Friday, February 17, 2017

Life In St. Martin - Grand Case and Groceries

Just getting off of our "bus" $1.50 per person each way
Back when I was living vicariously through so many Bloggers, I used to get a kick out of seeing them meet one another in real life.  For some reason that remains a huge deal to me as it is now Dos Libras who is meeting up with people we have followed for so long... Today it is Summertime Rolls!

Brian and Rebecca are younger and maybe a little more intrepid than we are in many ways.  They are cruising part time, leaving their boat in the islands during hurricane season to go back to the the states for work to replenish the cruising kitty.

Their time on the boat is spent "living" in whatever country they happen to have stopped.  I like how they really get to know the places and people before moving on to the next spot.  They have traveled extensively off the boat and have no problem just jumping right in.  Take public transportation for example...

Bruce and I might have gone a long time before we got up the nerve to just hop onto a public "bus" for a ride to another town.  So when Rebecca invited us to go with them for lunch in nearby Grand Case, we were delighted to tag along!

We followed them through the streets of Marigot until we reached a bus stop, then piled in with the locals.  We had no idea how or when to get off the bus... but a nice woman took pity upon us and helped us figure it out.  Again we were thankful for people who spoke English!

Brian and Rebecca had honeymooned in Grand Case many years ago, so they had been here before, but you know how things change...  The town was a little bit more "grown up" but still remained a tiny coastal town.

One street off the beach we found wall to wall shops and restaurants.  I wondered how they make it in this little place... but soon found that it is one of the Must-Do stops on the island.

After walking the streets a bit looking for a restaurant they remembered... we decided to cut through to the beach.  Much better!

Dinghy dock???

The Lolo

We found Lolo's and took our seats, the best in the house!  Not saying much... but the view is stunning!

I'm not saying that Brian and Rebecca are a bad influence... but I will say that during our three hour lunch... Bruce and I had no less than three "beverages" each... Not something we normally do and especially not at LUNCH!  But it was a late lunch and probably would end up being our dinner... so I'm rationalising it away like that...

We had fun getting to know these two New Yorkers!

I'm always amazed at the electrical engineering in the islands...
Finally we moved on back to the street to look for the bus that would take us back to Marigot...

Nope, that's not it!

I love the tiny island churches everywhere!

Looks like a fun place!
We found a taxi before we found the bus, and for $8 per person they took us back to Marigot and dropped us off at the grocery store, the Super U!

Huge thanks to Brian and Rebecca for giving us a jump-start in getting around the island.  It would have taken us days (or longer) to get up the nerve to roam as far as you took us today!

It's here somewhere...
It's always good to have another cruiser to show you the ropes!

I've gotta tell you, plunking yourself down in a new country, that speaks another language, can be very intimidating.

But once someone shows you around a little bit, it's a whole lot easier to explore on your own...

Foreign names... who would have thought this was a grocery store?

What an adventure!  Foreign foods!  FUN!

Some things are the same... 
It's fun navigating through a foreign grocery store.  You have almost no brand name recognition... you have no idea which brands are good and which are not...  Some foods are completely unknown and it's fun to take a chance on something new...  And sometimes it isn't!  I wish someone had told us that this frozen readymade lasagna wasn't going to be good...  I guess we should have known... $1.75 US

I think it is the equivalent of French Chef Boy-R-Dee!  Oh well... c'est la vie!

Life in St. Martin - RX Eyeglasses In Foreign Countries

OK so now what???  We're here in St. Martin.  First on our agenda was to get new batteries.  Our plan was to order expensive Lifeline AGMs to replace our no-name mismatched AGMs.  A trip to the nearest marine store, l'Ile Marine (formerly Budget Marine on the French side) and we changed our minds.  They carry a much less expensive brand, Numax... sold in the UK... (and no, I'm not going to become that annoying traveler that touts my worldliness every chance I get, but face it, the US is not the world) we can have three batteries for the price of one Lifeline...  And we won't have to worry so much if we have to replace them again in three years.  Cruisers are hard on batteries...  So we arranged to have them delivered to our boat the next morning out in Marigot Bay.

