Monday, July 13, 2009

Our Visit to St. Barth

We did it! We left St. Martin, without having to turn back, like many others who leave the lagoon after months and have some kind of boat problem from the moment they get “outside”. It was a close call, nevertheless…

On the last day of June, about a month later than hoped for, we arrived at Irie after one last errand that kept us in St. Martin until then. A certain “flower” in a certain Business made it her “point” to mess up another order that we expected there two (!) weeks prior. When we finally retrieved that envelop (the Wirie logo stickers), we were finally ready to leave. So, from the moment we possessed the prized envelop, we hoisted the dinghy and pulled up our main sail, only to discover that its shackle was broken… Ooops! Sail down, anchor back down, dinghy down and Mark on a mission. It was after 12 pm, so the stores were closed on the French side (lunch break). Mark rushed to the Dutch side, to scout the marine stores and –luckily- found the right size shackle. Our lunch was postponed and we were on our way again before 2 pm.

The goal was Ile Fourchue in St. Barth, but it was getting late. The first stretch went all right along the north coast of St. Martin, actually veering away from the island, tacking off the wind. When a huge squall was visible from the corner of our eyes, we made a wider turn, away from our destination, towards Anguilla. Not good. To prevent sailing back from where we came on the opposite tack, we decided to motor. The wind was not very favorable and time was running out. Just when we settled on spending the night at Tintamarre, a nice island east of St. Martin, the wind shifted North East. Hmmmm… That was a chance not to be missed and we changed course a slight bit to sail at a steady pace to Ile Fourchue after all. The last 2 miles, the wind died completely and we motored into another rain storm into the deep bay with free mooring balls, just before dark. We made it to St. Barth!

Ile Fourchue was nothing special, but gave us a good night’s sleep. The following morning, we sailed on to Anse de Columbier, a beautiful bay on the northwest side of “mainland” St. Barth and our favorite stop so far. Mooring balls are free to use, the water is as clear as in the Bahamas and the beach is wide, pretty and quite remote. The only way to get to Columbier is by boat or by foot. A 20-minute hiking trail brings you to this beach from a small town called Flamands. Mark, Darwin and I followed this trail in reverse a few times, to buy fresh baguettes and try to get online to deal with the Wirie website.

One evening, we got company from our friends Ellie, Tom and Jens on Madonna. It was awesome, to have drinks and dinner together, away from the oh-so familiar lagoon and exchange the few stories we gathered so far. They just finished a little sailing vacation to Tintamarre, St. Barth and Statia. In the morning we had a wonderful breakfast on the beach. We all felt like vacationers!

Another day, Mark and I decided to check out the capital Gustavia by boat. This big harbor is full of mooring balls and anchored vessels and is pretty deep. It took us an hour to find a place to safely anchor, a mile away from town. For this spot, we had to pay more than 12 euros (16 dollars), because the fees are calculated by surface area, and –yes- we are a catamaran, a little bit wider than most other boats. A mooring in front of Gustavia, deep into the harbor and close to all the conveniences and services was cheaper, but … none were available. The town does offer free showers for everybody and the port authority provides a garbage disposal and free WiFi, included in the fee. The WiFi signal, however, is weak at best and never reached the area called Corossal where we were anchored. For water one does have to pay nowadays.

Needless to say, if you know Liesbet and Mark (and their tight budget), we only lasted in Gustavia Harbor one night. We did utilize our time well with internet business and grocery shopping the first afternoon and a historical walking tour and filling our water tank the next morning. The tourist office provides nice maps and a written walking tour of town and that is the best way to see what there is to see. Mark and I walked along the harbor, to a couple of fort sites with good views and read about an array of historical buildings dating back to the time of the Swedes. Gustavia is a pretty city, clean and with a French attitude that is more than tolerable. Lunch in Le Select was the reward for a hot morning of walking – and to Mark – for a genuine effort to drag behind me and listen to the information in the brochure.

The same morning, we also walked across the island to St. Jean. The statue of an Arawak Indian at the roundabout represents all the symbols of St. Barth. The airport here is interesting in regards to the little planes that land over a hill and then practically drop down to the landing strip. An impressive act of competence and an awe-inspiring sight!

Since we were so fond of Columbier, we took our Irie back there. The wind was howling down the mountainsides and picking up a mooring ball became a huge challenge. In the process, we bent two boat hooks and lost one of them together with my hat. Lots of yelling. Not a good scene. But, we were still happy to be back in a peaceful harbor with a long beach for Darwin to enjoy.

In St. Barth, you can check out 24 hours before leaving the country. This meant, we had to go back to Gustavia for this event. We had been communicating with the agriculture department of Antigua, our next destination, about temporarily importing Darwin and things seemed to become more painful than we thought. Darwin has been totally in sync with the UK regulations and requirements for four years, but yet, for some countries that is not enough. He has a micro chip, all his health records and all the needed vaccinations. The last thing we read in an email from Antigua was that he needed a current health certificate, a rabies vaccination that is less than 1 year old (the one he has is good for three years and he is approaching 2 and a half years) and a performed lyme disease test, something we have never heard of or needed!

Instead of taking Irie back to Gustavia again, we chose the more adventurous option. We hiked to Flamands and hitched rides to town, with Darwin. There, the vet inspected our dog, proclaimed very healthy, and gave him a pet passport, with a current health certificate and the proof of another rabies shot in it. Price: $50. Armed with all the right paperwork and the thought that, if a test for lyme disease is really necessary it could be performed at our destination, we were ready for Antigua. The only thing between us and this popular island was a night crossing to the south east…

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