Thursday, January 31, 2008

We've pitched up in the lagoon in St. Martin, just this side of the imaginary line that turns the water from French to Dutch, and just about under the shadow of the hill called the Witch's Tit. Charming, eh? In the evening, the goats scramble around the treacherous rocks at the top, and there's an osprey up there that oversees everything.

We came into the lagoon to enjoy the absence of chop and swell, but there's so much traffic that everything seems to bobble a bit, or a lot, all the time. There's just too many boats, and some drivers ignore courtesy and safety. There's a guy who makes a regular habit of sailing around in a little dinghy for a couple of hours after dark, no light. There's high-speed tenders from the big yachts screaming by at 30-40 mph through a crowded anchorage, sometimes in the dark. Somebody was killed in a dinghy a couple of weeks ago. Think of us, staying aboard after dark! Surrounded by a citadel of fiberglass! No nightlife! Listening to NPR, in bed by 9.

Perfectly okay sail from St. Barth to St. Martin - two weeks ago now - no fish, but Randy did spot a whale, two whales, mother and calf, and in my excitement, I shot about half-a-dozen absolutely useless photos. All we saw were their elegant backs, flashes of white belly under the water, and they slid away west. Our first big whale. Randy thinks it was probably a humpback.

Marigot is still the same dirty old town. You expect tropical French elegance, and there's a bit of that, here and there, but there's garbage in the streets, dog crap, and buildings that seems to have grown like a bunch of concrete boxes out of a maze of cruddy streets that never have a proper sidewalk or ditch, just stagnant trenches full of garbage. Nobody ever planned for people to actually walk around, let alone enjoy doing it. There are some great restaurants, but checking them out involves going out after dark, so we just remember the great nights we had out with Gord and Marj last year. There just isn't enough incentive to get off the boat, when we're loaded with great groceries.

We're very careful of traffic in Marigot, particularly the tourists on the four-wheeled machines....Philipsburg is not much better, only with lots of jewellery stores and cruiseship passengers on those Seguay machines (is that how it's spelled?). Never walk if you can pay to ride. It's a rule. Randy and I had lunch on the boardwalk and people-watched until we couldn't take any more. Whoo-eee. On the back street there's a mile or so of cheaper shops, and in a window I saw a fetching women's top printed with big silver letters across the front "FLAT BOARD PANEL." I went in and had another look (you could get it in three different colours) and I asked the East Indian shop lady what it meant. "Oh, nothing bad lady!"

Tourists are everywhere, and are encouraged to rent high-speed machines and tear around on land and sea during their brief stays. Here in the lagoon, they file by at high speed on jetskis and jetski dinghy things, following the leader in a row like crazed duckies, too fast to see anything, and bouncing over each other's wakes until everybody's kidneys are jangled and all the sailboats are rolling. Today we saw one lady in the bow of one of the little duckies with her head hung between her knees in vomit or faint position, while her large male partner kept zooming along, bounce, bounce, bounce, back to the cruise ship. (Are we having fun yet? asks the capt.)
Lots of Canadians here in the lagoon -- we're in a veritable pocket of Canucks just now. Speaking of, I had an email from Dr. Steve, formerly of the good ship Carapan, who is now freezing his everything off, somewhere in northern Ontario. He refered to my recent catch as a "nice bait." Steve, while you're treating your 50th snot-bound sniveller this week, I'll be catching little fish. I win.

We went for a walk in Marigot a couple of days ago, looking for the hardware store and the chandlery (branching out just a bit) and came upon it just as it was re-opening after lunch (2 pm). A Gerard Depardeau-type (it's probably not spelled right, but you know who I mean) helped us out with spending another small whack of Euros on fishing lures, and he was wonderfully entertaining. He promised me Tuna!Tuna!Tuna! And he gave us all sorts of guidance about where to get fish around St. Martin and Anguilla. Lovely fella. Weird Gallic haircut, showing the effect of years of French bread and cheese and wine and probably tuna, tuna, tuna, but his fractured English was charming.

It's winter here too, and there's been a week or two of windy rainy weather, and sort of cold at night. Below 20C one night. I had to leap up and put on my polar fleece. Marjorie is back in the water, patched and painted and I've been happily rowing around the lagoon every day. A guy on a derelict concrete boat with a big hole in the side offered me a whiskey as I rowed passed (Charlie on Mi Amante has dubbed these boats "hovel craft"). I really missed the rowing while Marj was out of action. We're both hauling around extra poundage. Cheese and bread - it's a killer. And we're agog with the incredible deals on wine, cheese, cookies, chocolate, anything with fat is great and cheap. Real meat too. No chicken feet or lips.

