You Can Check Out But You Can Never Leave

Tuesday was day one of the regatta and it was all aboard Hotel California Too. Steve, our skipper had experience stamped all over his forehead having done many regattas over many years in the Caribbean. At one stage he was having 500 different people racing on HC every year. Richard was in charge of assembling a crew for Steve this year and I’ve got to say he did a pretty good job. Our star was undoubtedly Annie, our Tactician who was an Olympic Silver Medallist and Americas Cup sailor. Bill was pretty handy on the foredeck having a pretty good sailing resume all the way to AC trials. Anna was Steve’s crew, hailing from Poland via Toronto and the most of us were catamaran liveaboards – Steve being the only one that owned a monohull. Having two Steves on the boat was confusing so I reverted back to Tully.

We were sailing in a class with white sails only so it was pretty easy most of the time. We quickly picked out our nemesis in Spirit, a 65 foot Swan who if not for acknowledging a collision and refusing to do a 360, would have beat us into second. The boat that got first was sailed by an Italian AC skipper, a hired hand, who in the last race beat us by 3 hours (in light to non-existent winds) – Bill commented that he was never in a 20 mile race where he had come second by 3 hours. The racing was fun with the big maxis steaming past us at close quarters and the odd bit of drama after the starts.  With the last race on Saturday cancelled due to lack of wind, we found ourselves in second, due to a couple of DSQs – what a result.

Over the week, the crew gelled really well – both on and off the boat, helped along by the many regatta parties every night (both in the regatta village and one night at Shell Beach) and on the Thursday rest day at Nikki Beach. Eric and Annie kindly invited us on board their Catana 47, El Gato, which we took around to Nikki Beach for the “rest” day.

It was tough going- racing during the day and partying at night but I wouldn’t have missed it for quids. The regatta put on great live bands, French cabaret and of course pole dancers!!! Only in France could you get way with that. The awards ceremony was a hoot with Hotel California making the most noise on the podium (complete with sparklers). You would have thought we had won!!! There were bottles of Verve Clicquot everywhere and the shot of the night went to Christine who lay down in front of all the said bottles that were neatly arranged for the awards ceremony, pretending to be drunk. Later on that night she wouldn’t have needed to pretend.

Regatta over, we headed around to Columbier for a day of recuperation, followed by a final fling. We called an end to the recuperation period about 4pm and headed off to Sugar Shack, for Christine’s now famous jello shots. Matt enjoyed handing them around and took the “one for  you, one for me approach”, which came back to bite him later.  Pre-dinner drinks over, we jumped ship over to La Mischief for an Aussie BBQ dinner and yet more drinks, way past Matt’s tipping point. It’s always a good night when you have to hop into your dinghy and return various items to various boats the next day.

Then it was off back to St. Martin for a crew change.

Going Chic

For such a small island of only 25 square kilometres and a population of 10,000, Saint Barthélemy does pack a punch. Chris Columbus discovered and named it after his brother Bartolomeo – now there’s a bit of trivia for you. Now days its French, having been British and Swedish for a while back in the old days.

Up until the 1970’s, St Barths was a pretty desolate and poor island – and then they discovered tourism (or tourism discovered St Barths) and off it went. These days the rich and famous come to the island and the place is littered with big boats, high-end restaurants and top of the wuzza hotels.

But despite this, it’s still a great place to hang out. The anchorage is beautiful – crowded but still relatively easy to find a space (until of course the charterers come and anchor right next to you). The best anchorage is on the outside of the channel where the sandy bottom is great holding in 8-20m of clear water.

Having snorkeled the anchor, we took the dinghy ride into town and finished checking in (a process we’d largely done over the Internet before we got here. After a quick walk around we retired to the Bar de l’Oubli (the Bar to Forget for all you language challenged people). We ended up having dinner there before going across to Le Select, a local institution that has been running forever.

People mistake it for being the original Cheeseburger in Paradise. Jimmy Buffett evidently sold Marius rights to the Cheeseburger In Paradise tagline in exchange for his food and bar tab being free for life. Jimmy also cooked some of the first burgers at the original Le Select grill. The origins of Cheeseburger in Paradise are from the BVIs, but never mind, I still intend to eat one at Le Select.

The highlight of our night at Le Select (besides the cheap bottles of wine) was running into Dee’s friend Richard, who has been coming to St Barths forever. He was a wealth of information on the place and took us over to Josephine’s to listen to some local and travelling muso’s who were brilliant.

