Antigua, steeped in history.

The sun is just peeking over the horizon here in Falmouth Harbor here in Antigua and it’s going to be a beautiful day.

We arrived here after dark on Tuesday after making the 85 mile run from St Barths.  It was a very lumpy run but compliments of a large cold front, the wind was from the west and behind us all the way.  Brenda wasn’t too pleased with the lumpy conditions nor were Bill and Maureen aboard Kalunamoo who also made the run but at least the wind was behind us the entire way.

The harbor in St Barths is very exposed to the west, as are most harbors in the Caribbean, so when the front arrived just after midnight on Tuesday morning, the wind clocked around and all the anchored boats found themselves on a lee shore.  The inner harbor is very tight there and it’s full of mega–mega yachts that spend much of the winter there.

Anyway, as the wind shifted things got pretty chaotic in the anchorage with a number of boats dragging their anchors.  Fortunately, we didn’t have any boats close to us behaving badly although it became quite rough.  Our plan was to leave the harbor about an hour before light so I was up for a number of hours before our departure keeping an eye out for “visitors” dragging down on us.

Around dawn a squall came through bringing with it heavy rain and gusty winds but after that finally passed we got underway for Antigua.  I stayed up from about 01:30 on so I didn’t get much sleep.

Our run to Antigua began with light westerlies and we were pretty comfortable motor sailing along.   A few hours into the run I noticed a number of big boats approaching from the west with spinnakers up bearing down on us and soon realized that they were competitors in the Caribbean 600, a popular distance race that begins and ends in Falmouth harbor, where we are now.

It was an amazing sight to see these boats, many with familiar names like Rambler 88 and ICAP Leopard bearing down on Pandora in the early morning light.  As they approached, the view was spectacular with Saba framed in the distance by billowing clouds.The first to pass us, Green Dragon, was sporting the Volvo Ocean Race logo on it’s bow. They were very close as the passed our bow at double digit speeds.   I waved to the crew on the stern.  The helmsman looked uber serious. And then they were gone.
The view of these powerful machines in the early light was something to behold.To see boats like this on the ocean and have them come so close isn’t something you see every day.  I’ll bet that even the most jaded owner would be interested it this shot of his boat. Although perhaps unhappy that he was behind this one.   At least I think he was behind.   Perhaps not…
They were this close.
So, after about 13 lumpy hours at sea,  “Are we there yet?”, we finally arrived in Antigua. Yesterday, after a day ashore here in Falmouth and English Harbor, we passed Rambler 88 and ICAP Leopard, now tied up at the marina.  A few years ago I saw Leopard off of Newport and the last time I saw Rambler 88 she was in Palm Beach last year with her predecessor Rambler.   I wonder if the owner of Rambler 88 still owns both of the boats.   That would likely be less painful for him than mere mortal boat owners like me.   

Boats like these are campaigned all over the world and huge containers of gear are shipped, along with them, from race to race.  And don’t forget all those crew. These are the really big kids of the racing world.

A short walk from Falmouth Harbor is English Harbor, home to Nelson’s Dock Yard, the ancestral home to the British Navy back when Europe’s major sea powers were duking it out here in the Caribbean.  This well protected little harbor has been beautifully restored.The waterfront is chock full of magnificent yachts from all over the world. I expect that the dining is far better now than back when Lord Nelson was hanging out here.  However, I am afraid that even now, it can not hold a candle to the French islands.   “Can I have a baguette?”  Sorry, no such luck.   It’s more like “wonder bread”, a sort of “I wonder how they can even call this bread”, sort o bread.    However, it is served in a very lovely setting so that has to be good for something.  Right?“Sir, would you care for some bread, such as it is, with your fish and chips?”  “No, I’m fine, really.”
One particularly nice thing about the area is that there are “appropriate” businesses in the restored buildings.  Even the old sail loft is now an actual sail loft repairing sails. The ruins of the sail loft on the waterfront is now a nice inn and restaurant.
I doubt that Lord Nelson was able to enjoy afternoon tea in a spot quite this nice. Brenda and I plan to do just that when our son Christopher joins us here in a few weeks.   Well, we hope he will be able to get away from his job and come here.  Fingers crossed.  “Chris, are you reading this?  Come see your mother!”I wonder if Nelson stood here to have his portrait painted way back then.  No, I expect that the tree wasn’t nearly as impressive back then although I am sure it was there overlooking the entrance to the harbor.
All and all, this is one of the most interesting places that we have visited yet and we have been told that, as you head further south, it just gets better and better.

Last night Brenda and I, in deference to the island’s British heritage, of course, sat up on Pandora’s bow, Gin and Tonic in hand, and toasted to the sunset.  The view of the marina in the distance was beautiful in the evening light.  It was almost as pretty as the view of the CT River from the deck at the Essex Yacht Club back home, actually.   Almost…Well, it’s a short distance to a number of other wonderful islands so perhaps over the next few weeks we may visit Nevis, St Kitts, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, The Saints or perhaps another island who’s name escapes me right now.

Good news! Some islands are French so there’s hope that we will find good bread again.  I can’t wait.

One way or the other, wherever we go, these islands are steeped in history and I am looking forward to learning more.

 

Where the really, really “big kids” come to play.

Well, here we are in St Barths and seeing, for the first time, where the really big dollars go when they visit the Caribbean.  The staggering display of wealth here is unrivaled, and I find myself wondering just how somoene can accumulate so much in a single lifetime.

There is a remarkable amount of “hardware” moored in the tiny harbor or, if they are over 200′ long, outside as that’s the limit on size if you want to tie up to a dock..  And tie up they do as they are lined up like cord wood.  It’s an impressive display of wealth.This is the harbor that the boat I crewed on from Long Island to Ft Lauderdale last fall was coming to for Christmas.  As you can’t reserve a slip here, you just have to show up and hope that there’s room.  And, as the owner wanted to be there during Christmas, the highest of high season, the crew was going to bring the boat down a full month early just to hold their spot for the four days she planned to be aboard.

