March 30, 2014 My sister, Laurie, invented a game that we would play at restaurants or while on an outing where there would be a crowd. She’d point out someone in the group and assign them their doppelganger. Then it would be my turn to find another celebrity lookalike…and thus the game would be played. Laurie would have loved Gustavia, St Barth’s. This is a jumping hotspot for celebrities, jet setters and beautiful people. Some of the “doubles” I saw were the real deal. Unlike Laurie did, I don’t have a memory for names of actors or the characters that they have played. My sister had a mind for those types of detail. She really would have loved St. Barth’s for not only people watching, but the amazing shopping and the French culture and food.
Gustavia has been a zoo the past couple of days due to the Bucket Regatta The huge sailing mega yachts are here to race each other. They’re beautiful vessels and to see them sailing together as well as just moored to the docks is breathtaking. Jim and I went into Gustavia for our internet, to check in with Immigration and Customs, a stop in a café for a croissant, and to people watch and see our friend, John, who is crewing on one of the yachts this week during the races. We also met up with our Italian friends that we spent so much time with in the BVIs. We really have found, though, that we prefer the quiet anchorages and the life underwater to the bustling towns. We spotted a chain moray on one of our underwater expeditions. I was so excited to see one that wasn’t hiding under a rock and we were able to watch him maneuver his snake like body on the sandy bottom littered with bright coral.
We’re on a mooring ball in Colombier Bay, just a short, yet wet, 20 minute dinghy ride from Gustavia. But it seems miles away from busy Gustavia. There are several sea turtles in the bay that feed on the sea grass below. They pop up everywhere around the boat and it’s fun to just slip on some snorkel gear and see them munching on the sea grass below our mooring ball. They’re fascinating creatures. We beached our dinghy yesterday afternoon to hike to the windward side of St. Barth’s. What an amazing view! It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen so far in the Caribbean. The winds have been quite high the past couple of days and the north swell that the wind created was spectacular to watch as the waves crashed on the volcanic rock of the island. I was mesmerized.
We plan on pulling off our mooring ball and heading over to Gustavia to drop anchor in preparation to check out and start our trek to St. Kitts (St. Christopher) if the waves haven’t settled down. I don’t want a repeat of yesterday’s adventure. We were swamped so badly yesterday in the high waves that I thought our little dinghy wouldn’t be able to get us safely back to Somewhere. We arrived okay if not soaking wet and thanking our good judgment in purchasing a waterproof backpack for our electronics. To solve the problem of facing a crazy ride to Gustavia we will simply say goodbye to our turtle friends and anchor where we can sensibly reach the dock to complete our departure paperwork.
It is already getting noticeably warmer as we move into the summer months. It’s been nice to be able to jump off the stern of the boat and cool off with a nice swim, but we have some visitors that are hanging out under the boat. At first there was just one, now there are three and one of them is very big with really big teeth. Our new friends are sharks and even though we can rationalize that they won’t bother with us since they are probably just reef sharks, we don’t feel comfortable swimming off the stern. As Jim says, “They don’t give you a warm, fuzzy feeling.” It’s nice though that they’re eating the barnacles off the hull. Hopefully, they won’t follow us to St. Kitts.
So far, March has been a busy time onboard Somewhere. We arrived at Marigot Bay to meet old friends and enjoy some time getting to know the area. I’ll admit that St. Martin isn’t my favorite place. It’s gritty and busy, but at the same time we have been able to obtain parts for the boat and find many items in the grocery stores that we haven’t been able to get for months. The restaurants are a culinary gratification after months in the British Virgin Islands where fried foods were the staple. There’s always a trade off.
Our friends, Dana and Mike, visited us for several days and we celebrated Carnival with them on Saint Martin then sailed to the island of Saba. Saba is a Dutch controlled island, very rugged and without a natural harbor. This means that the boat and the people and cats on board were subject to large swells, wave action, currents and a very tiresome ride on a mooring ball. But we all agreed that the stay in Saba was worth the uncomfortable nights as we were literally thrown from our berths by the violent movement of water slapping on our hull. We hired a driver to take us on a tour of this beautiful island that formed from volcanic activity. Rodney, our tour guide, took us through the quaint villages of neat white homes with red roofs and green shutters and explained how a sense of community has grown on this lovely island. I couldn’t help but think that we had found Shangri-la. Jim and I also contacted Saba Divers and went for two dives that had us experiencing the beauty under the water as well. Saba does not allow for scuba divers to go unattended by dive masters. The island is an environmentally protected area and this includes the coral and formations underwater as well as above. Our first dive took us to a depth of 80 feet and it was incredible. I felt as if I were flying up a mountain as we slowly made our assent back to the surface. The sea life, coral and activity were dazzling and the 45 minutes that our tanks allowed us to stay under the water was not enough. Mike and Dana had generously agreed to stay onboard Somewhere while we dove and make sure the boat did not break off the mooring ball. The swells and waves were that wicked. We pushed the limits of their benevolence by going on a second dive to Ladder Bay. This dive wasn’t as deep, but we saw anchors that had been abandoned by long ago seafaring vessels that had brought goods to this rugged island to be brought to shore and hauled up a very steep incline of steps (thus the name “Ladder Bay”). Turtles, drum fish, and an intimidating gang of huge tarpon entertained us as we explored the underwater world.