Next day, we dragged ourselves up and got ourselves a rental car for 30 euro a day. Not bad.  We then headed off to visit all the different beaches on the island, with their beautiful sand and clear water. We stopped at the famous Nikki Beach, and walked along the beach to the famous airport where planes take off metres above the water. We finished the day over at Marche U, the largest supermarket on the island. There’s also a Casino supermarket right next to the dinghy dock so we should be able to eat well, if not a little expensively (but not too bad).

Saturday was a clean the boat day, having got covered in salt on the way over from Saba.  Hard work done we snorkelled over to the reef and said hello to the barracuda and the squid swimming around the coral.

Then we had Richard, Donna and Bill over for an Aussie BBQ on the back of La Mischief. Richard set up the Latitude 38 magazine and splits his time between 2 boats here in St Barths, a canal boat in Europe and a cat in California. Donna and Richard are almost St Barths locals, having been coming here for the last 100 years, so they filled us in on a lot of island stuff.

Moving onto Sunday, we pushed the lazy button and didn’t do much. Barbara spent the morning with Cliff, whilst Dee and I didn’t do much. Cliff and Barbara returned after lunch and we dinghied over to the 68 foot Swan that Cliff was skipper on. Cliff was getting too close to Rambler 88, who had installed a mooring for race week, so he decided to motor on down to Columbier for the night. He towed our dinghy and we had a look see at a very nice bay, before heading back in our dinghy to pick up Jennifer from the St Martin Ferry in time for yet another regatta party.

And then it was time for the Regatta!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Men Tell No Tales!

The island of Saba is forbidding and steep, a natural fortress, and so the island became a private sanctuary for smugglers and pirates. The most notable native Saban pirate was Hiram Beakes, who famously quipped, “Dead men tell no tales”.

Saba has had a chequered history, having been French for 12 years, English for 18 years and Dutch for 345 years.

We got to Saba in the early afternoon and discovered the wind pretty well swirls around the island – when its blowing there is no lee shore – the wind tends to bend around the west coast. Saba is pretty impressive on approach with steep cliffs dropping off into the ocean.It is a challenging spot to go to. It’s just a big volcano that comes straight out of the ocean, with no natural harbours anywhere.

We came around the northern end and past Ladder Bay. Out came the binoculars to spy on Elsa, a once impressive 150T super yacht who was up on the rocks having broken free of a Marine Parks mooring 5 or so nights ago when Gloria was there. Our Barbados 50 friends Kirakou had come to grief in this same bay, having wrapped the mooring line around their twin keels and chafing through, ending up also on the rocks. By the time we got there, Kirakou had been refloated and put on a barge to be hopefully fixed up.

We passed by around the corner to the main “port” of Wells Bay.  There’s some mooring buoys, both in the Marine Park and at of Wells Bay, but we chose to anchor n 20m of water and quite a swell. Safely anchored, we went and checked in, paying the customs fees and the Marine Parks fee that is mandatory.  We then retired to the one and only bar in Wells Bay and had a great chat with the local Spanish bar owner and the local fishermen, who filled us in on their version of the Elsa saga.

Next day it was off in a taxi for a bit of an island tour. We went up “The Road That Couldn’t Be Built”, as its name implies it is a road from Wells Bay to a town called The Bottom that the Dutch authorities said could never be built, but that didn’t deter a local who did a road building correspondence course and got the job done. True Story!!!  

We continued on up the road to another picturesque town called Windwardside before ducking over to see the spectacular and somewhat scary airport that looks like the deck of an aircraft carrier. We did a short hike through some impressive rain forest before heading back to Windwardside to book our diving for the next day, our main reason for coming to Saba There’s a good walk to the tallest part of the island which we passed on but next time it looks like something we should do.

The diving next day was both spectacular and frustrating. Frustrating because I had a leaky hose and had to cut my first dive short. To make matters worse the toothpaste trick on my new mask didn’t work and I couldn’t see what I was trying to photograph. The second dive was a bit better with a loaner reg and some mask cleaner. Meanwhile Dee and Barbara really enjoyed their diving on Saba.

We had planned to do a couple of days diving here but in the end we had to leave early because of the horrible anchoring/mooring field that had quite a swell running through it.

So apologies as the photos I took didn’t show off how good Saba diving is.Will definitely come back for some more next year but will pick our weather and swell window better.

The highlight of the island was hanging out with the local fishermen and the salvage crew we met who were working on rescuing the 150 ft Elsa from her resting place wedged on the rocks. We bought three lobster off Nikky, the local fisherman on our last night and headed off with Justin Time (no kidding!) up to Lollipops Hotel to BBQ them up.

