on to Ottawa where Jim picked us up at 1:30am.  Quite a long day but luckily we avoided the Air Canada work action the following day and everything ran on time.  Spring has now arrived in Ottawa and we're now contenplating launch plans for Blue-By-You and activities to keep us going until our next sojourn on Mowzer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

N18 17.731 W64 53.421

This is the exact latitude/longitude where we crossed our outgoing passage and completed our loop on this trip with a total of 350 nautical miles (716 km for those of you with a metric bent.)

What a great trip we've had this time out; we've collected stamps in our passport from the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Martin and Saba, we've completed not one but two overnight passages and we've made new friends all of whom have shown us why we love coming out here and why we continue to pursue the dream of one day cruising full-time.

Mowzer was again exceptional and we continue to be so thankful for the excellent care that the folks at CYOA provide and hope that the many people who come aboard during the year enjoy her as much as we do.

Tonight we are tied up again at the dock at Frenchtown Marina, having made the hop from St. John to St. Thomas after another morning of delightful snorkeling and just sitting watching the view in Lameshur Bay. Can't quite believe that we've only been gone for two and a half weeks, it seems like the haul-out in Nanny Cay and arrival in Anguilla were absolute ages ago. I think we've both achieved a level of relaxation and calmness (except maybe turning around at the fuel dock) that we can now only dream of as we make our way back to reality.

Cheerio Mowzer – can't wait to be back aboard (and home) again!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Love of St. John

Weighing our options: Salt Pond Bay and the hikes to Drunken Bay and Ram Head or back to one of our favourite haunts, Lameshur Bay and the hike up to the top of Bordeaux Mountain.

It seems that we can't leave a hill (“mountain”) unclimbed so back we went to Lameshur Bay. With a forecast and the previous day's example of a sunny morning with showers in the afternoon, we opted to do some snorkeling in the bay for the morning. The east side of Greater Lameshur has some fine diversity of coral and fish-life for the viewing.

By about 1:30pm we decided to fill our water bottles and head up the mountain – even took some dry t-shirts in a zip-loc in case we got soaked on the way up or down. This time, as per usual, the forecast didn't pan out and as we sweated our way up the mountainside with a goal of 1200' at the top, we came across two other equally labouring boaters/hikers winding their way up the hillside. Hurrah's all round when we made it to the top and although it took a bit of searching we were finally treated to some pretty spectacular views to the east across most of the British Virgin Islands.

Back down the mountain we trundled, this time rewarded with great views of the boats in Lameshur beckoning us homewards. A reward equal to the views at the top of the mountain is the cooling dip in the ocean on return to the boat – was I ever hot since now it is so nice and cool?

We finally got the BBQ lighted again (too much socializing last night) and cooked up the last of our port chops for a delicious dinner before heading over to Jacana to visit with our new-found hiking buddies Andrew and Margaret. More adventures to hear of since they sailed over from Scotland with the ARC in December arriving in St. Lucia in time for New Year's and now in the USVI.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Sailing Passage

Just as predicted (for once) the winds came round from the east at about 15 knots which made for a fabulous day of sailing from St. Croix to St. John. We upped anchor 8:45am and by 3:30pm dropped it in Hansen Bay in Hurricane Hole at the east end of St. John.

Excitement for the passage was minimal although we got caught in one squall that dumped an incredible amount of water on us and had us wishing there was some way we could funnel it into our water tanks – for a free fillup! We also kept an eye on one freighter that appeared to constantly be on a collision path with us and as we got closer we could see that he was really just drifting westward with the current, obviously awaiting the appropriate time to head into port. Unfortunately as we came up to the point where we needed to deviate our course to avoid him, there was a particularly nasty squall – what do you call it when it is bigger than just a little squall? - running down onto him. We decided to divert considerably behind both him and the rain/wind and managed to avoid both very nicely.

Our other excitement was an escort of 5 dolphins running ahead of our bows.

As we approached the east end of St. John, we were particularly happy with our destination since the rest of the island and all of St. Thomas were almost invisible in rainfall and clouds. Hansen Bay made a peaceful anchorage for the night with only a few other boats around. By late afternoon we were sitting contemplating the state of our stomachs when the folks from the boat in front of us popped over. Karl and Gail who have been making their way down from Maryland since early in the year made our acquaintance and then returned after an exploration of the bay to enjoy a couple of bottles of wine and snacks into the evening. This is definitely a fun component of being out here – you never know who your neighbours will be and the fun and interesting stories they will tell.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Revisiting St. Croix

Having motored from Saba in light winds we were reluctant to make another crossing in the same conditions so based on the weather forecast for increasing trade-winds from the east starting on Monday, we decided to spend another day on St. Croix.

