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!)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Inner Waters of St. Martin/Sint Maarten

Sunday in Marigot and everything except the churches and a few market stalls is locked up tight for the day. Being nice and quiet this was a day for us to explore the area so we started with Fort St. Louis.

The Fort is now in ruins that sit perched on the hill overlooking the marina named in its honour. As we wound our way up the hill we were accompanied by many carrying palm fronds. Being the heathens that we are, it took a moment to register that it is Palm Sunday and they are making their way up to a large cross on the hillside below the fort for an open-air service.

The fort itself offers spectacular views of Marigot, the anchorage, across Simpson Bay Lagoon and the other way up to Anguilla. With a little bit of clambering and a few signs explaining the history of the fort and the pride of the community in its construction at the time, it doesn't take long to cover the site.

For the afternoon we headed off under the bridge at Sandy Ground and into Simpson Bay Lagoon. The Lagoon is like a huge inland (salt-water) lake that is divided by the border between the French and Dutch sides. If we took the big boat we would have to do the whole customs thing of checking out and back in, but by dinghy or car you are free to travel between the two sides. The lagoon is an interesting mix of cruising boats anchored out surrounded by the biggest yachts we have ever seen, tied up at the various marinas on the Dutch side. The anchorage was a bit reminiscent of Coral Bay on St. John for us but the marinas were definitely upscale from anything else. There are two chandleries but unfortunately with it being a Sunday, both were closed. We stopped off on the Dutch side for lunch at Lee's Roadside Grill and while the food was good, the service was absolutely abysmal. We finished off our tour with what felt like a run that went forever down the channel in the middle of the lagoon but when we looked at our GPS track later, we realized we had still only covered about half of the water area. Sitting off the end of the runway watching the planes take off overhead reminded us of sitting on Maho Beach at the other end watching them land when we'd been here before.

The winds are dying off completely and this evening the water is almost completely flat in the anchorage. The forecast looks for much of the same through this week with winds in the 8-10 knot range so we'll fill up with fuel in the morning just to be safe before we head off up-island to some of the less serviced spots.

Anguilla to St. Martin

Winds this morning were dead out of the east at 15 - 20 knots  and the seas running from the NE at 2 - 4', which given we were sailing WSW down the north coast of Anguilla and then crossing the Anguilla Channel to Marigot on St. Martin, couldn't have been better.  We had a final close reach approach to Marigot Harbour with apparent winds topping out at 24 knots so we made very good progress with Mowzer picking up her heels to almost 8 knots with a very comfortable ride.  We arrived in the anchorage at noon and found a nice spot just off the sea wall just next to Golden Dawn.

Again, thanks to advance information we headed to the Capitainerie at Port Royale rather than endure the surly clearance officers at the ferry dock.  Other than waiting for the office to open at 3pm, this had to be the easiest and fastest clearance into a country.  We completed the form ourselves on a computer upstairs, the form was printed downstairs, we paid $7.00 and left.  He didn't even check out our passports or look at our clearance papers from Anguilla.  When we are ready to leave we can go into any of the clearance offices up to 48 hours before we wish to leave, fill in the reciprocal form and pay $7.00 to be on our way.  Amazing!

 We wandered through the lower streets of Marigot and Port Royal making sure we picked up a fresh baguette and some chocolate croissants for breakfast in the morning - ah the upside of a French territory (among others).