We've shopped til we've dropped. There's a new D400 wind generator in boxes on Tom's bunk waiting to be installed. Same day, the mate went shopping in Philipsburg (Sodom and Gomorrah South) with Ann from Rasi and Michelle from Mi Amante, and came home to find the captain positively faint from all the day's expenditures. All will be well - from now on we won't have to run the engine everyday to provide the paltry amps we consume. I'll unpack the hairdryer, eh?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Susan the fisherman is Back In Action. One small bonito does not a freezer fill, but we had a great meal off this little fat fish. In the photo I'm holding him way too sideways - he really was fat. Randy did his great fish cookery, and there was a piece left in the pan for "tuna sandwiches" tomorrow, but it never made it that far. Very gratifying. Big Sue is bringin home the bacon.

We sailed, or motored, or a little of both, from Falmouth to Jolly Harbour to fill all Nancy's tanks and get a head-start on the next day, even though we weren't sure where we were going. Our original plan had been to go to Nevis and explore for a few days, but just before we left Falmouth, we stopped in to Jane's Yacht Services to pick up our propane tanks, and heard a fairly alarming tale from a skipper on one of the big boats. He'd sailed over to Nevis with guests, and getting there too late for customs, but he'd let someone go ashore. He got nailed, put in handcuffs, they threatened to arrest his guests, and was let go after he was fined $5,000 EC. While he was being "processed" there were four other captains undergoing the same treatment. One hadn't noted "dog aboard" on his form, and they arrested the dog, and smacked the captain with a big fine.

We hemmed and hawed, and decided to Q-flag it to St. Kitts and go on to St. Barth (this means that we leave our quarantine/yellow flag up, and don't leave the boat. Regular procedure for quick stops when you're going between islands and don't want to sail all night). Before we left Jolly Harbour, we had a great evening on Vixen and said goodbye to Paul and Denise (heading to St. Croix) and Dennis and Ann from Kyeta (going back to Falmouth to pick up a guest). Great folks, great time, and thanks for the great fishing tips Paul. Denise has a Skittles habit, and Paul took one of the mylar Skittles packages and cut a flittery skirt for an old lure, and has been having great success with it. Not having a candy habit, I'm sitting in the cockpit the next morning with a Lays chip bag and the scissors and electrical ties making new skirts for all our faded lures. We dragged them, in rotation, all the way to St. Kitts, and got our lines nice and straight and the hooks and lures nice and clean but only caught a thumping great barracuda. We dragged him until he was good and sorry, and then between the two of us, Randy wielding the pliers, me dangling the fish, we managed to set him free to maraud further. Cost us a new hook. Paul, just ahead of us on Vixen reported via VHF that he'd caught the same stupid fish a half-hour earlier.

In the interests of being totally within the rules, we anchored just off Basse Terre in St. Kitts, which is the only port of entry, with our Q-flag up. Just before sunset, we hear the coast guard hailing Deniki, a big motor-yacht. We'd seen Deniki's launch go ashore earlier with two people, and come back with one, and then this. Coast guard vessel came alongside, three officials boarded, and about an hour later, they left with at least five of the crew, in custody? Deniki's launch followed them in. We sat and ate dinner and indulged in wild speculation. Deniki was gone when we upped anchor early in the morning. So apparently, there's no bending rules in St. Kitts/Nevis, either that, or there's a major revenue push going on. Either way, the news is not good on the big-boat-jungle-drums.

Next day was a brilliant sail. Except I have to say that some days, when I get up really early in the morning (underway at 7) my psyche protests, my stomach rebels, and I feel like the current and chop between islands is out to get me, the movement of the boat is evil, and I feel all over trepidatious and irritable. I had to say that, just in case there's other women sailors who don't like sailing who feel the same way. Well, you've got company.

I got sorted out by the time we were well clear of St Kitts and had a spanking sail. Couldn't get any better if you screamed at it: almost no swell, about 15 knots of breeze just forward of the beam, full sail, no squalls. I kept busy fishing, fashioning fetching little skirts for lures and switching them about. No fish. So just before we came up on the shallower water, I switched out the snazzy skirts for the old pink squid, and shortly after that, we picked up the fat little bonito. Wild rejoicing.

We kept up a steady 6 knots all day, give or take, and made St. Barth in time for the Captain to shower and shave before heading to customs. Three days of sailing is a lot of fresh air and a pile of sun, and we were both feeling whupped. I couldn't figure out how to get the sail covers on without help. I just draped them over the sails and waited for Randy to finish his shower and show me how a zipper works. He was no better. He managed checking in all right, then did some rudimentary grocery shopping, only to decide when he got back to the dinghy that he'd left his sunglasses in the store. Back he goes, and inside the store he wonders why it's so dark. It's because his sunglasses are on his face. We decided to stay anchored in the bay instead of going around to Columbier. We ate the tuna with gusto, and were in the bunk before 8.

