Wednesday, June 29, 2016

St. Martin (Part 2)

After spending 2 weeks in St Martin, we are finally underway to Guadeloupe.  After Frank recovered from his back injury, we decided that we needed to spend some time on the island and explore it a bit since this, for some reason, this was an island that Frank had on his priority list   We spent the first couple days of his recovery dingying around and checking out the dutch side as well as Maho Bay, a bay renown for the airplanes that land and take off directly over the beach.  After a slightly rough dinghy ride out through the windward side, we dropped anchor directly off the beach and watched as plane after plane landed so close that it felt like you could reach up and touch the belly of each Boeing. It was pretty entertaining watching the tourists that were standing too close to the fenced in airstrip go flying, losing their hats and random articles of clothing, as a plane took off.  This area is marked with signs warning you in both French and English and funny graphics against standing too close as the jet blast (from when the plane revs up to take off) was pretty strong, but people wherever they may be from, are often too curious for their own good.  

Maho Bay

On a last minute whim, after heeding some advice from cruising buddies on La Vidorra, that  we randomly ran into (we had met and last seen them back in the Turks & Caicos), we had decided to make a day stop at Saba before moving on to St Kitts, as he had said that this little island was an absolute must see.  Going out in projected 1 meter seas and 10 kt winds, we discovered underway that the forecast was not as predicted at all with the waves building up to 6-8 feet and winds picking up to 25 knots.  This would've been ok with us if we had a protected anchorage in Saba to hole up in for the next couple of days as the predicted forecast for that week called for 25-30 kts, but knowing that Saba did not have any such thing and that essentially we'd just be anchoring up on the side of the island, we decided it was a bad idea to continue on. We made the decision to turn around because we had not allotted for enough daylight hours to skip on to St Kitts, and that day was really the only window in the foreseeable forecast to make way.  Stupid, stupid.  We realized it was really our own fault as we foolishly ignored our guts that morning when we were preparing the boat to leave.  One thing after another kept going wrong, between me injuring my finger while opening a cabinet and Frank noticing that the base of our dinghy davit was coming loose from a stripped screw, we realized that should've just stay put.  (Note: we later discover that the davit dilemma to be a manufacturer's flaw as they didn't design it so that it could be through bolted and instead took a shortcut and used machine screws screwed only into the wooden cap rail instead of our fiberglass decks….completely faulty for this application.)   I often notice that we get into trouble when we ignore our instincts.  For one reason or another, something always goes wrong when we ignore the signs that Poseidon subtly and tactfully doles out to us.   That morning neither Frank nor I had mentioned to the other how we were feeling about the trip, which was apprehensive and anxious, because we just wanted to make way and move on.  Though we have faced rougher weather, our hearts kept telling us that something was wrong and so midway to Saba, while shit was flying all over the boat, we quickly decided to just call it and turn Moitessier around. 

I'm not sure if there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, where your bestial instincts always turn out to be right, but Frank and I have learned through the years that it's best to listen to them.  Early on, even before we bought Moitessier, Frank and I had made a pact that if ever one of us gets "bad feeling" about something, that we renege on the projected plan, no questions asked.  This has gotten us out of trouble many a time, when for example, in the Bahamas after being stuck in Staniel Cay for weeks, we were supposed to leave with a steady weather window, and at the very last minute, one of us has had a bad feeling and ditched the plan (even though, at the time we were buddy boating with Sailboat Furminger.)  We come to find out later (after they had left bc their friend had to catch a flight home) that the weather picked up quite a bit and the seas had gotten so bad that all the crew members were hurling all over the place, on top of blowing out their headsail, thereby making it so that they could only make way at 3 knots and forcing them to enter the Elizabeth Channel well into the night, with no way of visually navigating.    This pact even applies to when we go spearfishing and one of us has a feeling that we need to get out of the water, and shortly after hoisting ourselves into the dinghy will we often see an aggressive looking shark lurking around the corner.  Though we've never had any iife saving close calls that we know of, these examples have taught us that there doesn't always need to be a logical explanation for why things happen the way they do.  After all, we are doing this for our enjoyment, and at the very least, it has saved us from a fair amount of discomfort and possible repairs.  

