The next landfall was Statia; a 24 NM sail to the first of the volcanic “Islands that Touch the Clouds.” Formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, the eight square-mile island is now a special municipality of The Netherlands. In the 18th century it was a free port and the center of trading for the Caribbean creating enormous wealth for many of its citizens. The remnants of that time of flourishing prosperity, when it was known as the Golden Rock and 200 ships might be anchored at their docks, has been preserved in many of the restored ruins – especially an old warehouse.
Today Statia’s economy is stable with a large medical school and a large oil storage depot that keeps the harbor filled with big tankers. As we were cruising down the western shore heading to Oranje Baai at the foot of the capital Oranjestad, we passed the large fuel loading dock and left the orange tanker buoy to port. Huge freighters and tankers were sprinkled the mile or so between here and the bay.
We anchored behind the new breakwater which protected us from the swells, and dinghied into the “baby dock” to clear in and do some sightseeing. We asked the port officer if there was something special happening because of all the tankers and freighters and he said that this was actually very quiet – that there were often two or three times that many vessels anchored off the harbor.
We didn’t need any provisions, since we were still stocked to the gills, but drinks and snacks at one of the lovely eateries in Lower Town overlooking the harbor along Bay Road were certainly in order. The Old Gin House, a lovely, historic hotel and restaurant rehabbed from an old cotton warehouse features a spectacular patio overlooking the harbor with comfy sofas and umbrella-topped tables for dining. We enjoyed a lovely cocktail hour there – along with a good Wi-Fi connection. Since we didn’t have Wi-Fi on the boat in this harbor, I needed a document downloaded, printed, signed, scanned and sent back to me. The hotel receptionist happily managed all of that in less than five minutes.
Oranjestad’s Upper Town was up the cobbled “Slave Road.” The village is lush, green and bursting with flowers amid it’s gingerbread buildings. Visit the original 1755 Dutch Reformed Church, the partially restored Honen Dalim, an 1738 synagogue, the Museum, and 370-year-old Ft. Oranje. From here Statia was the first country to formally recognize the new United States of America when it fired a 13-gun salute to the warship Andrew Doria on November . 1776. This was not appreciated by the British and the island never really recovered from Admiral George Rodney’s revenge.
Snorkeling and Diving are the big attractions here with more than 30 dive sites in the protected marine park, but we were more in sightseeing mode at this point and didn’t have the day required for a snorkeling or diving excursion.
We encountered some unexpected swells on the way across to St. Bart – a relatively short 14 NM passage that is usually a lovely morning’s sail. We scooted by the island of Ile Fourchue while everyone gave it a raspberry. Last year, with the same crew aboard, our supposedly well-maintained and paid for Marine Park mooring broke setting us adrift at 2 am smashing on the rocks. J’s quick thinking and fast reflexes had gotten us off and we tooled around in the pitch black using every available light looking for a safe anchoring spot – with the mooring ball perched on the bow. All bilges were checked and appeared dry – but we really had no idea if there was any damage so we stood anchor watches until 8 am when the sun was high enough for a dive over the side.
When we arrived in Gustavia, St. Bart’s main village, we contacted the Capitainerie and requested an inner harbor mooring. They were full for our yacht size, but they could offer us a side-tie along the new dock on the east side (designated on the charts as stern-to dockage). We knew that shore was where most of the action was so we thought that this would be perfect for our first landfall – especially since the passage had not been as smooth as predicted (and no main hadn’t helped). Why this perfect spot had attracted so few boats when the outer harbor was full should have raised a question. But we were so happy to just be there, with our family, as our first landfall of our big adventure that we didn’t give it sufficient thought….