And about Marigot Bay... It is a wide open anchorage with lots of boats.  Depts are in the 10-20 ft range and even though it is a large, seemingly unprotected space the prevailing east winds and waves don't reach this bay...  normally.  We have a forecast for North or NE wind and waves following a brief clocking around through the west... which will cause the anchorage to be uncomfortable.  So do we go into the Lagoon?

The scary canal and bridge opening to allow a boat through
We've heard lots of bad things about the Lagoon being dirty and the bridges being difficult to transit due to current... and the depths inside the Lagoon are treacherous...  But it's safer in there, and more comfortable in adverse conditions...  But the holding is terrible and if the winds really pick up there will be boats dragging all around into one another...  What to do, what to do?

Our little group was experiencing an overall reluctance to enter the Lagoon, so we decided to just tough it out in the Bay unless it got really bad... We are close to the canal where the chandlery is (where we will be spending a lot of time) and for now, we will just stay put and do all of our exploring by dinghy.

Once you pass through the canal, which can have some current but not that big a deal, you come into the wide open space of Simpson Bay Lagoon.  There are channel markers, contrary to what we had been told... leading to the left and to the right.  Turn to port and you will pass a couple of boatyards and a mooring field.  Boats are moored fore and aft and stacked in like dominos...

Moored boats

Further on you find the public dinghy dock at Marina Royale.  There is a boardwalk around the cul-de-sac lined with bars and restaurants and some shops.  We were told that this dinghy dock is the safest place to leave a locked dinghy.  There is another public dock out in Marigot Bay in the middle of town but it is reportedly stalked by thieves who are bold enough to steal your gas can in broad daylight.  We won't be stopping there in the dinghy... we can easily reach it on foot.
A walk through Marigot

A modest vendor on the poor side of town

There are small groceries scattered throughout 

So many people have told us that we are going to love St. Martin.  After only a couple of days here, we can wholeheartedly agree.  Fears about the language barrier are gone as almost everyone here speaks at least a little english...  Especially the ones who wish to sell us something!  Cruisers can reach anything they need by dinghy and a short walk.  If you want to tour the island it can be done by rental car for about $40 per day, or you can hop onto one of the public busses for $2 or less per person each way.  You can splurge on a taxi for not much more.

St. Martin promotes itself as "The Friendly Island" and I can vouch for the truthfulness of this.  Everywhere we go, people are friendly and welcoming.  It is very easy to be here... we may never leave!

Bruce broke his eyeglasses recently and we worried that we wouldn't be able to get replacements...  We asked around and found that there are several optometrists and many places to get glasses made.

Tendence Optic looked like a good enough place to look... Genevieve was a little evasive about the cost of the exam... but after we picked a frame for Bruce, she said that we could have a second pair for free in his prescription for around $500 US, including the exam.  That's about what we would have paid in the states so we were happy with that!

The exam was "old school" which suits me just fine.  I've never been happy with the new method and after Bruce got his glasses back and loved them... I ordered a pair of sunglasses for myself!  I paid about $200 less for mine than I paid for the same options in Florida.  I should have ordered them when Bruce did, because they take 3 weeks to arrive...  Island Time.

This will be our third time receiving "health care" outside the US.  And we are happy to say that we are happy customers!  Yes... there IS life outside the States... It may be a little more relaxed and not as shiny and polished... but I'll gladly trade good, friendly care over a fancy couch to sit on in the waiting room any day!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bienvenue á France

Exclusive Necker Island owned by Sir Richard Branson
Just like that… we’re gone!  

Our batteries are toast.  Bruce spends a large portion of his day coaxing the last bits of life out of them.  That’s no way to enjoy life…

So, even though we still had 9 days left before we had to either leave the BVI or extend our stay… we took the weather window that looked to be a “sure thing”.

We felt badly about hurrying our friends on Adventure US 2… we encouraged them to remain behind as it looked like there might be another window coming up soon… but after two days of scrambling to get ready, we welcomed them to our spot near Prickley Pear Island in Virgin Gorda’s North Sound and cleared out with only minutes to spare to make our planned departure time of 3pm on  Valentine’s Day.

I've heard that the palm trees on this tiny island are actually wi-fi antennae for Necker Island...
For two days Bruce and I had been slowly making preparations… I made Passage Brownies, he cleaned the bottom of the boat.  He checked everything in the engine room and I put things away that might fly around should we be tossed by a wave…  Business as usual for passage preparation… except one thing was missing.  Anxiety.  