As we neared the harbor, we passed this lovely sailboat complete with umbrellas on the aft deck.  You know, it’s imperative to keep Buffy out of the sun.  That’s of course, unless you plan turn in your sun wrinkled Buffy for a new one down the road.    Go ahead Buffy, you look terrific with a tan. Outside of the harbor is where anyone who is unlucky enough to have a boat that’s over 200′.  Perhaps the Queen of the fleet in this regard is Eclipse, the second largest yacht in the world at 533′ long, owned by Roman Abramovitch, the Russian Oligarch.   This yacht cost something like $500,000,000 to build back in 2010.  I guess that the recession didn’t hurt him much.  I am sure that it pays really, really  well to be on Putin’s good side.   Believe it or not, Abramovitch also has a home on St Barths.  It must be a pretty amazing home if staying aboard Eclipse with the 70 crew isn’t pampering enough.  Want to learn more?  Check out this description of the boat.  And, if you are one of the 10 or so people in the world that could afford to charter such a boat, it’s available if you have the coin.  Sorry the photo is from so far away, but it was the only way I could fit it all in a single photo.    Ashore, you can see why the “well coined” want to spend time here.  It’s very beautiful with tree/palm lined shady streets, all with charming sounding French names.   Well, perhaps not all that shady.  We walked by this lovely little church as a service was underway with sounds of the congregation wafting out of the open doors and windows.  I’ll bet that the parishioners give generously to the church with the hope that they will be absolved of any number of possible sins that they may have committed in the name of capitalism.  Sin or not, I’ll bet these visitors to such a high end and rarefied paradise are having a great time.  My mother used to tell me that “the wealthy are miserable”.  Based on this place, I am not completely confident that she was correct in this statement.  Sorry Mom, I am fairly confident that was the only time you weren’t correct, so don’t worry.

The area surrounding the tiny harbor is lined with lovely restored historic buildings.
Even the ones that are in various states of disrepair look positively lovely.    There’s me too although,  I hope, not in a similar state of disrepair.  Don’t you just love my fashionable hat?  I am old enough to want to stay out of the sun and subscribe to the belief that “there is simply no such thing as a good tan”.   Are you listening Buffy?And, speaking of the “little people”, from a financial perspective only, of course, I love these little trucks.  It would be great fun to “deliver stuff” around town back home with one of these.  “Brenda, I’m off to the dump again.  Isn’t my new truck the cutest?”  Bummer that these aren’t offered in the U.S.   My driving one of these things would positively horrify my older son Rob who favors multi-ton behemoths.And, when I wasn’t busy ogling the massive mega-stuff in the harbor, the St Barth’s Yellow Submarine caught my eye.  I have no idea what this is all about but it’s yellow, for sure.  Earlier in the day yesterday we cleared out of St Martin to make the short run over to St Barths.  As we were leaving the lagoon it was really impressive to see the long line of huge yachts lined up to squeeze their way through the narrow lift bridge.  P2, all 140′ of her, was ahead of us.  We know the owner of this yacht.  He also owns Marie, the 200′ ketch that Brenda and I were guests on two years ago in Newport.   P2 is carbon fiber and a very fast boat.  She’s now anchored out near St Barths too. This ketch, complete with plumb bow and bowsprit is beautiful  Love the light grey hull. Very tasteful. Everything on these yachts is massive.  Consider the size of the boom on this huge sloop.  The crew member on deck looks tiny under the mainsail traveler.   Imagine the loads on this when she is heeled over in a stiff breeze. All and all, this part of the Caribbean is the place to see and be seen if you are fortunate to have the “coin” to play the game.  And, it would seem, with about two dozen mega,mega yachts in this harbor or nearby suggest, the ability to accumulate massive amounts of wealth is alive and well and if you have it St Barths is the perfect place to flaunt it.

The good news is that although just about everything here is hugely expensive, Brenda and I can still go ashore confident that when I say “yes, I think I’ll have another baguette” it won’t set us back more than a buck.   Well, that’s the one thing we have in common with the rest of the residents.

So what about dinner for the little people here in St Barths?  For dinner tonight Brenda’s cooking duck with a fig preserve sauce.  The only sad part is that our dishwasher seems to have left us so cleanup will be left to me.

Such is life here in St Barths,even for us “little kids” but don’t feel too sorry for me as I’ll will be drinking French wine while cleaning up and it’s less expensive than in the U.S.  Thank goodness or we’d be reduced to a diet of bread and water.

But we aren’t.

Editor:  For those of you, you know who you are, who are interested in seeing where we are, Pandora’s AIS is back in business after being off for about a week or so and, of course, we continue to update our position every day.  You can learn more about this on the home page button “Where in the world is Pandora”.

And yes, for the moment, all the moles have been soundly “whacked” into their holes and everything aboard Pandora is in working order.  Hopefully, it will be more than a few days from now until another mole rears it’s ugly head again.

Settling into Caribbean Cruising.

It’s mid February and we have now been aboard for about two weeks, the amount of time it generally takes for me and Brenda to settle in once we”ve moved aboard.    It’s also about how long it takes to decompress from the pressures of the holidays and “land”.    Since our really annoying passage from the BVI to St Martin we have enjoyed both the Dutch and French side as well as a short side trip for a few days in Grand Case.  I talked about that spot in my last post but it was just so lovely that I have to share a few more images of our visit to that lovely town, home to the largest concentration of French restaurants on the island.

But, before I get into it, this is the view that greeted me this morning as I put the coffee on.  What a beautiful way to begin the day.   Actually, that was yesterday’s sunrise, but I wanted to use it so let’s just make believe it was today.  Not to put too fine a point on it but it was dark when I got up today but a view, very similar to this, and you’ll just have to believe me on this, was to be had shortly there after.   “Bob, Bob, don’t be so pedantic, it’s exhausting,  MOVE ON ALREADY.”  Ok, but just about every day’s sunrise is beautiful.  SO THERE!When we were in Grand Case, Bill and I went for a walk on the beach.  I loved this view of umbrellas, more like a flock of butterflies.  Do butterflies “flock”? At the end of the beach there was a wrecked sailboat.  This is Bill taking in the scene. The beach went on for perhaps a mile with a dramatic “cliffy” end.  White clouds are endlessly fascinating to me.  “Yes, that and sunsets Bob.”