Gustavia is pretty dead on a Sunday, so we headed for action central, Columbier (if only we'd known, we'd a stayed put). Coming in to anchor, I spy a big turtle being dogged by a remora or a small shark. Lots of turtles in this bay. Also lots of boats, with lots of naked or partly naked people aboard. We anchored near the beach, I had a great swim. There was one local sailboat that was sailing around the anchorage, not a great idea, it was a fairly big boat, big as us, no engine on, they'd been drinking all afternoon - and there was lots of swimmers in the water. Showing off. Dangerous sort of parking lot to be swooping around.

Sure enough (are we a magnet for these twits?), he luffs up as he comes up toward us, backs his jib, and hits our anchor chain. We thought he was taking the bowsprit off. Our mild-mannered captain had been grinding his teeth silently, but as soon as impact was a given, he was on his feet and in full voice. The only thing he said that I can repeat was "hot shot." We were both on the bowsprit in seconds, and miraculously, everything seemed to be fine. They left a smudge of their bottom paint on our snubber line, and about 4 feet of our anchor chain is red with it, so all the noise must have been our anchor chain on their keel. We're hoping they suffered deep mortification along with the verbal damage our fine Captain inflicted. They careened around the anchorage for another half-hour, but didn't come anywhere near us again.

Highjinks not over yet. A small power boat comes in - two guys, two blonde women. They anchor by the beach, and the women whip off their tops as soon as the boat stops. Lacivious dancing ensues. We were wondering which of the glitterati we'd run into in St. Barth, so we decided that one of them must be Britney Spears. Or she might have been on the catamaran chock full of nudists on the other side of the bay. After dark, they draped themselves with lightsticks and neon necklaces and all manner of illumination, and there was wild dancing on the deck! I often say, who has more fun than us, and maybe it's them. They weren't in bed by 8.

Next morning, we did the hike over the hill to Anse Aux Flamades (god, these French have a word for everything, wish I knew what they mean). Got over there and found no cold beer, so drank water and hiked back. On the steps back down to the beach, I heard a familiar sort of voice on the beach, and by the time we walked by and said good morning, I realized it was the good old whiny Canadian voice of Martin Short. Famous! I saw a Famous Person and said Good Morning. (And being Canadian, that was that.)

So we probably saw either Britney or somebody just as important, and Martin Short for sure. We'll explore Gustavia a bit more and see who else is hanging around. See below for more photos, but no paparrazzi shots.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy new year.We're off to a quiet start to 2008. Still anchored in Falmouth Harbour in Antigua, still waiting for the repairs to be completed on Marjorie. When Randy checked a few days ago, she was half-way back to normal, so we're expecting to get her back in the next few days. We're also waiting for information on whether Ollie can make us a mast, or even get us materials for the mast, rudder and daggerboard.

In the meantime, we've been doing boat chores, which isn't as interesting as it sounds. Randy has nearly finished sanding the taffrail all round the stern, and two-thirds of it has a sealer coat of varnish. It's going to look some nice, and Randy will be spending scheduled chunks of his remaining years maintaining varnish, then sitting back with a rum drink and admiring his boat. And accepting compliments. I get to take some credit for that - I've been polishing brass and chrome. Who knew how satisfying that could be?

There was a new year's eve party, or old year's night, and we spent the evening on Lorriegray with Lorraine and Graham, Ann and Graham (Rasi), and surprise guests Paul and Denise on Vixen. They showed up the day before, after a lousy trip up from Deshaies. We knew that they were in Guadeloupe, and had sent them an email mid-December to say we were in Falmouth, but it's still a surprise to look up from your book and see old friends coming in to anchor in your neighbourhood. They've added to their family since we last saw them - they now have a cat, named Swab, that they picked up in Trinidad.

There was a good fireworks display at midnight over in English Harbour, and we could see them just fine from the deck of Lorriegray. Then champagne, kisses all round and we were in the bunk by 12:30. It'll be no surprise to any of our peeps to hear that that's the latest we've been up all year....

My butt is still numb from sitting around for ages finishing Don Quixote, and we're getting a bit shack-wacky sitting in one place for so long, so when the weather settles into something that looks and feels perfect for moving, we'll go exploring again. But for the next few days, the weather is fine for sanding and polishing.

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