We were both relaxed and not really even thinking about the passage.  We had to work to remember what we even needed to do to get ready!  We’ve been in our comfort zone for so long, we’ve forgotten how to “cruise”.  Wipe away those mental cobwebs and try to muster up a bit of healthy fear… nope.  Not happening.  

Excitement maybe… yes, it was growing…  We will leave the familiar islands we’ve enjoyed for these many months… has it really been almost a year since we arrived in the PR/VI area?  

Anyway… so, 3pm comes and by ten after we were motoring out the North Sound channel and making our hard right to head southeast toward new territory.  The passage would take 12-15 hours so we had to travel at night to assure a daylight arrival.

We left early so that we could try to sail, expecting to go slowly… Weather predictions gave us hope of enough north component in the wind to make sailing SE possible… if we could just have ENOUGH wind.  

The problem is that with “enough” wind to push the boat along with enough speed, the corresponding sea state would be more rough, thus detracting from the advantage of more wind…  Choices.  We chose based upon a benign sea state forecast, even if we had to motor the whole way!

Easy ride so far...
I was dead set on sailing.  We had all night.  Let’s just shut off the engine and see what happens… Slowly we turned down to our course after raising the full mainsail… we were doing barely 3 knots.  We rolled out the full jib and it got us up to 4 knots…  

The last bit of BVI

Deploying the pole
Adventure US 2 did the same, but they kept their engine going and so they quickly pulled past us…  Slowly we rode the wavy bumps as we passed Necker Island… The wind shadow of the island further decreased our speed to less than 2 knots.  I could see the veins in Bruce’s neck beginning to bulge but he did his best to channel that energy into coaxing as much speed as possible with the given conditions…  If we could just get out of this wind shadow!

Down comes the British courtesy flag!
Eventually we did, but it didn’t do much good.  Looking forward we could see three boats, including AU2.  Periodically they would hail us to see if we were having any trouble… I think that’s code for “Get your asses moving”!!!  But this is how we cruise!  They wanted to remain within VHF hailing distance but it really wasn’t necessary… Conditions were unthreatening and there were quite a few other boats out here…

I looked back to see how far we had come as the sun began to make its downward path… I admit that I was surprised at how little distance we had covered… and so, before it got dark, I gave up and started the engine.  So we motor-sail the whole way… At least we got to use the sails…

There was still land in our sunset but the rest of our 360° view was flat water and sky.  The blue color drained slowly from the sky, replaced by pinks and purples before all fell dark.  Goodbye BVI, It’s been fun!
AU2 in the distance
Gaining on them

Jezabelle and I left Bruce at the helm and went below for a nap.  As always, it took me a while to deal with all of the sounds before falling asleep.  Each sound had to be analysed, identified, and memorised so that I could wake if there was any change…  It seemed like I dozed for a time when I was suddenly awake again.  On my own I awoke refreshed to take my watch.  

Things hadn’t changed much outside of it being much darker with a sky-full of stars.  Bruce took his turn in the bed… Jezabelle, who had followed me up to have a snack, joined him back in the bed.  I settled after assessing our situation and making a minor course change…  

I marveled at how far I’ve come, from dreading night passages to truly enjoying them.  The wind on my face alternated between cool and warmer, moist puffs.  The movement of the boat was my friend.  It feels like flying.  I could see AU2 up ahead.  We spoke briefly on VHF, just checking in.  

I could see a glow up ahead on the horizon.  I knew it had to be the moon… not full… waning but full only a couple of days ago.  I watched in fascination as a huge orange ball rose silently from the dark horizon.  It was stunning.  I can’t describe the feeling.  How profoundly fortunate are we few to be out here on the dark Caribbean Sea witnessing this private show.

With the moon came light on the water.  The whole night glowed with a blueish sheen as I watched all around.  I had my Kindle but was enjoying just watching…  every now and then, checking the AIS and the instruments, then going back to gazing around me.  

The Disney Fantasy announced to all concerned vessels that they would be conducting a fireworks display… Michael called me on VHF to make sure I had heard it… The ship was behind us and off to starboard.  Oh there it is!  I watched the tiny fireworks… what a treat!  Other sailors called the ship on VHF to thank them for the show… Did I mention that we are a LUCKY bunch???

