Sunday, May 28, 2006

Marigot , St. Martin to Nevis May 2006

Picture: Rob, Ross, Diane's Mom and Diane at the beach bar in Phillipsburg

We arrived in Marigot the holiday weekend celebrating the emancipation of the slaves. All the stores, and banks were closed. We knew we were going to be here for a few days, so that really didn’t matter. On Saturday, the market was also closed, and that was a little disappointing. They did have a celebration that evening, with live music and some of it was excellent, but no steel bands.
We are waiting in St. Martin until Wednesday, as that is when our Canadian friends, are arriving on a cruise ship in Phillipsburg. It will be good to see Rob and Dianne who are travelling with their family. Their children and ours are about the same age and many years ago when the kids were in elementary school we did a lot of things together, Tball, scouts, canoe camping etc. and we have remained friends since. They are also bringing a new AC adapter for our computer, to replace the one that went on the fritz a few weeks ago. (We have 2 identical used laptops so can swap out parts if required, so we still were up and running while we waited for the replacement to come. Getting one delivered from Canada seemed the easiest way, since we knew Rob and Dianne were coming).
The day they were to come in we went to Phillipsburg on the bus ($1.50 US each,one way). We had sent an email to meet us on the beach at a particular bar, one we had seen in a magazine picture so were confident was there, but had not received a confirmation. We hoped that they were getting our emails while they were on the ship. Ross waited at the selected spot while Bev walked around, hoping we would be able to find each other. There were two cruise boats in Phillipsburg that morning, and we had envisioned 5000 people streaming into Front Street and it being a zoo. Actually there were not many people around, and we were wondering where they were. But there they were sitting under the exact sign we had seen in the picture. No they hadn’t gotten our email, but thought that this was a good place to watch for us and it worked.
Their kids had gone their own way for the day. Rob and Dianne wanted to see some of St. Martin, not interested in jewellery shopping in Phillipsburg. We took them back on the bus to Marigot. As we left the bus, an open Jeep like automobile went by, and low and behold it was their kids. We went to the waterfront and had a great lunch in one of the small restaurants, catching up on old times. Then we sent the parents back on the bus (the Jeep wasn’t large enough and kids still wanted to do some beaching) to Phillipsburg. It was a great interruption to our cruising life, or a chance for someone else to see what we are really doing or not out here.
Having been a week in Marigot, it was definitely time to move on. But the winds continued to be SE and that was the direction we wanted to go, of course!! Where was the beam reach sailing we had been promised once we did the Anegada? We set out to go around the north end of St. Martin in order to get a little better angle on the winds, and make our way to Ile Fourche, a deserted islane north of St. Barts that we had great memories of from our trip in 1999. Once we rounded the north end of St Martin, we were able to make one long tack from Tintemarre to Table Rock, where we encountered a squall with 25knot winds. We shortened sail, started the motor and motor sailed the balance of the way into the anchorage, where we found mooring balls. We were still using our Doyle book from 1999, so were unaware of changes that had been made. We were informed that these balls were free, and no one did come out to collect. Although the island is posted, we did make our way up to see the view from the top, it was still fantastic, but the goats are gone.
We had hoped to sail directly from Ile Fourche to Guadaloupe but again the winds continued to blow SE, so we headed over to St. Kitts. The going was fine until we got in behind St. Kitts, and once again it was a tough motor tack into the SE winds. At the entrance to Basseterre, we encountered a sailboat with its boom on the deck, trying to tack into the anchorage with just its headsail. We asked him if he needed assistance, his engine had overheated, and his mainsail was ripped and yes he would love us to help out. We towed him into the anchorage off the marina.
Ross went quickly into the marina to make a call to friend that lives on St. Kitts. John had not been responding to our emails, and we figured he was not on the island, but since we were here, we would try one more time. We found John at home, and discovered at the same time that the marina only charged 50 cents a foot, free water and great showers. There was only one thing to do, pull up to the dock. We hadn’t been in a marina since Nassau, but here docking was quite easy.
We spend a couple of wonderful days touring St. Kitts, visiting with John and Karen, loving their home with the fabulous views over Frigate Bay. Ross even played golf on the Royal St. Kitts golf course, the longest course in the Caribbean. But time is ticking and it is time to move on.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