We went out for Valentine’s dinner with our cruising buddies from Kalunamoo, Maureen and Bill, to a very nice French restaurant.  Good choice because French is about the only choice in Grand Case.  The weather was very cooperative as it seems that the stronger winds that plagued our trip here have abated for the moment.  The view from Pandora on the calm waters was pretty amazing.  Yes, I know, it’s that whole puffy cloud thing again. Our table at dinner was overlooking the water.  What a sunset.  You can see the showers in the distance, it’s the dark band coming down from the cloud. Brenda and I did some shopping earlier in the day and enjoyed the sights.  I was surprised to see an old Morgan in parts.  I wonder what the story behind this car is?  Morgans are still made in England and are eagerly sought after by collectors.   This one would take some doing to get back on the road.  However, it would be a fun story to tell.  “Oh yeah, I found this car in St Martin behind a lovely French restaurant.   Had it shipped back to the States….”I loved the ferns growing up on this doorstep.Yesterday morning we headed back to Simpson Bay and made the 09:00 bridge.  As we were waiting to enter the bay a large spotted eagle ray swam by Pandora.  She/he was about 4’ from wingtip to wingtip.  A majestic sight.This training ship has been in port here for a few weeks.  It’s a bit odd with it’s green sails.   She’s a big girl though so I guess she can dress any way she wishes.The entrance into the lagoon is impossibly narrow with a rocky shoal protruding into the channel on port side. Since moving back here I have been consumed with “whack-a-mole”, yes, boat repairs.  When we tried to pull up our anchor in Grand Case the windless failed.  No warning or grinding sound, just no “weighing” except by brute muscle.  It was an exhausting job.  After hours of “analysis” I decided to scrap it and get a new one.  It looked nasty.    Looking at this photo now I realize that I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had just realized that it was hopeless from the get go.  However, sometimes “ugly is only skin deep” but not with windlesses, it woudl seem. Fortunately St Martin, both the Dutch and French sides are “duty free” so prices are competitive with the U.S. and in some cases, less.  There are two large chandleries on the Dutch side, Island Water World and Budget Marine.  However, Island Water World has a much larger selection and as luck would have it, windlasses were on sale.  They even had a 24V unit in stock.  How lucky was that?  I can not tell a lie but I’d have paid most anything.  The store manager helped me set things up by taking parts from several units and putting them together so I’d have enough power to pull up the anchor in a package that would integrate with the electrical components already installed on Pandora from the failed unit. It took some time to get everything settled but I was very pleased to have been able to find that they had everything in stock.   Thank goodness that the unit failed here instead of somewhere more remote.  Lucky me.  Yes, very, very lucky.

It took hours to remove and diagnose the old unit but once out about a half day of work got the new one in place and cleaned up.  And, as a special bonus, the anchor locker is now all tidy and clean.  Doesn’t it look like a “million bucks”?  Actually, it was less than two “boat bucks” not counting the multiple hammers I wore out “whacking” down the moles.   However, whatever the price, my aching back says “priceless”.  I also was able to pick up my repaired mainsail and will install it today.  Hopefully, it won’t be too windy as getting such a big sail up can be challenging.   Fingers crossed that it goes smoothly.  My friend Bill has said he’d help.

So, with the mainsail repaired and the newly failed windless back in business I have “whacked” most of the moles back into their holes for the moment.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the SSB is back in service yet but hopefully, I will be able to run some new power cables to get that in shape today. Well, I’ll at least have the materials on board.

So, our plan is to take advantage of light winds in the next few days to make our way to St Barths where we will stay for a day or so before heading further south to perhaps Nevis or St Kitts.  After that, who knows.   Brenda and I would like to visit some of the islands, like Guadeloupe, a group sometimes called “the islands that brush the clouds” that have rainforests before she heads home from Antigua in mid April.

Perhaps I’ll close with a shot of last evening’s sunset.  It was beautiful and enhanced by a wonderful Mexican chili dish by Brenda.  To call it chili doesn’t do it justice. Yum.Oh yeah, one more thing.  Meet Louis, Pandora’s new mascot.  Brenda “adopted” him in Grand Case a few days ago.   Louis comes in his own “match box” bed, complete with a pillow, blanket and mattress.  Of course, the sailors suit is, as Brenda would say in a high pitch “mousy” voice, “just soooo cute”.  Louis will be traveling with us for the next few years until our Granddaughter Tori is old enough for Louis to live with her and tell her all about all the wonderful places he traveled with her Ya Ya and grandpa.

Just like me and Brenda, Louis seems to be settling in nicely to the Caribbean cruising life and enjoyed sharing stories with us during our candlelight supper last night.

I guess that’s about it for now.   Yes, a few more “moles” whack at and then on to other adventures.

Louis tells me that he’s about ready too.

 

Grand Case is, well, just grand.

It’s Tuesday morning and we are anchored off of Grand Case, a charming little French seaside town on St Martin.  This spot is known for the many French restaurants and shops that line the waterfront, the largest concentration on the island, I’m told.  It looks, well, very French.   Not surprisingly, they even have a little bakery in town.  Can I have another baguette please?  Actually, yesterday I bought two…