Bruce came back up and I went down for a second sleep…this time falling asleep almost instantly.  I was sleeping hard when Bruce touched my foot, causing me to start awake…. He said “everything is alright, get awake and come up soon”.  I did.  We rolled in the jib. 

Alone again, the moon had made her way to her high point in the sky. The winds continued to slowly come around from NE to a more easterly direction requiring a tightening of the mainsail.  Twice before dawn the wind moved forward, the mainsail flapped and I tightened it up again.  

Bruce came back on deck just after the last tightening.  Dawn would come soon.  It was too late for sleeping, I would be needed to bring us into the anchorage in an hour or so… Besides… I was too excited to sleep.  Jezabelle was up demanding to be fed her breakfast and I was ready for coffee… Thus our normal morning routine, our normal life routine resumed.

Dawn was coming.  My eyes eagerly scanned the horizon trying to discern what was light from the island up ahead and what could be the first sign of the sun…  Finally she made herself known and committed to her path.  Sunrise over St. Martin.  A small thing, but as I thought about it… not really.  We have achieved another milestone.  We’ve crossed the Anegada Passage unscathed.  We have reached the beginning of the “easy” sailing… no longer East-West but a more leisurely North-South… We’ve reached islands we have never seen.

As the sun rose, Adventure US 2 came into clear view.  We dropped the mainsail, now doing us no good… The waves were practically gone this close to the island.  We no longer needed the mainsail to steady the boat.  We rounded the point of land that protects Marigot Bay from the west and thrilled to the beauty around us!

Saba and rain

After a quick consult with AU2 over VHF, we dropped anchor in Marigot Bay just outside the canal to the lagoon.  Unlike Bruce and I who had taken individual watches, Michael had sailed the entire night and needed rest.  We would just stay out here and re-evaluate our options later after a rest…

Jezabelle sniffs the air and all the new scents

Happy cat!

We raised our yellow quarantine flag and had breakfast and a nap… Somewhere around noon, I learned that we had missed the opportunity to clear into the country until after 2pm.  You see, here in France they close most businesses down for a long lunch…

Marigot Bay
I must say that at this point our spirits were sagging somewhat.  There is always a little bit of that upon arrival to a new place.  After the initial jubilation there's a period of "now what?" that always comes.

We don't know where anything is, we don't know what to do next...  and these feelings are many times aggravated by being tired after the adrenaline rush or the night passage fatigue...

Nothing to do for it but just press on... so... armed with only what I've been able to learn from online sources and from others who have recently cleared into St. Martin... we were off to find that place with the computer to clear in!

Approach to the canal

Fuel Dock
The French are very relaxed about clearance proceedings.  There are several places you can do the quick formalities which consist of completing a form of drop-down boxes on a computer, printing out the form and presenting it to the guy behind the counter for an official stamp.  No cost, just a requested small donation to a charity…  

After clearing in we took a spin around the town but soon returned to our boats to raise our French courtesy flag and relax…  Ahhh we made it!  It may not be THE FRANCE… but it is A France!  

l'Ile Marine Dock
Canal businesses

Sandy Ground Bridge on the French side leading into the Lagoon
Marigot from the lagoon side
Boat Yards on either side of the canal
Marina Royale dinghy dock

Mooring field fore and aft moored
Outside in Marigot Bay
Sandy Ground Bridge.
The fort!
The public dinghy dock in Marigot Bay

Now that we're cleared in officially and kind of have an idea of where things are, we were beginning to feel better about life.  We returned to our boats and relaxed for the evening.  Feelings of contentment surged back to the surface as our eyes gathered in the surrounding hills and the beautiful waters all around us.

Whoops!  Almost lost the halyard!

Whatever misgivings we had are slipping away... We are back to that feeling of accomplishment and excitement about exploring our new Country.  

St. Martin is the 5th foreign country we've visited on our boat.  As we look back over the mental miles we've covered, it all seems so small now.  So attainable.  

We've got a lot of boat projects planned for our time here in St. Martin, but for tonight... we will just relax and soak it all in.... Cruising life is GOOD!