One of the main attractions at St. Croix is actually off at Buck Island, part of the Marine Park and home of exceptional snorkeling in a reef-fringed lagoon. However, when we looked into getting the cruising permit to go out to Buck Island, it is required that you fill out a carbon-duplicate form and submit it at least five days prior to your intended visit to see if you might be permitted to head out there. Based on the premise that a car rental wouldn't cost us much more than the fuel if we tried to head off early, and the fact that we were able to find a small car available at Budget on a Sunday morning, we indulged ourselves in a day on the island instead.

This island is so diverse in its climate and therefore the ecology – dry and parched in the east, wet and luxurious in the north-west, spectacular beaches and reefs all around. By the end of the day when (in our minds) a torrential rain-fall filled the streets with gushing run-off, we were thankful that we visited the rainforest in the morning when it was still sunny and dry. The Mahogany Road must be quite a sight with the run-off and there are multiple places where 'dish-drains' criss-cross the road channelling water down to the Creque Dam.

We found a road-side stand, the winner of the annual Cruzian wing contest not once but twice, for lunch and Henry reports that the wings were quite good. By mid-afternoon the rain was tipping down just about everywhere except at Point Udall at the east end of the island. On a whim we decided to go see The Hunger Games and with a Sunday matinee price of $5.00 each, that's the cheapest movie we've been to in years. Having just finished the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it and Henry seemed to as well.

Back to Mowzer for the evening with plans to head up to St. John in the morning – crossing our fingers for a bit more wind.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Exhausted Hitch-hiker Under a Full Moon

We departed Saba at 6:30pm just as the full moon rose behind us and we anticipated our overnight run to St. Croix with a forecast of fair winds for sailing.

Unfortunately the winds never showed up and the moon tracked it's way across the sky to beat us to St. Croix in the morning. What a difference from our overnight from the BVIs to Anguilla just two weeks ago. This time, we had one encounter with a fishing boat crossing our bow and could see one other boat far in the distance behind us running up towards St. Thomas. Other than that, we seemed to be alone out there. With the full moon and almost cloudless sky, it was never really dark and unlike the previous trip, there were few stars to be seen.

The only real excitement of the crossing was at about the mid-point when there was suddenly a light fluttering shadow past the foresail and into the rigging of the stowed mainsail. As I watched, an exhausted king bird landed on one of the lazy jacks and all he could manage was to grasp the line and then hang upside-down for about a minute. I thought he was completely gone and was contemplating how we would get the poor little thing out of the rigging when he revived enough to pull himself back upright. He rested on the boat for about half an hour when he finally decided that we were going the wrong way and he headed off to the south east across the ocean. I have no idea what the stamina is for this little land-bird and whether flying a hundred miles across open water is even possible for him but I sure hope he made it.

The sun rose, the moon set and we arrived at our way-point off the eastern end of St. Croix at perfect time to allow us to take the inside passage between Buck Island and the big island and make our way past the reefs and into Christiansted Harbour. We even had an escort for a brief moment by three dolphins.

Another overnight passage under our belts but unfortunately not one accomplished without motoring. We actually met the folks from the boat that had passed behind us in the night – they had opted to sail in the light winds and didn't make it into Christiansted until late afternoon when they had the misfortune to also miss being able to clear in with customs and immigration. We are not sure whether they were able to clear in later or had to wait out in quarantine until Monday. The cost to us for being able to get cleared was that we needed to refuel the boat.

Lunch - and wifi access - in St. Croix!

Sitting in a bar on the St. Croix waterfront, we finally have some wifi access so I've posted a few entries but will add pictures later...  man is it hot here after the gentle breezes of Saba!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Saba - Known as the Unspoiled Queen

Well, we got out of the wind but the swell came around from the north overnight and it was the weirdest sensation to ride up and down but with no wind to blow us back off the mooring ball overnight. In the morning, the winds and swell were both up so to save ourselves a thorough soaking in the dinghy we moved back around to Fort Bay where we stayed for the remainder of our visit.

Rodney, our very informative taxi driver delivered us up to Windwardside, the second town on Saba on, you guessed it – the windy side. Most tourism is run out of Windwardside and the charming little village is full of little restaurants, a tourism office, a grocery store and around every corner a photogenic view. We hiked around the village, out to Booby Hill and then back to Scout's Place for lunch where we sat on the veranda overlooking the sheer drop downwards to the ocean. The food was excellent and while I am not a huge fish-lover, I would eat their battered grouper any day of the week – the best I've ever had.