The anchorage is a bit rolly but picturesque.  There is a pretty impressive concrete pier to tie the dink up to complete with some pretty good sized waves breaking on the nearby beach. Getting off and on the dink can be a bit challenging with the surge and there is no way that many would brave the surf to land a dink on the beach.   That’s Pandora off in the distance, center. There is also a small airport in town and every so often a plane comes in from over the water appearing to barely clear the main street and boats in the harbor.   This one came in just a few moments ago.  It sure looked like it was awfully close to clipping the buildings on shore.  “Yes, please, I’ll have some landing gear with my foie gras.”Yesterday Brenda and I walked downtown to look in the shops.  It’s a pretty town.  Very quaint.   And yes, it looks very French.  Funny thing. A little Catholic church right in town.   Oddly, I hear that they do the entire service in French.  Why is that, I wonder?  It’s pretty amazing, even the little kids have learned to speak French here.  I never learned.  Too hard. This is where we are having dinner tonight with friends.  Even this place is French.  Go figure. Most of the restaurants have large tanks of lobster on display.   These are bigger than they look.After our walk, more of a short stroll actually, we stopped for a drink at a bar near the town dock.  The bar had set up a number of “samples” on the railing running down to the dock.  It was a very inviting and creative way to show their wares, I thought.   Just try that on a “public” pier in the US.  “You can’t do that. Get those drinks off of private property.  It violates the separation of government and private enterprise”.  No wait, perhaps with Trump that will no longer be a problem for us.    Something to look forward to. The view of the harbor as the sun went down was really nice and put even more “happy” in our “happy hour”. As the sun set behind the hills it was really beautiful off to the east.Pandora looked her best in the evening light.As we sat in the bar a few planes landed at the airport.  It looked like we could nearly touch them as they passed overhead.  “De plane, De plane!” If you get that joke, “you are really old now”. A beautiful view of town from aboard Pandora once the sun went down. Oh yeah, remember “whack-a-mole”?  Well, he’s back at it again as my SSB and AIS both failed yesterday.  Yacht repair in exotic places once again.  I think I have tracked it down to a failed DC/DC converter.  More to come on that.  Besides, we will be back in Simpson Bay to pick up my mainsail as the new part for the batten will arrive tomorrow.   I’ll have to try and get all of this fixed so we can make a run to St Barths over the weekend.

“Fixing the boat again Bob?”  Yes, I’m afraid that’s true.  It’s always something.  Isn’t it just grand?

 A thousand choices made…

It’s Sunday morning early, the nearly full moon has not yet set and I am struck by how bright it is shining down on the water here in St Martin.  We have been here for less than a week but I am getting itchy to move on to another island.  It’s hard for me to stay in one place for very long, not because I am bored by this beautiful place (did I say I love baguettes?) but because there is just so much more I want to do and our time aboard is short.

This year, for a variety of reasons, Brenda can’t stay aboard for all that long, only about 2 ½ months and then she will head home.  We got off to a late start this year, not getting aboard until the end of January and Brenda has a weaving conference in mid-April in TN that she’d like to attend.   I’d prefer for her to stick around longer but can’t fault her for wanting to kick her “land season” off with a special weaving event.

Yes, I am ready to head to St Barts but we can’t go quite yet as my sail, the one with the snowbound part on order, won’t be ready until mid-week.  After that, further south, weather permitting.

Yesterday, Saturday, was Market Day in Margiot, on the French side, and Brenda and I enjoyed browsing the stalls in the town square.  It was a riot of color set against the backdrop of the old fort overlooking the harbor.The stalls were set up so close to each other that making your way through the market was like winding through a sort of technicolor maze with brightly colored sheets billowing in the trades.The sights and smells were intoxicating with a some vendors selling a dizzying array of Caribbean spices.  We wanted to buy one of each and would have had we not been short of cash. We had lunch at a lovely little bistro overlooking the park and took advantage of the WiFi to call our boys Rob and Chris. It was really nice to catch up with them.

The other evening we went over to the Dutch side to have ice cream at we were told was “the place” for such things.  It was a round building with a carousel out back, overlooking the harbor.  Inside the main building was decorated with a series of large mosaic murals set in the wall.  Each was based on an old photo celebrating ice cream.  Celebrate away.  I agree, Ice cream is good.

As I studied each image I was struck by the level of detail that went into their design.  These images, when viewed casually, from afar, looked so simple.   A little girl eating an icecream cone.  A boy getting an ice cream cone from a cart.  Simple? Yes?And yet, when explored closely, there’s more than meets the eye as it’s actually made up of countless tiny pieces that contribute to the whole.  Perhaps it’s like life.  Thousands, or millions of little decisions or pieces that bring each of us to where we are today.  Many little pieces of tile.   Up close, hard to say what it is.   Stand back and it becomes clear…good or bad.

I bring this up because here we are, Brenda and me, now into our fifth winter cruising together, months away from our 40th wedding anniversary, and a life together that has turned out in ways that I could never have dreamed of back in High School when we were first dating.   It’s been over 45 years that we’ve been hanging out together and I frankly find it amazing that we have found ourselves together in this place after all these years.   A thousand little pieces of tile…

Think about what life was like when you were 16 or 17.   If you were like me, well it wasn’t a particularly flattering picture.  One particular image that stands out to me is what I wore to our first prom.  Me, resplendent with shoulder length straight blond hair, powder blue tux with dark blue piping and a ruffled shirt with a clip-on (of course) bow tie.

Sounds hideous and it was but we chose that particular “outfit” and color because the color matched  Brenda’s slinky little blue dress.   Her dress stood the test of time.  My tux, not so much?  However, we did have to match, right?

I worked for much of my career for someone who once said to me “it’s all about what you decide to spend your time on that matters”, and as I sit here under the light of a full moon in St Martin I can’t help but feel that I have been very lucky and have chosen well.  Yes, I am perhaps luckier than anyone deserves to be as I have stumbled through a life with Brenda that has turned out so well.

Go ahead and call me out on such a sappy post but I do feel particularly blessed to be where I am today, both figuratively and literally.   If someone had said to me way back when I stood on the front porch of Brenda’s parent’s home in Weston CT, where Brenda’s father Jack had left me after he answered the door and  closing it again with me still on the porch, as he said “Brenda will be right out”, this isn’t the picture I would have had in my mind.  Perhaps it was the shoulder length hair and un-tucked shirt.  But here we are, me retired early and cruising the Caribbean with Brenda.   I expect that I would have said something like “yeah right, first I have to get through algebra”.   Yes, and Brenda saved me there too.

But, against all odds, here I am in St Martin aboard Pandora with Brenda after all those years.  And, as luck would have it, we are visiting a French island and it’s nearly  Valentine’s Day.  Is that perfect or what?