Richard cleared us in and we looked around to see what had changed in a year. Gustavia is charming, picturesque, flower bedecked, impeccably maintained and usually loaded with megayachts – although we were a touch late in the season this year for too many of those. It’s also terribly French and terribly chic. Red-roofed buildings march up the hillsides surrounding the harbor. Boutiques and mid-range and high-end restaurants abound. One chandlery and one hardware store along with a plethora of technical marine services keep the boats happy. There’s some sightseeing to do: walk the promenade that almost circles the harbor, climb up the main road at the foot of the harbor for a spectacular view of the harbor. Or walk over to Shell Beach for a relaxing morning. Or climb to the two forts – Gustav and Karl – for more panoramas. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of standing at the foot of the runway when a plane takes off – or better yet, lands. You can just see the pilot standing on his brakes. Apparently there is a special pilot certificate for landing on this “one of the shortest in the world” air strips.
But, first we had to get the hardware on the new main. Imagine two large mainsails sprawled across the tramp. Given the assignment, the “kids” (all highly focused management types) set up a system – A&T used allen wrenches to remove the cars from the old sail (8 screws with three parts) and carefully transported them one-by-one across the tramp to J&L who installed each of them on the new sail. It took a couple hours but finally it was done – just one car short. And no “single” Antal cars in St Barts. The next project would be to feed it into the channel and install the battens as the sail went up.
The two guys couldn’t wait for another alfresco dinner at legendary Le Select having totally romanticized the restaurant’s burgers into amazing, larger than life fat juicy succulence. Everyone went set off their own adventures, and we agreed to meet at the eatery in the early evening. A block off the harbor, Le Select is in a pretty, open area filled with tree-shaded tables serviced by a small DIY diner-like kitchen – think lolos or food truck. In reality, those burgers are perfectly fine but it’s the French fries that are fabulous (since we eat a plant-based diet, we really have no right to judge but we DO eat those fries.) This year they even had veggie burgers, so we were all happy campers. A separate small building serves as the bar – which we also visited frequently. They are convinced that this is the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” given his affection for the island – but that title is also claimed by Cabbage Key on Florida’s West Coast (another of our favorite spots).
That first night we found out why there was room on the east dock. Gustavia’s inner harbor is prone to swells and the way that dock lies those swells push the boat forward then roll it back squeaking and grinding against the fenders – over and over and over again. The next morning everyone, including those bleary-eyed occupants of the bulkhead-side cabins, was up early and off in search of French goodies for breakfast and found La Petite Colombe for croissants and baguettes – even complete (whole wheat) baguettes! Later A&T toured the AMC Supermarket – right across from the boat – to stock up on anything they felt was missing from our massive SMX provisioning foray. And J&L brought back more yummy offerings from their excursion to the north end of the island. We were calorie laden.
When moored or docked in Simpson Bay Lagoon, the dinghy is your car– most of the services were across the bay from our dock. We went to dinner, made daily visits to the ATM, ran errands, dropped off laundry, provisioned lightly, had lunch at the St. Maarten Y.C. – all in the dink. But at a certain point, we needed to head further afield, so we rented a car for a couple of days to pick up the new main in Oyster Pond, see a little more of SXM – mainly the bigger stores looking for household items, a multifunction printer, tools, and to do the major provisioning for the trip. Rentals are reasonable and they pick up and deliver (but don’t expect 2013 cars). They also seem to come with the floors covered in newspaper, we assume to keep them clean. We also discovered that the wrong main had been delivered from Tortola so, after much discussion, the right one would be sent overnight and was to be delivered to us on Saturday.
Sint Maarten is, without doubt, the place to provision in the Lesser Antilles. A half mile walk from the dinghy dock at Yacht Club Port de Plaisance marina in Simpson Bay Lagoon, there is a big, bright wonderful Le Grande Marche near the entrance to the Princess Casino driveway. We were planning to dinghy and have them deliver, but we had the car and that seemed just easier. I spent almost three hours and about $800 (with just a week’s worth of wine and beer). The prices are very reasonable (not necessarily stateside reasonable but certainly for the Caribbean) and the variety is not matched anywhere. It’s an unbeatable combination But be sure to go to either this Le Grande Marche or the one in Philipsburg; the others are small and disappointing. The produce was fresh and reasonable so we bought more than enough for six of us for the first week (it lasted at least another week), and the basics for most of the two-month trip – with a lot left over (the boat looked like the Island Trader with baskets of fresh fruit and unripe vegetables scattered about). Just don’t freak out at the prices on the shelves – they are in Gilders, with dollars below and Euros above (the last two in mice type). We eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we can’t speak to meat, fish, etc. But we were amazed at the assortment of vegan and vegetarian products that were available. (We did stock some meat, poultry and dairy for our son and son-in-law which they declared quite good.)