Saba's two claims to fame are diving and hiking. Not being divers, we definitely were going to take advantage of trail system over the island. Ironically, many of the trails are maintained by Canadians who visit every year to help the locals groom and clean up the trails after the wet season. We picked up Maskerhorn trail which at 1800' treated us to fabulous views of Windwardside and then followed the Crispeen trail back to down The Bottom (Saba's capital town) and then on down to Mowzer at sea level in Fort Bay.

Hiking through a banana plantation
 We decided to stay on our mooring in Fort Bay on information from the dive boats that the swell was up pretty high in Ladder Bay, but with the wind and the wrap-around swell on the south of the island, we've had many smoother rides underway than we had that night. By about 8:30pm we both decided that sleeping it out would be the kindest option for our stomachs.

Much rested on Friday we were ready to tackle another hike on Saba. Being Good Friday, pretty much everything was shut down, but we were lucky enough to grab a taxi back up to The Bottom (the concrete road up from Fort Bay is a killer with multiple hairpin turns). We headed off along the road to Wells Bay on the west coast and then steeled ourselves to tackle The Ladder.

The Ladder was the original single point of access to Saba until the 1940s when Fort Bay and a road were built. Rising on a winding concrete stairway the ascent is nearly vertical for 280 steps to the old customs house and then another 200+ steps form the 'step road' until you reach the town road. Originally, the inhabitants carried absolutely everything that came to the island and had to do this over 800 steps to reach the village at The Bottom. We felt we got off easy, carrying only a camera, our lunch and water but with every step down to the ocean, my legs were protesting about the need to come back up. The final part of the ladder is breathtaking with remarkable views along the western cliffs and down on the anchorage where we had spent the first night.

Phew – on our two visits to Saba, we have now scaled the heights of Mt. Scenery into the clouds and now completed The Ladder. I'm just glad we didn't try to do them both on this stay!

Being Good Friday, we wisely asked Customs if they could check us out on Thursday with a delayed departure which they were very kindly disposed to do. This meant that we could leave as we wished and with an overnight planned to St. Croix, we thought we would take advantage of the forecast for 15 knot winds from the east to make the 90-mile jump.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Arrived in Saba - a little more detail

Despite all the festivities and late-night return to Mowzer last night, we were still up and on our way early this morning. One stop on the way put us in at Marigot for more dinghy fuel and one last stop at the Sarafina's for those incredible pain chocolates. Winds are still incredibly light and the seas pretty much flat so we motored to Saba although the winds did pick up to about 10 knots once we cleared away from St. Martin so we were able to give a little lift to our fuel-efficiency with some wind-power. As I said to Henry at one point, at least we look like a sail-boat!

Saba is the tip of an ancient volcano that rises from the ocean south-west of St. Martin. We could also see St. Eustacia a bit further south and as we progressed, also St. Kitts, with St. Bart's ever-present to the east. In the lee of the island we lost the winds but coming around to Fort Bay on the south side was quite windy and rolly. Even though the wind hadn't seemed that high, there was probabaly some acceleration of the wind around the steep sides of the island. There are no beaches, no palm-trees, no beach-bars and definitely no resorts. What Saba offers is an unspoiled beauty, amazing hiking with panoramic views and quaint little villages that look like the houses were dropped in place a hundred years ago (which many of them probably were.) We checked in at customs, immigration and the marine park services, paid $12.00 to stay on a mooring ball for the next few nights and then moved Mowzer back round to the west side of the island in Wells Bay to escape some of the wind and wave action.
West Coast of Saba - Wells Bay and Ladder Bay (tiny little indents on the coast)

Fort Bay and the only loading dock on the island.

Tomorrow we plan to do some hiking, visit The Bottom and Windwardside and then depending on the weather and what we want to do on the island, we can choose to stay into the weekend if we wish.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Relaxation and Party Time in St. Martin

Today really showed us two completely different sides of St. Martin. The day dawned absolutely still without a breath of wind in Grand Case but nevertheless we headed out to Tintamarre, a large, flat island off the north east coast of St. Martin. In the SXM nature preserve, mooring balls are provided and by mid-morning they were all full so we were glad we got there nice and early.
Glassy waters on the approach to Tintamarre Island
Lined up on the mooring balls - but check out how clear the waters are!

We also wanted to beat the heat for a hike on the island which took us along the south shore and then inland, past many old dry-stone walls and a herd of goats. Carefully, we picked the evidence of the goats out of our shoes before returning to Mowzer.
The flat interior of Tintamarre, the masts of boats in the anchorage and the peaks of St. Martin in the distance.
In the afternoon we watched a sea-turtle grazing on the sea-grass under the boats in the anchorage so we snorkeled off the back of the boat. Just before we jumped into the water I commented to Henry that this had better be a pretty boring snorkel since the battery in the underwater camera chose that moment to die. Of course, the most surreal moments are those that can't be captured so I will just have to lock this one up in the memory banks for recall. As we hovered over the turtle grazing about 10 feet below us, he finally decided to come up for air. He must be pretty used to the snorkelers so he rose up through the water to surface about 5' in front of me and after a casual 3 breaths he headed back down to the underwater pasturage. Unreal!

