Sunday, March 28, 2010

Speedy Haul-out or “on Vacation” in Philipsburg?

Irie had a little problem with one of her engines. Actually, Irie has a few problems with her engines, but this one became a bit more worrisome when the blue turned black saildrive oil also rose in level. This indicated one thing: salt water was coming in. The only way to deal with saildrive issues is… to haul the boat. Didn’t we just do that a few months ago in Grenada? Yep. We just had to do it again. Luckily, there is an affordable boat yard in St. Maarten and Irie snugly fits in its travel lift.

On the first day of spring (after a winter that never came), Irie and her crew left the lagoon, heading for Philipsburg. Mark and I felt a bit excited about finally leaving the nasty “pond”, albeit for the wrong reasons. The cleaner water in Great Bay invited us for a swim and the long boardwalk and wide beach called Darwin for a long walk. Even the chaos of the cruise ship passengers and ferries couldn’t spoil our fun of being in a relatively beautiful place again.

When Monday morning came around, we moved Irie towards the fairway at Bobby’s Marina. A heavy cross wind caused us problems to dock the boat and, with only one line attached to shore and a port engine that suddenly refused to work, Irie turned sideways, creating a bit of a panic. Luckily no substantial damage occurred and we managed to dock safely in the end. Once hauled out of the water, we noticed that the propeller of the port engine had come loose, the reason it didn’t work properly when engaged… An easy fix, especially on the hard.

From the moment Irie arrived at her spot in the yard, Mark and I got to work. We were committed to spend as little time as possible in the hot, dusty and grimy boatyard. Darwin was placed in the shade with a blanket and a bowl of water and he was extremely well behaved. While he rested and stayed put, the humans in our little family scraped barnacles, fixed the prop, disassembled the sail drive, sanded some areas where the paint didn’t hold up and painted them, cleaned the waterline, filled the tank, sun showers and jerrycans with water, waxed a few spots, flushed the fridge hoses, equalized the batteries and cleaned Irie’s deck and cockpit.

In the meantime, a Yanmar mechanic picked up our saildrive and managed –with some effort and time-to replace the worn gaskets. We were ready with all the chores on our list by noon on Tuesday, but had to wait another couple of hours in the dust (this is the Caribbean!) before we got “splashed” again. Out and back in the water in less than 30 hours and for less than $ 1000! Not bad…

That afternoon, we treated ourselves to some peace in the anchorage, a swim to remove all the dust and another long walk with Darwin. Philipsburg has its charm and we were happy to enjoy some of it, too tired to make it back to the lagoon the same day anyway. That was the plan for Wednesday morning. We returned to our usual spot off Explorer Island and got back to The Wirie business. Our “being out of touch” for three days, prompted people to inquire about our getaway and ask us how we enjoyed our “short vacation”. In a way, we did enjoy it, actually!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

St. Maarten: Our Mad House for a Few Months

Roaring planes, wake creating dive boats, plowing ferries, passing tenders of all sizes, buzzing jet skis resembling annoying mosquitoes and groups of sailing dinghies make up our surroundings in Simpson Bay Lagoon, St. Maarten. The contrast with previous islands –especially Barbuda – couldn’t be bigger. This is going to be our home and office for a few months and even though getting back here was somewhat of a shock, we knew what to expect. Just like last year, we anchored off Explorer Island, one of the quieter places in the lagoon and far away from all needed facilities. But, there is a little beach on the island and that’s where most of our daily trips lead to, thanks to Darwin.

Mark and I are here to work - to “replenish the cruising kitty” - and we took that task seriously from the moment we arrived. Instead of spending an hour or two a day on our Wirie business in the States, Mark now spends most of his day behind the computer, communicating with Tim, researching ideas and products, advertising, improving the website, understanding the competition, reacting to unethical, untrue statements on forums and message boards, communicating with journalists and providing customer support. The list goes on. Nobody said running a business was easy, let alone from a boat in the Caribbean.

I found a temporary job in a fun bar called Lagoonies for three 7-8 hour shifts a week. Never before was I a bar tender and if anyone would have asked if I’d ever do it, the answer would have been “no”. The person running the bar is Ellie, a friend of ours from last year. Another friend, Christine from Gypsy Cat, started working there before our arrival and one thing lead to another… I like to try new things and although the pay was low, it was an interesting experience and mostly enjoyable, depending on the customers. Last Saturday, after six weeks, I decided to quit for reasons that will become clear in a bit.

The main motivation for our extended time here is The Wirie. At this time of the year, a lot of sailboats stop in St. Maarten. We started building, advertising and selling our marine WiFi device again and it is still successful. We actually met a few sailors that bought our unit online from the States. Now they can hang out with fellow cruisers that obtained The Wirie from Irie in the past and exchange WiFi information or convince new and prospective owners of The Wirie’s capabilities. A big chunk of our days go to ordering parts, retrieving packages from the airport, manufacturing Wiries, communicating with retailers about wrong deliveries (and trying to figure out how to get the right parts here as soon as possible without losing too many sales, spending plenty of money for extra shipping in the process) and talking about our product.

Of course the daily errands can’t fall behind, we need to get and haul water, fuel and groceries from shore to Irie and, ideally, Darwin leaves the boat three times a day. Sharing one dinghy in a big area like the lagoon and each having our own commitments makes things a bit more challenging, especially when I had the night shifts. Add plenty of boat projects and quite a few unexplainable problems to the mix and you start to understand why our life has become stressful once again. As a matter of fact one of the engine problems calls for another haul-out in Philipsburg. Annoying and expensive, especially since we spent enough time in the boat yard in Grenada, less than five months ago. The idea for Irie was to not leave the water for two years…

The bright part of the story is the presence of people we know. Over the last month, time and schedule permitting, there were many evenings we enjoyed the company of our “Luperon friends” Ed and Emily from Nini and Dave from Tatia. Our Israeli friends Tania and Oren from Renata already left again, but Angie – Darwin’s best friend – is still here for a bit. I even went to Ladies Night (free drinks for the ladies!) again with even more tiredness as a result.

All the work and chores add up and it became impossible for me to combine my different jobs (I forgot to mention I want to write more and sold another article), so choices had to be made. It also would be nice to do something fun once in a while or hang out with Mark and Darwin, but that has less priority for now. Not healthy, nor good, I know, but when life is hectic and demanding and our personalities consist of being responsible, genuine and nice, it is hard to change things around. But, I made some time to finally write this blog, so the future is looking brighter already!