For you other vegs out there, we discovered Carrot top across the lagoon with delicious, interesting plant-based wraps, salads, burgers, sandwiches, heartier entrees a swell as lots of juices and smoothies. A bit pricey but we were happy to find it. And we had a wonderful dinner at elegant, water-side Paanland Thai restaurant that was very veg friendly – with a dinghy dock. More coverage of living plant-based in the Caribbean coming soon in my travegans.com blog.
Jerawyn lived on a mooring on the Dutch side of Simpson Bay Lagoon from mid-February until mid- April to allow the work to get done. The Lagoon, 12 square miles of nearly land-locked water, is half in Sint Maarten and half in French Saint Martin – you get in and out through two draw bridges. This is generally considered the yachting center of SXM and, while cruising yachts are a big part of their business, there are also quite a number of marinas that have been built to cater to megayachts. Watching these behemoths squeak through the 56-foot wide draw bridge is great sport attested to by the line up along the rail at the bridge-side St. Maarten Yacht Club.
Richard had discovered a “guy” in Sint Maarten, David Duong, who had been recommended by our surveyor. He found us a reasonably priced mooring, visited, charged batteries and generally watched over Jerawyn while we were back in New York. He was a terrific resource for services of all kinds (from inverters to cleaning) heading us in the right direction through his own local knowledge no matter what we needed. Vendors and installers had been contracted with in February and a good size shipment of parts, electronics and heads had been delivered from the States through Tropical.com in Miami via their twice-weekly containership to Sint Maarten. A new genoa and a new stack pack arrived right on time from South Africa, and the new main had been delivered from Tortola to the marina in Oyster Pond. That it turned out was the easy part.
Of course, everything seemed to slip to the eleventh hour so there were a lot of workers crawling around the boat the week before our arrival. The Raymarine installer requested that we move the boat to a dock to make things easier so we booked a space at the marina behind Island Water World and David arranged to have her moved. Island Water World is a big, well-supplied chandlery – one of four in the Caribbean – that offers good discounts (often better than Budget Marine) and good service. They have a dinghy dock and also offer free bikes for touring. As an aside, we bought our 12 ft. dinghy and 15 hp motor from Island Water World in February and that put us in their “deepest discount” category so we were inclined to keep a running tab there with all manner of last-minute purchases from books to sets of snorkel gear to more serious and pricey stuff. Manager Erwin Rutenberg was helpful as were all the staff throughout – and we stopped at their other branches along the way.
And it wasn’t just boat stuff! For an early birthday present, I got a coveted pair of Jabsco “quiet flush” electric push-button heads that we shipped from the States and which were impeccably installed by Julian from Custom Fit Marine whom we thoroughly enjoyed meeting and highly recommend. When we arrived, that was the only project completed. The heads are simply terrific – no more pumping blisters. But “Quiet Flush” is a bit of a misnomer!
Bert Lamerigts at Electec honchoed the installation of the new Xantrex inverter, additional 110 plugs, a 210 AH battery, and the job was ably executed by charming Nico. They, too, could not have been easier or more pleasant to deal with. Even when we ran into problems later in the voyage, one of them was at the other end of the phone, even on Sunday afternoon, solving problems that literally no one else could. That is the kind of follow-up service that is priceless. Rob from St. Maarten Sails fabricated the new custom cushions with a comfy combination of closed and open cell foam. It was a little eleventh hour and a little pricey but, bottom-line, we love them!!