Late in the afternoon we returned to Grand Case, making a short detour to explore the harbour and canal of Anse Marcel, a pretty little marina nestled in the hills and only accessible through a narrow, winding channel.

By 6pm Grand Case was starting to prepare for the last street parade of the season. Through the winter there is a parade and bazaar put on by locals every Tuesday night and with the restaurants and lolo's all firing in high gear it is a fun event not to be missed. I think all the stops were out for the last night and the streets were thronging with tourists and locals alike. Small vendors were selling cold drinks for those wandering the street where everything from purses made of pop-can tabs to the most beautiful paintings and inlaid wood pictures were for sale. After a little shopping of the local wares, we eagerly anticipated the first drum-beats to be heard at the end of the street indicating the start of the parade. The one-way main street is about a kilometre in length and just over a car's width, in some places widening out where a shop has a little more space. The parade of feathered and painted women and flashy men with drums and horns mingled with the hundreds of on-lookers down the street and sometimes, other than the costumes it was hard to tell where the display and the voyeurism ended and began. The energy and friendliness of the whole crowd was wonderful and we followed along behind, alongside and at times right in the parade itself.

Once the parade had passed, which took almost 45 minutes, the empty space was taken up by a number of street bands and a group of buskers who kept us entertained but couldn't quite pull off getting me to join as a participant. Maybe a few more street-beer but by then we noticed that the crowd had definitely changed a bit as the tourists headed into the restaurants or back to their resorts for the night so we decided it was time for dinner back at our favourite lolo.

I can't say enough for how much we enjoyed the whole event and hat's off to the locals and the gendarmes who kept it all very family oriented and welcoming of locals and tourists alike.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Eating Our Way Through St. Martin

So here's the deal, this trip is definitely not about the walking/hiking like the last one. I guess that's what we get for coming to a French Territory vs. hanging out in U.S or British territories. You just don't find the same level of finesse when it comes to food.

We found out that we can check out of St. Martin up to 48 hours in advance and since we want to head up to the north-east side of the island, by checking out this morning we won't have to come back to a clearance centre before we leave. Again, the process is so easy and all we have to do is wait until 9am when the office opens. What to do in the meantime...?? Of course, sitting in a boulangerie/patisserie to while away the time wouldn't be an option, would it?? Who could resist and need I say more about our scrumptious breakfast?

Above all, keep the baquette dry in the dinghy!
Next order of the day was to fill up with fuel and water so we won't have to do this again before getting back to St. Thomas. We hailed Marina Fort St. Louis and were told to come on in, but when we arrived at the fuel dock it was taken with another boat. We hung around for a bit and did a loop out of the marina and back in, and were finally clear to pull up to the dock. 130 liters of fuel and our water tanks topped up we were free to go, so long as we made it into the office to pay before they closed for lunch. It was 11:58 am and quite a long walk around to the office but thankfully Henry made it since lunch break in Marigot is two hours! Who can blame them, though...?

Finally, we were all free to head up the coast and with a lunch stop in Friar's Bay and then a snorkeling stop in Happy Bay (both of which we visited and loved on our previous trip to St. Martin four years ago), we headed for Grand Case for the evening.

Happy Bay - a happy place, especially when you have it to yourself.

To bookend the day of culinary adventures, we headed into Grand Case for dinner. This little town – literally one one-way street, is lined with restaurants ranging from Lolo's (locally owned locally operated fresh-air BBQs) to high-end French or Italian cuisine, all overlooking a spectacular sunset across the harbour. We decided to go low key and settled in at a Lolo where we enjoyed a rack of ribs, a half lobster and a number of sides (potato salad, coleslaw, green salad and curried rice) all for the ridiculous price of 43 Euros (which also included 2 beer each). To top the evening off, we found out that the price was offered in USD at par which usually runs 33% above the Euro here.

Last flights into Grand Case for the night fly in over the anchorage.
 Our plan is to head to Tintamarre in the morning (an island off the east coast of St. Martin and part of the nature preserve) but we have also found out that Tuesday night is the last of the street parades in Grand Case. They run through the winter and we'd originally been told it was over but now that there is just one left, we will try to return to participate in the fun (and maybe one more visit to the Lolo!)