British Virgin Islands May 2006
Picture -- The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Guess we are not BVI type cruisers, because so far not much has impressed us. We don’t like the deep anchorages, all the mooring balls you have to pay for, all the charter boats, etc. We are actively looking for long term cruisers to continue our trip south, and the BVI’s just happen to be one of the stops.
We left Roadtown, after a rolly night and were heading for the south side of Peter Island, where another boater said we could anchor. We were in the passage between Normans and Peter about 1 pm when we were hit with a 44 knot gust which caused us to turn around. So we went to Norman’s and took a ball for the night. Went over to the caves, and were not impressed.
The next day we went to Trellis Bay, more boats and balls. It was pretty but we are still not impressed. So we took off for Virgin Gorda, where we know the cruisers wait to cross the Anegada. We anchored off the Sandbox restaurant, and didn’t mind this area. The Drake’s anchorage reminded us of Dakity. We took the dinghy to the beach and gave it a good cleaning. We went to the Sandbox for a beer and to get information about clearing out. We had hoped that we could get a bus or water taxi back to Spanish Town rather than moving RAFT, but no that wasn’t possible. You could hire a taxi (about $40) to take you there, that was the only transportation available.
We decided to take RAFT to Spanish Town, and use the moorings (after all you only pay if you stay the night) check out and leave. The weather looked as good as it was going to be for doing the Annegada ---light south easterlies. Since we were in Spanish Town, we decided to walk out to the Baths. Having done the Jacuzzi’s in Culebrita we were expecting more of the same except with more people.
Here we were pleasantly surprised, not by the Baths or the number of people, but by the hike through the unique rock formations down to the Baths from the road, and out to Devil’s Bay and back to the parking lot. Caves, slim passages between towering rocks, and fabulous cacti line the walkway from the Baths. As far as we are concerned you can skip the water portion of the Baths, but definitely do the walks. They were exceptional, but you need to bring lots of water.
We left Spanish Town at 1430 and motored into light SE winds (4-8 knots) with an Easterly Swell of 4-6 feet. By midnight the winds had picked up to 12-14 and the waves were a little larger, but we kept on motoring. We arrived at St. Martin in the early morning and initially thought about going to Simpson Bay, but there were no boats there, and it was pretty rolly, so we changed our minds and went into Marigot on the French side. There were about 50 boats including some we had seen before, hopefully someone to do the next passages with. Checked in, easy,and no cost. The French do this part right.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Guests on RAFT --May 2006