“So, Bob, what’s the plan for Valentine’s day?”  Well, since you’ve asked, Brenda and I will be celebrating with our good cruising friends Bill and Maureen at a lovely little French restaurant in Grand Case.

However, just to be sure that the evening isn’t completely perfect, we will anchor out and scramble our way up the beach (I sure hope that there’s a dock) to make our way to dinner and back to Pandora again.  I sure hope that there isn’t a north swell running.  Brenda wouldn’t like that.

Seriously though, I can’t believe how much has happened over the nearly half century that Brenda and I have been hanging out together.   And, to torture the image just a bit more, all the pieces of our picture, the tiny pieces of glass that have gone into our mosaic have made for a pretty nice picture from my viewpoint.

Who would have guessed, on this day so long ago that we’d be here today. So many little decisions that we make every day, usually not even giving most of them any real thought.   All those tiny pieces put in place that bring us to where we are.

I particularly wonder about what decisions might bring someone to own a yacht like this.   Is he happy? This owner must be pleased with himself to name his boat Rapture, I would think.Or what about this guy looking toward the future…I guess I’ll never know how it’s going to turn out but for sure, I am pretty happy at how things have gone so far.  I sure hope my luck holds out a while longer.

Had anyone told me, back in high school algebra class (she sat two rows ahead and to the left of me) and thinking about asking Brenda “out”, that I’d be sitting in St Martin, with Brenda, aboard Pandora, I would have laughed.   Don’t forget, I was the guy with that powder blue tux.

I wonder what the future holds and sure hope that my luck continues to hold out. I guess it’s mine to mess up.  It is, after all, all about choices.  Those tiny pieces  we all put in place…

“OMG Bob, stop it already!  I think I am going to puke.  You are such a sap…”

I know, I know, but that’s my story and I am sticking to it.   Fingers crossed that I don’t mess up too much.   So far, so good.

Lucky me, indeed.

Whack-a-Mole in St Martin

It is often said that cruising is nothing more than boat repair in exotic places and sometimes it feels just like that.  However, I heard a fellow cruiser last night desribe it even better. She called it “whack-a-mole”.   You know, the game where a “mole” pops up through a hole in a board and you “whack” it with a hammer?   The goal of the game is to hit the mole before he drops back into his hole and when the the next one pops up, well, you wack that one too.  And, to make the game even more diabolical, the faster  you “whack” the faster the Mr. Mole does his thing.

Well, that almost perfectly describes boat repair.  No matter how fast you “whack away”, more moles pop up.

Let me give an example.   As I began to better understand Pandora, I realized that all was not right with the first batten on the mainsail which always seemed to look, well, not quite right with wrinkles appearing in odd places.  After my first “sporty” offshore run, the receptacle that held the luff end of the batten (Pandora has full battens) broke out.  I ultimately replaced the entire receptacle only to have it break yet again on the run down to the BVI.  However, I didn’t know that it had broken until I removed the sail to repair a stressed (read: almost torn out) sail track lead and a fist sized hole in the main from one of the spreader tips.    The “whack-a-mole”  pops up yet again.

So, although my plan was to pull the sail only to have some sewing done, it turns out that I needed a new batten piece flown in from Newport RI.   However, as the piece in question had broken twice already, the loft suggested that I upgrade to a more “heavy duty” version, which I am.   And, to make things even more fun, the airports in the NE are closed due to a blizzard.   Another “whack a mole”.

No problem, the piece will be here in a few days.  However, the weather window to head to St Barts looks like it’s going to open up in a few days and now I may miss it do to, you guessed it, “whack a mole” and shipping issues.

Anyway, it always seems that things are more complex than expected so perhaps it’s “whack a mole” behind that too.  And to think that I thought it was Murphy of “Murphy’s law” at work.  You know, the “it can always get worse”, and it does Murphy’s law?

So, yesterday morning was taken up getting the main off of Pandora and out for repair.   It took three of us, me and two other cruiser friends, to get the sail down, battens out and sail into the dink so I could deliver it to the loft.   Now, I know that we will be delaying our departure for St Barts because of snow in New England and not getting the new part until sometime in the middle of next week.

And, speaking of the “whack a mole” I have also been having trouble with my SSB not having good reception for the last year and a half, since I first installed the unit.   I can hear pretty well but my transmissions don’t carry very long distances.   “whack a mole!”   So, I hired Dave another cruiser who is supposed to be pretty good with electronics to have a look.     After about an hour of troubleshooting we discovered that one of my wire crimp connections was loose and we believe that is a big part of the problem, meaning that when I transmit the radio isn’t getting enough power due to the loose wire not conducting well.   Happily, after fixing that and a few other “tweaks” to the system, we measured much greater transmission power with Dave’s “transmission power measuring thingy”.

I am hopeful that his “fixes” will indeed solve the problem and I’ll be able to be heard better.  I’ll know later this morning when I try to contact Chris Parker in FL.  Fingers crossed… No more radio “whack a moles”.

But wait, there’s more.  I wrote a post a while back that talked about the havoc that RO water caused on some metals and that I planned to install a “re-mineralizer” on the watermaker system to make the product water less acidic and taste better too, as a bonus..    I ordered the parts, well most of them anyway, before I left Beaufort NC to head to the BVI.   However, I have been so busy “whacking” moles, that I have not had time to install the new unit.  Yesterday, with most “moles” whacked back into their holes for the moment, I decided to install it.  It was actually pretty simple and only involved one additional trip to the “RO water parts store” on the Dutch side for some additional hose.  Amazingly, those sorts of stores are very well stocked here in St Martin so I was able to get the parts I needed very easily.  Voila… re-mineralizing unit installed.  “Down you pesky mole, down boy, back in your mole hole now”.   Hopefully, when I start up the watermaker today it won’t leak.  However, you know those moles…

Oh yeah, another mole that I punched down recently.  Remember the broken pin on the autopilot?   The one I replaced in 20′ seas?  Yea, that one.   Well, here’s a photo of the failed “pin”., the one on the right.  The one on the left, the “new” one complete with a set of washers designed to spread the shear load and keep the pin from breaking.  That’s the way it has been set up till now. However, Pandora’s previous owner told me that this pin had broken about once a year.  Not a great design if it’s breaking that often.  My solution to the problem was to put on larger washers to fill the gap between the quadrant attachment point and the autopilot attachment point.   By putting on larger washers I hope to spread the load more evenly and thus reduce the sheer force on the pin.  Time will tell if that works.   Here’s what the new install looks like.  Fingers crossed.   If it doesn’t work….Well, I have three spares on hand.