It turned out to be a great night as we chatted to some very interesting salvagers, some of which had worked on the Costa Concordia. Lollipops is a bit of an institution on Saba and it was interesting to hang out there with its rather eccentric owner and a few of its regulars.

Evening over, it was time to get down the mountain and back to the boat. No probs – they just called the local cop who gave us a lift down in his very impressive 4×4. Another interesting night in our journey through life.

Next morning it was into the dinghy for a roughish ride into Customs and Immigration to check out before bashing our way to St Barths for a bit of Les Voiles action and partying.

Dutch or French – Take Your Pick

Sint Maarten or St Martin – the choice was ours. We decided to head for the dutch side first and then head over to the French side after that.

The Dutch side is called Sint Maarten and is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It borders Saint Martin to the north, which is a French overseas collectivity. Quite bizarre really as you need to check in and out of either territory to go to the other, but you can take your dinghy across the lagoon between the two, no probs.

The run up from Statia to Sint Maarten was a nice broad reach and we made it with plenty of time to check in. Arriving at Simpsons Bay ,we had to dodge around one of the big super yachts who had managed to ground itself in the channel leading into the lagoon.. Pretty funny but they managed to get off and retreat to deeper water. We picked a spot outside the lagoon in Simpsons Bay just off the beach in beautiful clear water.

We hit Sint Maarten with the specific intention of getting some stuff fixed and spending some tax-free boat dollars at Budget Marine and Island Water World. To do this effectively you need to avoid the distraction of the numerous bars, restaurants and beaches that are also there. Needless to say these, when combined with quite a few friends we caught up with In these here waters, trapped us helplessly as you have probably guessed by now. Lagoonies, the St Maarten Yacht Club, Buccaneer Beach Bar, the Red Piano Bar, Karakter Beach Bar were all just too tempting to pass up.

In between the haziness of our hangovers, we did however manage to get a few things down. We paid our 21USD to go through the bridge and into the lagoon and got a marina berth for 50USD a day for a couple of days whilst an electrician came and sorted a few things out. The Lagoon is huge, and your dinghy becomes your car as you go from dinghy dock to dinghy dock to get to the various shops. We did quite a few dinghy trips across to the French side (and vice versa).

We found Carrefour and did some provisioning and Ace hardware and Electrotek was also a hit. You can find most things in Sint Maarten at a reasonable (for the Caribbean)  price. We even found a Spanish wine store where you can spend a pleasant hour or two sampling some wonderful wine and cheese for free. Okay, it wasn’t exactly free as we did buy quite a bit of their wine.

After our stay at the marina, we went under the causeway bridge (free) and anchored in the lagoon for a night before going through the Sandy Ground Bridge on the French side (10m wide so a bit of a squeeze) to anchor in Marigot Bay. Checking into the French side is easy (and cheap if you go to the Chanderly in the canal just outside the bridge – a 2 Euro donation to Sea Rescue is all it costs).

We took a dinghy ride to the dock closest to the airport and walked 10 minutes to the end of the runway to check out the planes landing just above a pretty little beach – the one you see on all the postcards with a big plane metres above your head as it lands just after the beach. We got the obligatory photos and headed off either side to check out the beach bars, which were fun. Then we headed into Maho for some great sushi at Bamboo, before heading back to the airport to pick up Barbara.

Barb arrived just in time for some April Fools birthday the following day and we managed to get 16 or so of my friends and dubious acquaintances out to a wonderful dinner at an awesome French restaurant called Tropicanas. It made me very appreciative of the great people you meet and become friends with cruising around on a yacht. It sort of weeds out most of the dickheads (although you do run into them but they stick out a mile) and you get some wonderful authentic people as friends.

Birthday celebrations over, we had a few days spare to head over to Saba for some great diving before we needed to be back in St Barths for Les Voiles. So off to Saba we went.

Going Dutch

Everybody seems to call Sint Eustatius by its nickname, Statia. It was a nice downhill run under genoa only from the top of St Kitts – a couple of hours and we were there.

At one time Statia was one of the biggest ports in the world as the Dutch exploited its geographical placement and its neutrality and status as a free port with no customs duties. The island was known as The Golden Rock.

Statia is also known as the place where the first international acknowledgment of American independence took place as the Dutch Governor gave an 11 gun salute to a USA Frigate in 1776. Nearly half of all American Revolutionary military supplies were obtained through St. Eustatius. Nearly all American communications to Europe first passed through the island. This tended to piss off the British and resulted in a war between the Dutch and the British which ended badly for the Dutch.

We spent a very pleasant day and night there on a rolly anchorage exploring the historic harbour town of Oranjestad, which is divided into Lower Town along the waterfront, and Upper Town with its restored historic buildings and forts overlooking Lower Town.