We took a quick trip in to the only beach on the island to snorkel with our guests. The dinghy was swamped by the waves and our bodies were tossed around onto shore by the unforgiving power of fierce walls of water. We did see the signs of brightly colored coral making an effort to take a strong hold on the rocks and a couple of eagle rays eyeing us from the sand under the water. We returned to the boat though to pull anchor and return to Saint Martin and calmer waters in Marigot Bay. The sail back was fantastic. Mike was in all his glory as we all sat back and allowed him the freedom to experiment with the sails behind the helm and get Somewhere up and scooting.
Saint Martin hosted the Heineken Regatta and we partook in some of the party after watching hundreds of sailboats on the horizon racing to the finish line. Mike and Dana made us so many great meals and their company was excellent. Even the cat crew was looking for them after we had to dinghy them back to the airport. We had a lot of laughs and a great time together. I have a strong feeling that we’ll be seeing them again on this voyage.
We’re now sitting on anchor in Baie Grand Case on the north side of St. Martin. We decided to meander this way and take in the Tuesday night street festival that takes place here. We weren’t disappointed. The music, street food, and arts and craft booths were all stunning. The dinghy dock was a mess, though, and the Gendarmerie patrolling in their full swat team garb reminded us that we still have to be on guard and always vigilant.
Saint Martin isn’t the safest island that we’ve visited. We must lock the dinghy when we come to shore. We’ve installed mast lighting to light up the entire deck on the boat to deter thieves from boarding us. I wandered off on my own one afternoon and had a much too amorous man approach me, speaking in French, grab me from behind and move his hands up my body. I do not wander alone since that encounter. Saint Martin also isn’t the cleanest island we have visited. Nobody is in the habit of picking up their dog’s excrement and the animal poop isn’t the only smell of bodily functions on the streets. I’ve witnessed men relieving themselves on the sidewalks. The Dutch side of the island isn’t better. There is garbage in the streets and a canal of sewage that goes straight into the bay.
In Simpson Bay, where we have not anchored but have dinghied through, there is a stench that makes for the urge to take a long, hot shower when returning to the boat. There are also these huge globs of green, snot looking things floating in the Bay. I don’t know what they are. I don’t think I want to know. Many decrepit boats can be found in the lagoon and we shake our heads as we dinghy past them knowing that there are people living aboard these boats that haven’t moved in a very long time. Rusted commercial vessels half sunk and barnacle ridden are sitting and rotting. It’s just not what one would imagine from a bustling port of entry into the Caribbean.
That being said, however, my stomach has been very pleased with the amazing baguettes we have bought fresh from the bakeries and the fantastic presentation and preparation of everything from mussels to croissants. The high end, posh stores have made shopping a pleasure. I drooled over a lovely blouse that Dana discovered and I was treated to a marvelous piece of jewelry from my generous husband. I found a beautiful dress in a boutique where the owner knew exactly what would fit me perfectly. There are some gems to be found in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten and we will be staying here until our cockpit cushions are repaired by a local shop. We spied a dive site that we plan to explore with our friends onboard s/v Endorphin and there are a couple of shops I’d like to visit in Grand Case. All is well and good.
March 1 Boom, boom, Boom…ya ya ya….4:00 am carnivale began and the cat crew was excited. They wanted out in the cock pit to run to the bow to see where all the commotion was coming from. Not so much for the human crew. We gave in, though, and let them enjoy the party from our spot on anchor and brewed some coffee to start our day. We are now on the island of Saint Martin-the French side, anchored in Marigot Bay. The busy street life, cafes, car traffic, and shops are causing us a little bit of culture shock after spending so much time in the quiet British Virgin Islands. It’ll take us some getting used to, for sure, but we are enjoying fabulous food, pastries and the company of others that got here before us and with DeAnne and Ric from Endorphin. DeAnne speaks French and that has helped in ordering food and recommending good choices, but most people here also speak English, so the language barrier hasn’t been an issue. We’ve wandered over to the Dutch side of the island for shopping at the chandlery and to scope out the grocery stores that offer most every brand we can get at home-for a price. There are a couple of grocery stores on the French side of the island that offer amazing cheeses, chocolate and of course, the produce that we missed in the British Virgin Islands. The cruise ships, and there are A LOT of them, tend to moor on the Dutch side, so we haven’t had to fight huge crowds of people on excursions, but it’s a much livelier environment than we have experienced the past few weeks.
We left Virgin Gorda around 5 pm to sail to Marigot Bay. Sail we did. It took us a bit longer than we thought it would take, but we arrived at 11:00 am to drop anchor and were met by Ken and Margaret on Rocking B after a long, choppy night. We both pulled an all nighter since it took two sets of eyes to look out for traffic. Many boats have AIS and the cruise ships stick out with all their lights-one even shooting off fireworks, but there are other vessels out there that don’t use any form of identification and it’s difficult to see their running lights when we are under full sail and it’s a dark night. It wasn’t the most pleasant trip, but we made it fine as did the cat crew. They were very excited to get on deck at a new place and smell all the unique smells and watch all the activity on shore. All three seem to be stimulated by change in scenery.
Our friends, Mike and Dana, will be arriving this afternoon and we’ll pick them up from the airport via dinghy. This is the site of the airport where people stand on the beach and get blown around on the beach when the airplanes take off. I guess that’s entertaining to watch. I’m fairly excited about the Carnivale entertainment though. The parade is scheduled for tomorrow, so before we sail off with our friends to Saba and St. Barths, we’ll take in some of the local Carnival entertainment.