As I have mentioned, we are anchored in Simpson Bay, between the Dutch and French sides of the island.  We opted to enter on the French side as it’s more open and it costs much less to clear in here than on the Dutch side.   Besides,  we have a hankering for French food.   My friend Roger says, as do others, “shop on the Dutch side and eat with the French”.  Indeed.

When we entered the lagoon, we went through this impossibly narrow draw bridge.  I felt like we just squeezed through. A popular sport here is to have a drink at the St Martin Yacht Club near the Dutch bridge and watch the mega-yachts come and go through the bridge.  We watched Jade make her way toward the bridge.She looked enormous as she approached. A VERY tight fit.  I heard that sometimes they don’t make it without a scratch.  Get out the lube captain, she’s a VERY tight fit.   Can you imagine how fast the “whack a mole” game is played on a boat like Jade?  No wonder these boats have such large crews.  It takes a lot of them “whacking away” to keep up with everything that breaks on these “big girls”.   Mega yachts have mega moles, I’d expect. I can’t imagine how this tri-hulled yacht fit through. She’s a looker though.  I’ll bet she goes pretty fast through the waves. And speaking of eating, which I alluded to a few paragraphs ago.  How about this shot of Brenda’s lunch at a beach side restaurant the other day?  Not likely you will see food like this on most small beaches unless they are French.    The cup on the right has bean sprouts, caviar and crab meat.  Under that guacamole.   Yum…I won’t lie.  Brenda didn’t eat the snails. I happily obliged.  This was the view from our table.  We took our time and somehow stretched lunch out to about three hours.  What’s the rush?  “Can I get some more bread with my glass of wine please?”  “Of course, sir. Right away, sir.”   I forgot to mention, those French…Well, topless applies on this beach too.
So, I can not tell a lie,  it’s not all “whack a mole” aboard Pandora.  We still are somehow finding a way to enjoy ourselves.  I hear it’s snowing at home, like 15″ snowing.   I’ll have another glass of chard please, and a baguette.

Dining in the trees, St Martin style.  Can I have another baguette?

It’s another beautiful day here in St Martin.  And, there’s plenty of wind, that’s for sure.  Our plan is to head to St Barths next week when the wind is expected to be lighter but for now, it’s quite windy so for the next few days we will just have to hang out and enjoy the scenery.

Yesterday and today we rented a car with some friends to tour the island.  Our trek took us to a number of the most popular beaches and a stop at the highest point on the island.  The traffic is remarkably heavy in town and to go just a few miles can take an hour.  Go figure.  It seems that everbody with a car is on the road all day every day moing around VERY SLOWLY.

On the way home tonight we stopped for groceries at a fabulous grocery.  The selection was amazing and the prices weren’t that different than in the US.  However, the French wines?  A lot less expensive.  How about $6 or so for a nice chardonnay?  Cheeses are good to.  That’s important as we DO need something to go with the terrific baguettes.  Did I mention that I love French bread?  It’s pretty good here.  No, make that AMAZINGLY good.

Near one of the beaches, we spied this “herd” of cows.  They look like they would be more at home in India.  They didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about being run over as the ambled across the road in front of our car. When we headed to the top of the highest mountain on the island yesterday, we were happy to learn that there was a road that went nearly to the top so we didn’t have to hike the entire way up.   However, it became very rugged for the last few miles so hoof it we did.  No, this photo wasn’t off the rugged part.  You will just have to trust me on that.  Acutally, it was a lovely walk.  It was a LONG way up.   However, once there, the view was spectacular.   And, speaking of wind, the wind, already blowing in the high 20s, really accelerated as it hit the mountain and whipped up the side.  To stand near the edge was a bit unnerving as it blasted at  me in the gusts.On our way down the mountain we stopped at a wonderful private “park”, Loterie Farm.   It’s a large beautifully laid out property featuring several places to eat as well as rooms for rent, hiking and an impressive zip line course, your choice of exciting and “estreeme”.  For lunch we ate in the “Tree Lounge” a sort of deck/treehouse.It was a very nice spot to enjoy a plate or two of tapas dishes.  And yes, I had a drink that might have come with a little umbrella.  It was pink and I can’t say that I totally recommend it.   It was colorful though.  Very colorful.   However, the environment made it taste pretty good in spite of it looking sort of like a rasberry slurply from 7/11 but with cream. The view from the tapas lounge was lovely.If you wish, you can rent a treetop cabana near the pool. Pretty chic. Nearby we saw a troop of monkeys.Some large iguanas too.  I got pretty close to this guy.  Beautifully patterned skin, scales, whatever.There was also a lovely spring fed pool complete, or not completely complete, as it were, as it was “topless “ optional for the ladies.   Welcome to France.  “Here, give that cute baby a cigarette so she will grow up to be thin like me”.

Editor:  sorry, no pictures.

While we were eating we watched the zip liners fly by.And speaking of exciting, no visit to St Martin is complete without a stop at the end of the airport runway to watch the planes take off and land.  There is a fence and beach at the very end, and I mean close to the end of the runway where folks stand with the hope, I think,  of being blown off of their feet by the jetwash of a jumbo jet’s engines at full takeoff power.