Once again, we caught up with Tim and Sarah from Gloria for dinner and drinks at a nice waterfront restaurant. We listened intently to their story of the 48m   super yacht Elsa breaking their mooring and ending up on the rocks at Saba. They had to endure a night of grating metal on rocks as the hull continuously bashed itself against the rocks.

Next day it was up early and off to Sint Maarten.

Alexander Hamilton Waz Here

After a frustrating “not much wind to write home about sort of day”, we reached Charlestown on Nevis just as the wind decided to get up for the day. We were being tailed by Andy and Allison on Venture Lady who had come across from Jolly Harbour. We motored just south of the town to the mooring field off Pinney’s Beach and picked up what looked like a good mooring (but who knows here in the Caribbean).

We then had a choppy dinghy ride into town and tied up to the dinghy dock, just south of the Ferry terminal. You can’t lock dinghies up but everyone says it isn’t a problem here.

Andy and Allison passed on the long dinghy ride and instead put their dinghy on the beach and walked into town.

Due to the profitable Slave Trade and the high quality of its sugar cane, the island soon became a dominant source of wealth for Great Britain and was given the nickname “Queen of the Caribbean”.   The cane juice from Nevis yielded an unusually high amount of sugar and this made Nevis very rich and very influential in the British Empire as the plantation owners bought themselves seats of parliament back in England.

The check in was easy, and the Customs, Port and Immigration folks were really nice – something we came to see with everyone on this island. After exploring the town, we headed into Pinney’s Beach and Sunshine for one of their famous Killer Bee rum punches. None of us stuck to the recommended dosage of just the one – something we regretted the next morning.

Hence next morning, a swim was required to clear our heads. The water was nice and clear with a weedy bottom and lots of turtles. We swam to shore and walked through the Four Seasons resort where all the rich and famous supposedly stay. However having failed to spot even a minor celebrity, we swam back to the boat and headed into town for some touristy stuff.

The main attraction is the house where Andrew Hamilton was born and spent his early childhood, which has now been turned into a nice museum with lots of stuff about the guy who helped engineer the US constitution and the modern financial system before being killed in a duel. Interesting stuff after just watching the HBO series on John Adams, the second American President, who had a lot to do with Hamilton.

As well as Hamilton, Nevis’es other famous historical figure was Horatio Nelson who was stationed here as a young sea captain, and is where he met and married Frances Nisbet, the young widow of a plantation-owner from the island.

Next stop was the hot springs that flow through the town but these turned out to be too hot and I got as far as my knees before giving them a miss. The view from the old building behind was worth a look see.

We then checked out the local music scene and found that a band was playing at Qualie Beach that evening so we up’ed mooring and meandered up the coast 5nm to the shallow anchorage off Qualie beach. It turned out to be an excellent move as the owner of the small resort and bar was really into his music and we were treated to a succession of good musicians, some of which just seemed to materialise from the crowd. We did the proverbial dance the night away to a whole heap of our favourite rock and roll tunes.

Next morning it was up early for a sail up to St Kitts. We were heading to St Kitts Marine Works on the north of the island to get our SD50 sail drive looked at. The alarm for water in between the seals was going off, and it wasn’t lying when I pulled the sensor off to have a looksee myself.

Marine Works advertises itself as a marina but really it’s a good boat lifter and yard where they bury keels and tie boats down for the hurricane season. The mechanic they dug up for us didn’t instill us with much confidence, they couldn’t work out how to order the necessary parts and La Mischief was getting pulled and battered tied up to the surgey dock – so we said our goodbyes and checked out of St Kitts and Nevis. Marine Works had a customs office on site but I needed to catch a local bus to the police station to get our passports stamped out.

So off we headed to St Eustatus, which we could make before nightfall, on our way to Sint Maarten where we knew we could get our problem attended to.

Sailing Past the Kingdom of Redonda

We left Montserrat in light winds and tried very hard to sail but it was not to be so motor sailing it was. We were heading for Nevis but with an interim objective as well.

We were keen to pass close to Redonda, a small uninhabited island that is a mythical Kingdom, with quite a few “Kings” claiming to be the rightful heir to this piece of mythology dreamed up by an author called M.P. Shiel in a promotional leaflet for his books. Since the late 1800s the title has been “passed down”, to various literary figures and continues to the present day where it gets a bit murky with multiple claimants from Bob the Bald to Michael the Grey to a friend of Dee’s from California. The Caribbean’s own Hutt River Province.

For the record, Redonda is really a dependency of the country of Antigua and Barbuda but don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.