Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An Afternoon Break – from Sun and Work

My friend Rosie loves to walk. I don’t. Not without a dog. Not in the beating sun and not when I have sooo much work to do. But, I do love my friend Rosie and I actually could use a break and –to be honest- it is not THAT hot quite yet, here in St. Martin, especially not compared to last year’s awful winter and summer. I also need some exercise to get those butt cheeks moving after hours of sitting on a cushion behind the computer, every day. The fat rolls on my belly could use some flattening out as well. I have a wedding coming up, in a dress! Plus, sunshine means tan improvement. So, enough reasons to go for a walk, together.

Where do you walk in St. Martin, near the vicinity of the lagoon and heavy traffic? It doesn’t really matter. After putting the dinghy at the closest dock, we followed the road and the parked cars westwards, arriving at the airport parking lot. The airport building provides welcome air conditioning for about five minutes, then, it’s back to the heat and the one road, with room for walking on the side. The first beach we passed is Maho Beach, which is famous for its landing and departing planes VERY close by. To have them land right above your head and take off displacing half of the sand on the beach is very exhilarating. Make sure you hold on to your belongings!

Our destination was Mullet Beach, a ten minute stroll past fancy shops, casinos and restaurants and through a run down golf course. By the time the magnificent blue water came in sight, our hot bodies craved for a refreshing swim. After a well needed chitter chatter and a rest in the shade, we walked the length of the beach sinking into the sand. Good exercise! At the quiet end of Mullet Beach, Rosie dished out her shampoo bottle and we took our salt water shower, only this time the bath tub consisted of turquoise sea water instead of green lagoon water. When we turned around to head back, our eyes were met by a massive, ominous looking rain cloud…

Now it became clear to us why everybody packed up and left the beach. Wanting to make it back to the dinghy before dark, we decided to start walking again, not bothered by the sun this time. Soon enough it started with a few drops, turned into a little shower. Being brave women, we agreed upon continuing on unless it was a real downpour. About two minutes later, dripping wet, Rosie stated: “I think this is called a downpour” after which we sheltered in a dilapidated hotel lounge. We stripped down to our bikinis again and took a generous fresh water shower, while the traffic splashed by.

Finally realizing that we couldn’t get any wetter, we finished our walk towards the lagoon, hoping that our other halves thought about closing the hatches and collecting the precious rain water. With little warning, the bright sunny sky had turned into a grey wall of water and we had gotten a free shower out of it. With all our talking and resting, not too many of my previously mentioned goals were accomplished, but we solved many world and wedding problems and since there are many more topics to discuss and opinions to share, we’ll just go for another walk again soon!

(Photos courtesy of Karmen Chow and Rosie Burr)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to (Not) Claim Permanent Lagoon Residency

It was a very calm and sunny day in the St. Martin lagoon (where else) earlier this month. Irie was anchored close to her usual spot near Explorer Island (aka Grand Ilet on the charts). There was no wind and the green water was still and flat like glass. Contrary to what most people might think, the lagoon is pretty clean in our area and on days like this, we can see the grassy bottom. Only, this time, right off Irie’s stern, there was no grass to be seen. All I noticed was something white. Something large. Was it a sandy spot? Was it a block of concrete? A wreck? The next time a shower was needed, I stayed in the cold water a little bit longer and brought my snorkel mask…

It was shallower underneath me and two huge concrete slabs stared me in the face. One of them had steel loops coming out of it and the largest chain I’ve ever seen. The links were as big as my hands and I –for sure- had stumbled across a massive hurricane mooring, suitable for a barge! What a great place to install our own mooring equipment and “sit” on that instead of our precious anchor and falling apart chain. If that would work for the next few months, our own ground tackle would get a break from deterioration. The “our own mooring” plan was formed and all we needed to do was find the right ingredients. In the meantime, we marked “our spot” with a fender.

A very friendly chap Charlie provided us with a ten foot ½" chain in great condition, our single handed girlfriend Patti gave us an enormous shackle she didn’t have any use for on her small sailboat and we dove into our own anchor locker to claim a ¾” line for mooring purposes. We gathered these parts over the last couple of weeks and Mark got to work and spliced the line onto itself in a loop with a piece of hose and onto the chain. With all the preparations taken care of, it was time for our good friend Angie to offer her assistance…

Mark, Angie and I braved the water to assess the situation. Massive shackle in hand, Angie dove down 8 feet, only to come up with the news that it didn’t fit any of the even more massive chain links on the bottom, nor the thick loops! After a few more tries, she found one spot to fit the shackle a certain way. Mark redid some of the attachments on our mooring assembly and Angie retrieved her dive bottle. Now, the serious work could start. Our friend went down again, with plenty of air this time, and managed to attach the shackle to one of the big loops, screwed the finger thick pin in it and secured the contraption with seizing wire. Job well done!

So, that’s how we happened to inherit our own serious mooring in Simpson Bay Lagoon. Irie is now safely (we hope) sitting on her home base, pretty fish eating off the barnacle covered concrete block underneath us. We are a bit apprehensive about the fact that nothing (like an anchor) will slow us down if we drag or get loose. We also have to check the underwater scene once in a while to make sure all is sound. But, that’s a small price to pay to “own” a private piece of property in the glorious Simpson Bay Lagoon. And, for the record, no!, this new mooring development is NOT an act of (semi-) permanency!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mirabella V Enters St. Maarten’s Bowels

Every day, except Sunday, a Cruiser’s Net takes place in St. Maarten/St. Martin on VHF channel 14. It starts at 7:30 in the morning and covers a whole bunch of topics like “weather predictions”, “safety and security”, “announcements”, “new arrivals and departures”, “buy, sell and swap” and a “general” section at the end. Many cruisers participate, information is gathered and knowledge is shared.