Picture--Bev, Kathryn and Ron enjoying Flaminco Beach

This is the first time we will be having guests on RAFT in a long time. Bev’s sister and brother in law, Kathryn and Ron are flying into San Juan to stay with us for a couple of weeks. They are not sailors, but do enjoy Caribbean holidays, especially swimming, snorkeling, and beaching. And they are good travelers and campers, they have their own RV and have taken it across Canada a couple of times, have walked up several mountains and we have enjoyed canoe camping with them in the past. So we think they should adapt to our cruising lifestyle easily.
We returned to Culebra, enjoying a great downwind sail from St. Thomas and attached RAFT to a mooring ball at Dakity Beach behind the reef. Then we arranged with another boater to take us to town the following morning to take the ferry to Fajardo, where we had arranged to rent a car. We quickly walked to World Car Rentals, wanting to beat the rush off the ferry and were first in line to pick up our car, a very basic one, 4 doors, no power locks or windows but for $33.00 a day we weren’t complaining. Then we headed north to San Juan. Once we found where the airport was, we went right by it, and determined that their plane was on time, we took the afternoon to explore Old San Juan. This city was fantastic. We thought that having been to Santo Domingo, we could skip another historic city, but we are glad we didn’t miss this one. All of the buildings have been restored, it was clean, colourful and very interesting. We toured El Moro and Fort San Cristobel, and enjoyed watching the local Puerto Ricans enjoy a beautiful Sat. afternoon in the park, playing ball and flying kites.
Kathryn and Ron’s plane arrived on time. We found them and loaded all of their packs (they brought too much stuff) into the car we were off, heading west out of San Juan. Our plan was to find a small hotel along the north coast and tour the island from there. We stopped at a local BBQ and with our limited Spanish made inquiries. The man there was trying to direct us to the Hyatt. Nothing against the Hyatt, but we were looking for a more affordable solution. When asked where would he stay, the reply, go to Playa Baja Vega and get a beach apartment. Off we went, and there we stopped at a parking lot. The attendant directed us to the pina colada van across the road. "They have an apartment" we were told. Yvetta showed us the 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, spotless secure unit, the main floor of their home. "Quanto Cuesta?" $75 per night…great deal!! We went back to the busy beach front corner and ate at the open restaurant across the road, having been told by Poyo and Yvetta that they have good fish. Ron and Kathryn went around the back and picked the fish they wanted, it was cleaned and cooked on the spot. Excellent!!
The next day we headed off inland to the Arecibo Telescope, the largest radio telescope in the world, something Ross wanted to see. The trip into the mountains was scenic, beautiful flowers and huge trees, small villages, the true Puerto Rico. After that it back north to the beach, and spent the afternoon walking along the sand as the surf pounded in. The locals were surfing and having Sunday picnics.
Monday, we were up bright and early to miss the rush hour traffic around San Juan. We detoured into el Yunque Rain Forest. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to do any of the trails, but we did see enough to wet our appetite, and plan a future stop . After a quick provisioning at Amigo, in Fajardo, we returned the rental car and made the 3 pm ferry back to Culebra. It was a rough ferry trip, waves crashing as high as the second deck of the ferry, so we were glad we hadn’t brought RAFT over. That would not have been a good first sail for non sailors.
Transportation back to RAFT was the next challenge , all the local water taxis expect ou to have a phone to contact them. Being roaming cruisers it was something we had given up long ago. None seemed readily available, so Ross and Ron walked to Mamcita’s to see if anyone was there. There they met Mike, a Zee Zee Top lookalike who picked us up at the Government dock in his workboat, bottle of beer in his hand et al. But we got everyone and everything back to RAFT mostly dry. That night Kathryn and Ron got to have their first Caribbean sunset, rum and Tampico in hand, on the foredeck of a sailboat. As expected, it was a quiet night on the mooring ball in Dakity.
The winds and waves were still up the next day, so we walked out to Flaminco Beach and had a wonderful day swimming, snorkeling, beaching and playing on the tanks. This used to be a old military firing range. We took the bus back to Dewey, and found that our friends Joe and Rick from Luperon were arriving on a boat delivery. The boat was supposed to be going to St. Thomas, but mechanical problems had forced it to be sailed into the west anchorage at Dewey. We all got together for drinks in the Dinghy Bay as it poured rain.

We were off to Culebrita the next day, and that island did not disappoint K&R. They snorkeled, played in the Jacuzzis, and climbed to the lighthouse. On the second night, they got their photo postcard moment, RAFT was the only boat in the anchorage.
We motor sailed to Charlotte Amalie, where K&R explored the Danish town, while we got caught up on some laundry and boat chores. After some light provisioning at the Kmart and Pueblo we headed off to Christmas Cove. Here K&R experienced their first bumpy anchorage, but they didn’t complain. They we so excited about the variety of fish they continued to see every time they snorkeled a new reef.
The next few days, we explored all the different anchorages, hikes and reefs on the north side of St. John. We all got a real "kick" out of the accommodations and programs offered at Maho Campgrounds.
K&R’s return flight was booked out of San Juan, and so we had to get them back there. While we were in Charlotte Amalie, they had booked the seaplane to take them to San Juan. They took the first ferry out of Cruz Bay to Charlotte Amalie, caught the seaplane, which deposited them in San Juan Harbour. They had arranged a B&B in Olde San Juan, so that they would have one day to see the historic sites before they returned to Canada. All worked well for them and we know that they had a great holiday.
Now it was our time to reoganize our life and RAFT, and get back into our routine. After we put K&R on the ferry, we sought out the Laundromat in Cruz Bay and we were off to the BVI’s.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Spanish & US Virgins April 2006