We returned to St. Maarten in mid-April, as scheduled, about a week before our family was to arrive for our week’s cruise. Heads were done, electric work was done, but the biggest project – a new Raymarine chartplotter, radar, AIS, wifi hi gain antenna and modem, had not even been started. Reason? Late arrival of the shipped equipment, conflicts with other projects, other workers on Jerawyn…… In short, we departed St. Maarten the following Saturday with all of the uninstalled equipment stowed under our berth.
Thanks to Richard, the boat was well-supplied with safety gear. We had an up-to-date Life Raft, a new Epirb, a life ring with attached light that only illuminates when floating upright, a Life Sling salvaged from our last boat, and some interesting new technologies: Tucked into our auto-inflatable vests were water-activated strobe lights as well as personal locater beacons that transmit on AIS frequencies – so we can see the signal on our AIS transceivers on the multifunction display at the helm and on the personal computer at the Nav station. Once activated, the Epirb would transmit to a bunch of satellites and from there to SAR (Search and Rescue) where we had filed a float plan and multiple contacts. While the new personal locators would transmit locally so the boat could find the “man overboard.” Of course the Chart Plotter at the helm also had an MOB button to be pushed at the moment of the event so it logged the location. We were totally belt and suspenders and then we also ran jack lines from one side of the cockpit to the other around the mast and kept a tether attached to it ready at the helm station.
We had a deal. We wouldn’t make passages without our vests on and we wouldn’t leave the cockpit unless we were hanked on to the jack line. That way, we had the best chance that if something happened, that person (likely Richard) would still be attached to the boat. We always followed that procedure. We are also planning for more safety installations on the boat during her layup in Grenada – including an electric winch that would raise and lower the main from the cockpit. But truth be told, we never saw another cruiser as duded up as we were. No inflatable life vests, no jack lines, no tethers … but we still stuck to our deal.
In 2006, shortly after our beloved and impeccably restored Sabre, Jerawyn, had broken her mooring and gone adrift during the big “NoName” storm, my husband Richard and I started looking at catamarans. For a year or so, broker-par-excellence Phil Berman from The MultiHull Company educated us about the varieties and brands of these new-to-us sailing vessels and showed us yachts in various places in the Caribbean and the U.S. During that time we came to three conclusions: 1. Our next boat would definitely be a cat, 2. After maintaining our lovely Sabres for some twenty-five years, the respite from the chores, maintenance expenses and worry was a surprisingly welcome relief, and 3. The “Round the World” boat that had always been in our game plan was simply not going to happen. The world was a different place in 2006 than ten years earlier. There were serious security issues and our lives had changed as well – busy family and professional lives made clear that we wouldn’t be ready for long-term cruising for at least five more years.
One cat that had caught our eye during the Annapolis Boat Show was the then brand new “Boat of the Year” Robertson and Caine Leopard 40 – 3 or 4 cabins, two heads, only a 56 ft. air draft and a little over 20 ft beam (perfect for the ICW, one of our favorite trips). It was small enough for just the two of us but big enough for our now grown family with spouses. But it was a brand new model, so there were no gently-used, fully equipped versions around – and the US distributor for the new boats was The Moorings out of Clearwater (the largest charter operator in the world) so we couldn’t buy it through Phil.
Out of the blue, we started looking harder at the Moorings Owners Program. Hmmm. Maybe this could be the answer: 1. It’s a cat. 2. There would no chores, maintenance expenses or worry. And 3. maybe we could do the “round-the-world” a little differently – sailing the arias instead of the whole opera. At the time, The Moorings had bases in four Caribbean ports, two in the South Pacific, one in Australia, nine in the Med, one in the Abacos, Baja Mexico and Belize. Part of our deal would be nine weeks a year on either a sistership or comparable cat at any of these bases (with lots of caveats, of course). And so we bought the next iteration of S/V Jerawyn and signed The Moorings standard long-term (5 years, extendable) chartering and maintenance agreement in March, 2006.