A few days ago, someone mentioned on the Net that the largest sloop (single-masted yacht) in the world, the Mirabella V, would attempt to enter Simpson Bay Lagoon through the Dutch bridge, which is the biggest one of the two. With a beam of 48’ 6”, she would only have a few inches to spare. Mark and I found out at what time she would give it a try and decided to interrupt work and go watch the spectacle. It would be a shame to miss out on events like that.

Around 9:30 am, we parked our dinghy at the Yacht Club and walked across the road to see Mirabella V get ready for her approach. For the longest time, no fenders were to be seen and we had a hard time believing that the captain would really take the chance of scratching, if not permanently damaging the perfectly shaped and polished hull. Once the mega yacht started moving towards the bridge, the many members of the crew hauled out the massive fenders and laboriously swung them over the side, keeping a close eye on their location. All our eyes were fixed on the giant approaching the “relatively” narrow bridge. Mark and I moved to the Yacht Club’s viewing platform for a better look.

After some effort and the use of bow thrusters, the skilled captain managed to get Mirabella square with the bridge opening and carefully, she inched her way through the concrete pilings. Once in a while she came to a total stop, making us wonder whether she got stuck. With every forward movement, as small as it was, the crew members attended to the fenders and rolled them with the vessel along the edges of Simpson Bay Bridge. While hanging “in the middle” of the bridge, the steel nerved captain from New Zealand nonchalantly snapped a picture down the side with his compact camera. When Mirabella’s stern finally cleared the structure, a big applause and cheerful noise rose from the spectator’s “bench”.

Once inside, the yacht had a hard time turning towards her moorings in the small open area. Crew of the docked mega yachts came on deck to make sure no collisions occurred. While the colossal sloop maneuvered, a motor yacht crept up her butt, not being able to slow down. This mega yacht looked tiny, compared to the Mirabella V and Mark couldn’t help but yell “Are you guys the tender?” The owner was probably not very pleased with his comment, but the audience and crew got a good laugh out of it! All went fine and Mirabella V managed to attach her 246 feet to the two huge mooring buoys, while the motor yacht found a place in one of the marinas. One question still remains: why would such a grand, unwieldy ship want to enter the relatively shallow and tight-quartered lagoon?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Taking Sunday Off

When Mark and I first started sailing and cruising, every day was alike. We actually got annoyed on weekends, because beaches we walked on, bays we anchored in and places we visited were more crowded than other days. We avoided weekends and hoped for the work week to start again, to get some peace. Since we created our own business two years ago and since I got serious about making some money writing, we established the “normal week” again, hoping to take it easy on Saturday and Sunday. Or, at least, take it easier, since there’s always a lot to do, organize and fix on a boat.

Simpson Bay Lagoon, here in St. Martin, is a safe haven for hundreds of boats. When anchored, you are well protected from wind and swell and most marine stores, happy hour bars and supermarkets are within dinghy reach. As a matter of fact, staying in “the lagoon” is so easy and convenient, that many people get stuck. They come for a week and stay for a month or longer. Add to this that you are “land locked” with two bridges (only opening three times a day) and one starts to see that leaving for the day or the week turns into somewhat of a hassle. Most visiting cruising boats come in and, when they finally leave, move on to the next island. Besides our (failed) plan to take weekends off, we decided to leave the lagoon every other week for Irie and our sakes. This plan is working so far, because we are determined to see some clean and clear water once in a while. Isn’t that why we are in the Caribbean?

Last weekend, the famous and grand Heineken Regatta was taking place in St. Maarten/St. Martin. When Sunday, the last day of the races, came around, Mark and I decided to invite a few friends to Irie for the day and take them race watching and vacationing. We left our homely and homey lagoon through the 8:15 French bridge and hung around Marigot Bay for over two hours. The hundreds of regatta boats were gathering and taking trial runs. Far and fast they didn’t go, because there was practically no wind. The Heineken Regatta is known for this particular phenomenon that is unexplainable. The little wind allowed us to turn the engines off (we didn’t need to get anywhere, let alone a starting line) and leisurely sail Irie back and forth while waiting for the start of the races, postponed by the committee over and over again. A squall was approaching.

Around 11 am, we assumed most of the monohulls and multihulls had taken off, since there was movement around the bay. The many (sometimes high performance) sails were quite the sight. Instead of following the boring race around the west side of the island, we turned east and slowly made our way to Friar’s Bay, escaping the rain. Our guests lounged around in the sun and enjoyed the ride. We all started to have this rare “vacation feeling” of “let’s go sailing and relax at anchor”. Which is exactly what we did after dropping the hook with a nice beach as a backdrop. All the lunch items appeared (our new German friend Axel brought heaps of pasta salad) and ice cold beers went around. This was our equivalent to the landlubber’s “day at the beach” or “road trip to see friends, family or an event”. It felt great to be “away from it all”, just for the day.

Later in the afternoon, we split up and picked the activity most attractive to each one of us. Axel stayed aboard Irie to take a nap (after dropping the rest of us off at the beach), Sabine relaxed in Friar’s Bay and Addie, Mark, the two dogs we were watching for our (other new) friend Patti and I walked the trail to beautiful and quiet Happy Bay. The swell had grown bigger by the time Axel picked us back up, so we waded waist deep out in the sea and carried Marai and Sula into the dinghy. After some more relaxing aboard Irie, we returned to the French bridge and in turn to our spot in the lagoon. By evening, we were settled again, for another two weeks! Even though we were tired of the day’s “events”, our Sunday turned into a long one, attending the regatta concerts and party until 1 am. We did leave early, because... Monday is a work day!