Spanish & US Virgins April 2006
Originally uploaded by S/V Raft.
Picture: Mocko Jumbies, Carnival Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas USVI

We are now in a holding pattern, waiting for guests. For cruisers, guests are wonderful and we are looking forward to their arrival, but setting a schedule is very difficult for cruisers. We had encouraged Bev's sister and brother in law to come for a visit, and they set the time, May 6th - 20th and as per our rules we set the place. We had had this discussion with them when we were home in March and RAFT was in Luperon. So we told them to fly to San Juan Puerto Rico, as we knew there were affordable flights and counted on this giving us lots of options. If we were anywhere in Puerto Rico, they could get a bus or we could rent a car. We also knew that there was a ferry between Fajardo and Culebra, if we got that far.

If you have been reading our log reports, you realize since we left Luperon, we have been on a fast pace, just because the weather windows were available and longer than we expected. So by April 20th, we are in Culebra with some time to spend, before our company arrives.

We really didn't have any boat projects, not counting brightwork and stainless, but who wants to do that! so we are going to spend the next three weeks enjoying the slow pace. While we are in Dewey, we investigated ferry and air transportation back to Puerto Rico. The ferry from Culebra to Fajardo makes three round trips each day, and at $4.50 return it is a deal. We took the 630 am trip, arrived in Fajardo, walked to the Golden Bagel for breakfast, met another boater who agreed to share his cab and take us to Walmart and West Marine. We shopped and walked, it is a long walk, but we stopped along the way and found the Amigo grocery store, pulling our bundle buggy full of wine, fruits and vegetables, and returned to the ferry terminal in time to take the 3pm ferry back to Culebra.

Another day we walked, another long hike, out to Flamingo Beach. It is a lovely north beach, usually too rough to bring the big boats to, and there a two rusting American tanks, left on the the beach. This is where most of the weekend PR tourists end up, enjoying the beach, picnicking and camping. Local buses and taxis regularly run out to the beach, so you don't have to walk.

We moved RAFT out of the town anchorage to check out the one at Dakity. It was really interesting, the only protection offered is the reef, but it does a great job of shielding the boats from the waves and swells, but allows the winds to keep everything cool. There are complementary mooring balls there and a neat group of cruisers.

After seeing and doing everything there is to do in Dewey, we decided to head off to St. Thomas. We anchored in the main Charlotte Amalie with 3 huge cruiseboats and about 50 other pleasure boats. We were pleased to find out that we had arrived just in time for Carnival. Having seen Junkanoo in the Bahamas, two Carnivals in the Domincan Republic, we were very happy to see another.

Friday was the Junior Parade, for the school kids. This parade was dominated by majorettes, steel bands, live rock music and regal prince and princesses dressed in beautiful gowns riding in open covertables. The kids were very enthusiastic and the quality of the music, excellent. Saturday was the adult parade. Here the very colourful ornate costumed dancers replaced the baton twirlers. There still were steel bands and live music plus Mocko Jumbies. Mocko Jumbies are parade participants walking, dancing and fooling around on stilts. They can be up to 10 feet tall. The history of the mocko jumbie is African in origin, and their purpose is to scare away the evil spirits. This method of removing evil spirits hurt much less than the wacking we experienced in the DR. Every evening the partying continued downtown, with music serenading, quite loudly, the downtown anchorage until 1am each night. We enjoyed the music but it did interrupt our early usual bedtime.

We decided to head off to Christmas Cove, a favourite anchorage at the east end of St. Thomas, so we could get a quiet night's sleep. This is a lovely anchorage with good snorkeling, especially at the south end of the island. Then we continued on east, to check out St. John. Most of St. John is a National Park, and has many rules, as to where you can anchor (very few places) but they do have mooring balls for $15. There are a lot of hiking trails, taking us to the ruins of an old Sugar Mill and School, which dated back to the slave era. Snorkeling was disappointing, as there was a persistent swell and visibility was reduced. Hopefully when we return with Kathyrn and Ron, conditions will be better.

Now having done all our research, we are not returning to Culebra so that we can take the ferry to Fajardo to meet our guests.