This is just how close the big jets are as their engines spool up for take off.   Note:  Objects in this photo are closer than they appear. Look at the sand blowing, along with the spectators.  “Mommy, MOMMY, I have sand in my eye!”If you think that this would be even more fun after a few drinks…  Well, you are in luck as there are bars on either side of the beach and at the very end of the runway.  There’s even a TV with the takeoff times for each flight over the bar so you can go out to the fence and grab on at just the right time.  No reason to be away from your beer for more than a few moments. Imagine something like that at Kennedy Airport in NY.  Not likely.  So much for airport security.   President Donald might have something to say about that.  You think?

Anyway, it was a long but fun day of dining in the trees and watching tourists be blown off of the beach.

Tomorrow?  It’s the old “cruising, boat repair in exotic places”.  Problems with the SSB radio and a rip in my mainsail.   Electrnics guy coming early and then off comes the main to send it out for repair.

Oh yeah, one more thing.   Remember the extension for the cockpit table?  Well, it turned out well. Here’s a shot of it in the “cocktail” position, folded up. And in time for dinner, folded out and ready for action. It’s even big enough to fit a baguette, cheese and a glass of French wine.   No, make that two glasses.  Good thing as there’s plenty finding it’s way aboard Pandora here in St Martin.

Yes, I think I’ll have another baguette.   Brenda!  How about a glass of wine to go with that?   Yes, I think there’s room on the table for that too.

Marigot, St Martin.  French Shabby Chic. 

It’s early morning and the sun has not yet peaked above the mountains of St Martin.  When we got here after that rough crossing from the BVI, Pandora was covered with a thick film of salt.  Now, with the brief rain showers several times each day, she’s all cleaned off.  As we are in the lee of the island, the prevailing winds blow over the mountains and cascade down into the harbor, bringing winds that in a few moments gust to what feels like gale force only to disappear after a few minutes to a light breeze.

A pretty amazing view off of our bow. The sound of the strong wind in the rigging wakes us up but that’s good as we know to get up and close the hatches against the accompaning showers.  The wind and brief rains also bring welcomed cooler temperatures so we go back to sleep.

Yesterday morning we met our friends from Kaloonamoo for breakfast at a lovely French bakery downtown in Marigot, the capital of the French side of St Martin.  Oddly, the island is roughly cut in two with one half owned by France and the other by the Dutch.  There’s a story behind this suggesting that years ago a Frenchman and a Dutch fellow, drinking from a bottle of French wine and Dutch gin respectively, begain walking from each side of the island and where they met the border between the countries was struck.  It seems that the Dutchman, drinking stronger spirits, didn’t make it as far and thus the Dutch side is smaller.   The story probably isn’t true but I like it and it’s nice to know that a war wasn’t fought over at least one border between two countries.

So, we met up with our friends Marueen and Bill at the bistro Serafina for breakfast.  It was a lovely spot and we had really amazing croissants and capuccino.  Imagine, croissants, and good ones at that, so far from France?  The choice of pastries, French bread and the like was astounding. Yum!  The selection is endless and after the scant selection of good food in the Bahamas, we don’t know where to start.   Perhaps we will just work our way down the display case.  Love this place.

Another cruiser we spent time with described Margiot as “French shabby chic” which seems apt as the buildings are colorful and lovely but with more than a bit of chipped paint.  There is an old fort overlooking the town, complete with French flag flying.   Seeing that flag made me think of the Monty Python movies with French soldiers spraying spit and insults from the ramparts.  We didn’t get close enough to see if that was happening there.

There is a very fancy marina catering to superyachts just outside of the lagoon.  I spied the yacht Bystander, owned by Elizabeth Meyer, owner of the J boat Endeavor, one of the big yachts that sailed in the America’s Cup back in the 1930s.   She was the first to restore one of those huge racing machines.  Today there are actaully more sailing than back in the 30s.  Bystander is a “tender” to her J and is designed to look like a yacht from the period.  It’s the big dark one.   Brenda and I also saw Bystander in Camden Maine a number of years ago.

The view down one of the the main street is very quaint and yes, I’ll say it, chic in a shabby sort of way.  Very charming.  And, beautiful flowers everywhere you look. Oh yes, and in orange too, if that’s your preference.  Behind a gallery we visited, this lovely courtyard with flowers everywhere. How often do you see someone walking a horse down the sidewalk, without a lead?  We did while enjoying an afternoon “baguette break”.  Did I mention the great French bread?  Pretty chic, if you ask me. Part of the charm of the town is that while it’s very European looking with lovely shops and galleries, it’s tropical and in the bright sun and wind, also looks a bit down on it’s heels.

Yes, this town, shabby chic or not is lovely to behold.  However, the food is, as my father used to say, “not too shabby”.  Yes, we are loving the French food but I supposed that’s to be expected as it is a French island, well at least half of it is.

More to come on that  and the Dutch side as we are renting a car for two days with some friends to tour the island.

More to come, shabby and chic from St Martin so stay tuned.

Slogging our way to St Martin

It’s 6:30 on Sunday morning and we are anchored off of the capital of French St Martin, Grande Case.   The couple we buddy-boated with for the crossing yesterday, Free Rein suggested that we stop here as it was less congested than the harbor off of Simpson Bay Lagoon, Marigot, on the French side of the island.   We were both concerned about approaching the anchorage in the dark and trying to find a spot to anchor among all the boats.

It was a very long day yesterday motoring into the wind for the ENTIRE day and then some.   We left North Sound Virgin Gorda at 05:30 and didn’t drop the hook here until 19:30, a very long day indeed.  Actually, we motored 14 hours, not to put too fine a point on it.  I guess that was to be expected as we covered over 90 miles.  Did I mention that we had to motor into the wind and waves the whole way?  Into the easterly trades?  Into the waves?  Brenda loved it.   Yahoo, bring it on!  NOT!!!  “Sounds a lot like a CLM, career limiting move, to us Bob.)

Actually, a few times the “bring it on” had to do with my fetching a bucket for her.  Happily, if that’s the right word to describe her not actually puking, she never actually used the bucket.  I felt sorry for her.   If you have ever been seasick, you know the feeling.  At first you think you are going to die and later you are afraid you won’t.  Not the best way to get the most of a day out on the water.

All I can say is that St Martin had better be good, really good, for my sake.  Can you say want to eat some French cheeses, wines and baguettes?  Yum.