And so, after deciding that we were gonna be stuck for a week because we lost our weather window, we decided to make the most of it and rent a car for 2 days to do some major car hiking.  We found a place called Discount Car Rental, a small mom-and-pop rental place that had the nicest French couple,  that picked us up directly from the dinghy dock.  At a nominal price of $30/day (with a 2-day minimum), we were able see the entire island, as well as run some much needed errands.  St Martin/Sint Maarten proved to be a charming island, with an interesting and diverse culture, not fully tainted by western society.  Locals are incredibly friendly, and seem welcoming of us, and though you could clearly see its French and Dutch influences, with many things seeming to be subsidized by each country (at least from what we saw on the French side), there still seems to be a strong West Indies island culture intact.   This was an amazing juxtaposition as it feels like someone uprooted a European city and simply dropped it onto this mountainous tropical island, much like one of those arcade games where the giant claw reaches down and plucks your stuffed animal of choice before releasing it down the chute.  With its colorful little buildings dotting the streets so reminiscient of old Europe staged on a backdrop of turquoise waters, coconut palms, and oversized iguanas, you couldn't help but to admire the unique sensibility developed here.   On one corner, you could have a Parisian style bakery scenting the air with fresh baked baguettes still warm from the oven and buttery croissants oozing melted chocolate, whilst simultaneously only a skip away, you could have a hole in wall little shack offering Caribbean staples like deep fried Johnny cakes stuffed with flaky salt fish, homemade hot sauce that could eradicate your taste buds, and rich oxtail stew with chunky potatoes and soft, fluffy dumplings. All in all, with that being said, there are far worse places to be "stuck in"…I guess Saba will just have to wait.  

Dinghy riding around 
I have been diving with this fish for so long and had
no idea it was edible….yummy
The quaint town of Marigot...
Car hikes...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

St. Martin

View of the anchorage….
Dutch side 

It's funny how there's a certainty to some intangible things  in life, that bad things, like waves, undeniably come in sets of three.  Shortly upon arriving in St Martin, Frank tweaked his back and was laid up for an entire week.   As if the passing of his dear grandmother wasn't enough, poor guy can't seem to catch a break, injuring himself the 2nd day we get here, forcing him to be stuck in bed in pain, with only his thoughts to haunt him.  This, of course, was followed directly after discovering, back in the BVIs, that our Lavac toilet pump shat the bed, pun intended…   With him being laid up, it was up to me to track down this pump. WIth my fingers crossed and hopeful, armed with the belief that we couldn't be that unlucky, I had my sister call around to both Budget Marine as well as Island Waterworld (the West Marines of the Caribbean) to locate it.  Thankfully both places had it, of course at nearly $100 more than in the states, which I was more than happy to pay as it meant not having to worry about waiting til after dark so no one could see me shit off the side of the boat.  Ahhhhh….the glamourous life of yachting…

So with Frank being out of commission, i spent the first week discovering this charming island on my own.  Of all the beautiful attractions and beaches this place has to offer, my favorite sadly turns out to be the supermarket near Marigot bay.  You think I'm joking, but I'm not.   This market called Super U was really the highlight of the month.  It's like a French Publix, offering a variety of all of my favorite foods at very reasonable prices (comparable to Walmart in the states).  It had a huge produce section with crisp arugula, fresh basil, and cauliflower; a cheese section with balls of fresh mozzarella and Brie; and fresh baked baguettes that cost less than $1, all of which sent my heart racing.  It also had a section dedicated to cured meats, terrines, rillettes, and liver mousses that nearly put me into cardiac arrest.  I was even able to buy beef carpaccio and steak tartare in a package which had me wondering, why can't Americans have sophisticated palettes like the French? The cherry on top of all of this was the wine section, offering French wines for $3 a bottle, which turned out to be far superior in quality than any medium priced wines back in the states.  With its subtle berry notes and soft finish slow dancing on my tongue, it was all I could do to not renounce my citizenship.

All of this was evidently too overwhelming for my deprived gluttonous inner fat kid,  and I found myself chuckling at my frivolous purchases as I unloaded random cans of terrine, tripe, Roasted Chicken flavored potato chips, and cornichons from my backpack the first day.  This subsequently gave me an excuse to go back nearly every day, picking up little things that we actually needed for the boat, and reporting to Frank about how he needed to get better so that he could check this place out.  I was afraid that I was hyping it up too much to him until I saw his wide eyes light up like a kid on Christmas morning, when he finally felt well enough to hobble up to the market with me.  Like me, he was completely overwhelmed, slowly scanning every single aisle, picking up random packages with his mouth agape, repeating "Can you believe this?" It was nice to see him happy, if only for a brief moment, and the shared glee made me secretly relieved to see that I wasn't the only crazy one overly excited for these foreign culinary delights laid out before us.  Its the little things in life…

Tomato, Tomotto
Cheese galore
Did someone say liver, terrine, and blood sausage?
Yup, that says 2.8 Euro...

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Farewell Lovely Virgins...

