Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A guest blog from Gord - brings back happy memories of being warm in St. Martin! Gord and Marj and I went to high school together.

Visitors’ Blog: Gord and Marj board the Nancy Dawson, daggers atooth

We flew from Ottawa to Queen Juliana Airport near Phillipsburg in Dutch Sint Maartin and took a cab to our hotel in Marigot in French Saint Martin. The hotel (Hotel le Patio) is a small place in the town (not on the beach) that we chose because it was relatively cheap compared to the resorts and it is in the town close to the anchorage where the Nancy Dawson was moored. Having a room on shore meant that we weren’t in Sue and Randy’s face all of the time and it allowed them to come ashore for a real shower. It also allowed us to bring all sorts of stuff that would not have fit comfortably on the Nancy Dawson. So the minimalist but clean Hotel le Patio fit the bill.

Despite careful planning and a note left by Sue at our hotel, we actually met by total coincidence. We did not notice the note that specified the time and place of our meeting. But just as we opened the curtains of our room, we saw Sue and Randy sitting on a bench outside. They had just arrived, on a schedule and in a location of which we were completely unaware, and were noticed by us only by the coincidence of the location of our room and the timing of our arrival at the hotel (two hours late) at the same time they arrived there at their scheduled time. For the rest of the week, when not together, we stayed casually coordinated by using little two-way radios that worked well between our hotel room and the Nancy Dawson.

During our stay, we poked around Marigot several times. I found it to be uneven in all respects, still growing into its status as a tourist destination. There are nice shops beside derelict buildings, decent restaurants and cafés beside hole-in-the wall bars, expensive new cars dodging around roaming dogs, etc. It is certainly more real and more interesting than most of Phillipsburg (see below).

Marigot was perfectly set up for land-based visitors meeting up with sailors: the mooring is clean and swimmable, the town has a market and grocery stores and reasonably priced, if unglamorous, in-town accommodations that are close to the dingy dock.

One day we took a local bus ($1.50) to Phillipsburg, but almost all of the shops and eating places there are pitched to the passengers of the cruise ships that dock nearby – expensive, brand-name and logo shops combined with trashy tourist stands.

We sailed up the west coast of St. Martin towards Grand Case, stopping first for snorkeling in a bay along the way and then anchoring in the bay at Grand Case. It was Tuesday, so the anchorage gradually filled with boats arriving for the weekly evening street party. By sunset the little town was packed with local vendors, boaters in for the evening and tourists who staying at the hotels in Grand Case and had come to the main street for the party. We had a superb dinner, so Grand Case lived up to its reputation as the place on the island for fine dining. Our table was on a small patio right on the street, so we had perfect seats for the passing bands and revelers. We bought one of the reed bowls made with incredible speed by a local craftsman, on the spot, in front of an interested crowd.

That night was the one night we slept on the boat. The boat has a good set-up for four people for a night or two, but the ideal arrangement longer term is to have a place on shore: extra space for everyone and land-based facilities for Sue and Randy.

The next day we sailed a little further up the shore of St. Martin on the way to the island of Tintamarre, but the swell would have made a landing on the beach there impossible, so we snorkeled some more and I cleaned the Nancy Dawson’s be-crudded prop with a putty knife and scrub brush – my one small contribution to the tasks on-board. Then we headed back to Marigot, anchored, and snacked over drinks while the sun set. This was the typical late afternoon: drinks and snacks on the boat while the sun set, then either a meal on board followed by a dingy ride taking us to shore, or a meal in Marigot followed by Sue & Randy returning to the Nancy Dawson.

The next day we went south and east towards the beaches on the south shore of the island, but again the swell made a shore approach unsafe, so Randy tacked out towards the deeper water and Sue put out the fishing line. First she hooked a 30" barracuda, which we released, then a 14" [Blue Bar or something?] that Randy filleted expertly in the cockpit. We went ashore on the beach near Marigot and Sue & Marj hunted for sea shells. That evening, we feasted on the fish that Sue had caught during the day: food fresh and free with wine and old friends in the Caribbean sunset – a perfect meal.

All in all it was a fun and interesting and fabulously relaxing holiday. We don’t know of any protocol for how visitors compensate boaters who invite you down to join them. We would have liked to fill up their diesel and water tanks, but that wasn’t on the schedule, so we plied them with wine and rum and some fine dining ashore. And Sue had 22 real showers in seven days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gone are the days of updates describing Caribbean adventures. As they say in the islands, "dat finish."

Temporarily. We hauled the boat in Antigua at Jolly Harbour at the end of April, which involved a heavy week of scrubbing, lugging, packing, etc. Rather than staying aboard after we hauled (a special purgatory when the closest ladies room is a quarter-mile away with a locked gate in between) we stayed at the Cappucino Lounge and Guesthouse in St. John's. Cheap, clean, relatively quiet for any Caribbean location during the lead-up to Carnival. (We didn't get the room overlooking the neighbour's henhouse and resident rooster, so if you go, decline the room at the top of the stairs.) The ladies there were friendly and made us feel at home. Great coffee.

Hauling went pretty much without incident. Randy and I did all the disconnecting of the rigging (no riggers available), but we got it all sorted and both masts hauled in an hour and a half. We have skills. I also had to go up the mast while we were on the mooring to free the jib halyard, which was stuck in the roller thingy at the top. (I've decided that I can cope okay with going up the mast now, but that in lieu of danger pay, I want a voucher good for one new pair of shoes. Per trip.)

The guys at the yard, Mario, Danny and Lindsay, were great. Professional and careful. Nancy came out of the water looking pretty good after her pressure wash. The Romantic Rasberry bottom paint did a good job, but an hour after she was out, the paint started to shrivel up, crack, and flake. Go figure.
We've been back in Halifax since the beginning of the month, and I'm loving being this close to my kids again. I got to go on a class trip to the museum with Anna's afterschool group. How much fun was that?

We've been spending most of our time getting the house ready to sell. Our tenants left the house in great shape, so we just had to do a bunch of painting, find some furniture to scatter around, and Clean The Basement. Randy spent three days down in the hellhole, packing tools and cleaning up all the crap we'd left behind. How bad was it? He burned out the shop vac. But it's done, we had an open house on Sunday, and we're waiting for calls. Have a look at the house blog, and please send it to anyone who wants to live in a wonderful house in Halifax: http://6279DuncanStreet.blogspot.com

We had 15 really good years here, and I'm having pangs, if not qualms, about leaving it. But then, I don't want to go back to work, do I?, so I'm over it. And we're cold. There was a few nice days last week -- low 20s C or low 70s F -- and it's been chilly (bloody cold) since then. Now that we're home and cold, we've been haunting everyone else's blogs, looking for news from warmer climes. Now I know how annoying it is when people don't update their damn blogs. I apologize.

For those of you who read the ND blog for the sailing thrills, check back in October when we'll be back on board. For those of you who care about our ongoing trials and tribulations ashore, I'll try find something funny to say about fog and water that's so cold your ankles are numb and throbbing with pain before you even get to your sensitive bits. I might buy a full wet suit just for paddling about at the beach in August. I can also promise pictures of a vegetable garden, small-town Nova Scotia, and our relatives. Whoo-hoo!

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