We had to motor into the wind and waves the entire way because the wind nearly always blows from the east and that’s where you have to go to make your way from the BVI to St Martin.  After that, the island chain curves to the south so you can generally sail both ways after St Martin.  Not so from the BVI.  Well, at least the worst is over for us.   And, the remaining islands between here in Grenada are much closer, usually only about 20 to 40 miles apart.

Well, we made it, we’re here and it’s beautiful.  Here’s the view that greeted me as I peeked topside first thing today.We arrived last Monday in the BVI and have been pretty busy getting settled and meeting fellow cruisers through the Salty Dawg Sailing Association.  They had a party at Foxy’s, the famous watering hole on Jose Van Dyke, BVI.  About 50 of us enjoyed an evening together there on Thursday night.  As part of the festivities, a bottle or rum, actually shots of that rum, were auctioned off to benefit the local school on the island.  This is the famous Foxy himself telling a story about the charity.  He’s quite a character mon.After our visit with some fellow Dawgs, we took Pandora up to North Sound, the most eastern point of the BVI to position ourselves for the run to St Martin.  We stopped ashore for a drink at the Bitter End Yacht Club.  As we were making our way toward North Sound we were passed by Necker Bell, the 100’ catamaran owned by Richard Branson.  You know, the “Virgin” guy.  He owns Necker Island.Well, bright and early on Saturday we headed east.  Really bumpy.  It’s that whold into the wind thing. Before I break, remember the 31 years ago we were last here in Tortola? Actually, I wrote that we were here 32 years ago.  Well, as usual, Brenda’s math skills are better than mine as it was 31 years ago.

When we last visited Tortola we stayed at the Sugar Mill Hotel for a week so on this visit we just HAD to have dinner there again.  It was terrific and is as expensive now as we remembered it being 31 years ago.When we were there in the “olden days” this pool wasn’t and the rooms weren’t air conditioned.  Now it is and they are.  We heard the surf in the distance each night.  It was beautiful.We arrived early and enjoyed a drink on one of the lovely covered decks overlooking the ocean. Lovely dining room in the ruins of a sugar mill.  Brenda’s at the far back right table.So, we are here in St Martin and it’s time to make some new memories.  Yes, let’s make some quickly so yesterday’s rough crossing fades from Brenda’s memories.  It was a calm crossing…It was a calm crossing…

Ok, it was actually a real slog getting here and I am afraid that it’s going to take a lot of new and really excellent memories…

Perhaps if I bring on the baguettes, French wines, cheeses, pastries….  Yes, that will be a step in the right direction.

We’re back in Tortola. 32 years later. 

Well, we made it, we’re aboard Pandora in Tortola and all is well.  The sun is just about to peak over the eastern end of the harbor here in West End and it’s going to be a beautiful day.I have to say that I am pretty pooped as yesterday was a very LONG day.  On Sunday we winterized the house and, of course, set more mouse traps.  In fact, I have set so many traps set that we now have a “mouse dedicated” jar of peanut butter.  Brenda saw me “double dip” the knife into that jar at least once and… Well, let’s just say that I won’t be using THAT JAR to make sandwiches any time soon as it’s now indelibly marked “mouse contaminated material. NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION”.  Ok Brenda, I’ll go along with that.

After the final bit of water was blown out of the domestic water pipes and the thermostat turned down, our next door neighbor Janet drove us to the airport. We had decided to stay at a hotel on Sunday because there was just no way that we’d be able to get the house ready and make it to the airport in time for an “O dark 30” flight yesterday.  Conveniently, Janet has parents up near the airport and offered to drive us to our hotel.  Thanks Janet for being a good neighbor.

Our final act before leaving for Tortola was to meet our friends LeaAnn and Garrett, who came to our hotel room to join us for a light supper of cheese, crackers, soup and, of course, wine.   You know, all the basic food groups.  LeaAnn is Brenda’s oldest and best friend.  Well, to be clear, she’s not Brenda’s “oldest” friend but she has known her the longest, since she was 8 years old.  That’s a VERY OLD friend and it seems is getting older by the day, but we won’t think about that right now, will we?

Anyway, we had a great time and it was a nice way to toast us on our way for the rest of the winter.

Airport hotel or not, we still had to get up at an obscene hour to catch our 05:50 flight.  But we made it and now we are here and “here” is just beautiful

A lovely view greeted me today as I had my first sip of coffee.  And a pelican stopped by to say hello.I am dragging a bit today so I decided to make 50/50 coffee.  “Watch out Brenda.  Bob’s had caffeine!”   Hopefully, it won’t be too bad.  The problem is that when I drink “real” coffee the feeling that I get isn’t particularly good, unlike our son Christoper who says that “coffee makes him normal”.    For me, I get the same sort of feeling that I had the first time I tried to work up the guts to call Brenda the first time to ask her for a date when we were Juniors in High school.   I was really excited but felt a little queasy.

And speaking of Brenda, which I do from time to time, and the title of this post, the whole “32 years and we’re back” thing, it was about this time all those years ago that Brenda and I were last in Tortola together.

I have to say that it really hit me as we landed at Tortola’s Beef Island yesterday and all those memories came flooding back.   Brenda was pregnant with our son Christopher, the “normal with caffeine Christopher”, our second.  She was pretty far along and we decided to head away for a week because we were pretty convinced that once we had two children WE WOULD NEVER GET ANOTHER VACATION ALONE AGAIN.  Happily, that turned out to be a bit of an exaggeration and I can’t believe that we are finally back here again after all those years.

Lucky us.  Lucky me!

Well, I’d better sign off for now as the caffeine is kicking in and I am having trouble typing.   I’m pretty excited too but my stomach isn’t quite as queasy yet as the first time I summoned up the nerve to call Brenda.

If I have a second cup.  I might have to join these two fisherman working the shallows with a throw net.  Yes, a bit random perhaps but I have to use up all that energy.  Yes, pretty excited.  It’s good to be back in Tortola together again after all those years.

What a spot.