"The shattered waves made a misty din, 
Great waves looked over others coming in, 
And the thought of doing something to the shore,
Water had never done to land before…"~Robert Frost

After spending nearly a 2 months working in Charlotte Amalie, we have finally pushed off and moved on to St Martin.  We initially thought that we would spend the season in St Thomas working, but after some complications with family life back at home with Frank losing a someone very close to him, we decided it best to just move on and get the boat somewhere safe during hurricane season so that we could deal with the things that needed to be dealt with back in NY.  I spent nearly a month on my own in St Thomas, working in hospitality and getting to know this little island, which surprisingly turned out to be amazing.  There is a tiny community here of young transplants that have decided to uproot and LIVE their lives.  Though there is a sense of transience here, with people coming and going every season, you can't help but bond with the semi like-minded folk (I say this because well…they're not cruisers, but wanderlusts nonetheless), who have the same insatiable urge to live life on their terms.  

Not gonna lie, being left alone anchored on the little waterfront of Charlotte Amalie, with the prospect of being alone with Moitessier without Frank, initially terrified me.  With anxiety ridden thoughts running through my head…What do I do if the anchor drags?  What happens if the dinghy conks out on me?  What if someone boards the boat? What if the weather picks up?  What happens if there is a hurricane?  or simply, How the fuck am I gonna manage without Frank?  These thoughts haunted me and I could only allow myself to take it one day at a time as I reassured Frank to fly back up to NY to take care of what he had to.  Reminding myself that what Frank was going through emotionally was exponentially more taxing than what I had to undertake, I pushed myself to be a more independent sailor, and more self sufficient human being.  The things I had taken for granted while Frank was here became all the more apparent to me as I found myself hoisting 5-gallon jerry jugs of gasoline onto Moitessier, walking to town to grocery shop alone, waking up in the middle of the night from any foreign sounds, diving on the boat to clean the bottom, and driving myself on the dinghy to and from work, in other words, simply being responsible for everything that I did. I made it work though and came out a stronger person in the end.   I even made some wonderful friends from work while I was there.  Thank goodness as that was truly my saving grace allowing me to avoid the blanket of loneliness that inevitably would follow with being by myself on the boat.  That coupled with my family coming to visit for a week (which by the way was wonderful), and my sister staying with me on the boat until Frank returned, made the transition of being a lone captain to being an independent one all the more doable.  

My sister even called me a "badass" at one point, which made being without Frank on MoMo (have i never mentioned that's Moitessier's nickname?)  all the more rewarding, as she says she can't imagine having to do any of it period, let alone by myself.  This compliment was followed by trips to the market  where I hauled 6 gallon jugs of water in a cardboard box carefully balanced on my shoulders, dove to clean both the dinghy bottom and MoMo's underside, and naming her first mate where she had to learn to do all of the things that I normally undertake when Frank is here.   It really brought light to all Frank and I have overcome as sailors, and all that we've taken for granted in terms of all the daily hardships we overcome that we don't recognize necessarily as "hardships" but simply "things that need to be done."  Though I'm far from calling myself "salty", I'd really like to think that I'm ever so slightly more "seasoned." 

One of the most disheartening things about life on the water is all the moments that you miss out on with those that you love so dearly.  All the what ifs, all the guilt….unfortunately, this reality truly hit home for Frank.  I cannot imagine the  pain he's had to endure of losing someone he held so dear, on top of the stress he has had to deal with upon coming back and having to deliver the boat to a safe haven.   But alas, that is the way of boat life, I suppose.  The hefty price you pay for seemingly endless sense of "freedom."  

Anyhow, so here we are…after briefly cruising the British Virgin Islands, which by the way are so spectacular in terms of both land and underwater beauty…we rushed over here after a small window that had opened up that wasn't 25 kts of wind on the nose with big seas.  We got here with 15 kt winds and small seas, making the trip over from "the bitter end" of Virgin Gourda to Marigot Bay in St Martin pretty straight forward, a mere 16 hours with us averaging about 5 kts.  Greeting Mother Ocean after only a couple of months of being landlocked was surprisingly frightening, and hoisting the fouled anchor that day had my hands shaking on our Cetol stained steering wheel, making me wonder if I would make it through the nightsail.  But Poseidon was gentle with us, perhaps knowing what we've been through, and he welcomed us back to the ocean with open arms, greeting us with a sky alight with a beautiful lemon wedge moon, trails of twinkling phosphorescence, and the mermaids singing us along as Moitessier sliced through the ink black ocean…

Almaco Jack I speared at Meagan's Bay, St Thomas
View of St Thomas from Water Island
St John
Entering the British Virgin Islands...
Overnight stop at Norman Island
Cero that we weren't allowed to spear in the BVIs
Chasing Tarpon
Underway to Virgin Gourda
Squalls in Sir Francis Drake Channel
Sunset dinghy rides...
Amazing underwater world in the BVIs
Chasing Nurse sharks...
Conch Graveyard
Two toned fan coral
Our own private beach at sunset...
Relaxing on hammocks at the Bitter End Yacht Club