Since then, we have cruised a good part of the world out of every possible Moorings base, sometimes with family and sometimes with many of our sailing friends along so it was always a bit of a house party. With guidance from the unflappable Moorings owners’ booking agent John Keyes, we learned that we had to book pretty far in advance to get the location, boat and dates that we would work for us and keep him apprised of our preferences in case of cancellations. To us, this was the same as buying our season subscription to the Metropolitan Opera – if you aren’t “forced” to schedule and book, you somehow never go. So we scheduled, we booked and we went: Turkey, Croatia, three remarkably different cruising grounds in Greece, circumnavigation of Corsica, Whitsundays in Australia, the Society Islands (Raiatea to Bora Bora), The Baja, Belize, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Maarten, Anguilla and St. Barts, and, many times, the Virgin Islands out of our/Jerawyn’s home base in Road Town, Tortola, BVI. It was a fun ride…..
And now, perfect timing for us, our “subscription” is over and we are ready to go cruising on our own. S/V Jerawyn has just been through a thorough “phase out” under the watchful eye of the Moorings’ Robert Ansell – supported by multiple reviews by our surveyor Geoff Williams at West Indies Surveyors, also in Road Town. After this overhaul, Richard sailed her to Sint Maarten for more sprucing up with new electronics, an inverter, electric heads, radar, new sails and stack pack along with some cosmetic and comfort additions – with more to come when she is laid up for six months in Grenada during hurricane season.
The goal was to spend at least two months sailing the Lesser Antilles – first the Leewards and then the Windwards – from Sint Maarten to Grenada. We were to have left SXM the first of February, then March – the time kept getting pushed further and further out until, we finally said – we are going in mid-April and work and home will just have to take care of themselves. Thankfully, we had two non-negotiable deadline— we had to make Grenada to have the boat hauled before the beginning of hurricane season and our two grown children and their spouses had scheduled a week sailing with us to celebrate Richard’s birthday – their carefully scheduled vacations could not be moved. So, we had to get to SXM at least a week before to get the boat organized and be ready to greet them. Part of the deal was that we would have fairly good communication and that we would fly home for six days in the middle to make decisions on an on-going renovation and attend business meetings.
I had planned to write and shoot every day, post on my two blogs, and on FaceBook Pinterest and Twitter. After all this was going to be a sublime cruise – trade winds blowing a steady 15 knots out of the east, blue skies streaked with white clouds, turquoise water and calm seas. We would cruise from island to island stopping at white sand beaches shaded by rows of palms, exquisite reefs teeming with fish and fauna, interspersed with charming laid-back villages and energetic history-rich small cities.
It didn’t turn out quite that way. The winds were unseasonably high (regularly hitting the mid twenties), which wasn’t such a problem since our boat likes strong winds and delivers 8 or 9 knots in exchange, but the seas were often seven or eight feet – sometimes more. And that kind of roll was, for me, a problem – even in a cat which rolls less than a monohull. For the overwhelming majority of the trip we were double-handing (or maybe one and a half handing) because, frankly, at times I was more than a bit uncomfortable although I got more and more used to the large seas as I learned to trust the boat. Still it’s no fun.
Weather changed our itinerary somewhat. We generally have had good wi-fi in harbors, so we checked in with Wind Guru and Buoy Weather twice a day and with the local cruiser nets and weather stations. We often stayed in a port longer than anticipated to wait out the weather – or skipped some ports when we had a clear run or because they were too rolly to be tenable. But sometimes we had to go even if the conditions were not ideal.
The new “specific purpose” microfibers are a no-brainer for non toxic boat cleaning. These are amazing products – and as green as you can get. They are either “naked” or permanently impregnated with non-toxic substances that do the specific job for which they were intended. And for a little more oompf – just add water.
West Marine carries a line of generic microfiber towels – and even Wal-Mart sells them. But we really like the line put out by Casabella. The products are color coded so it is easy to recognize the one for the head, or for the electronics screens, or the table, or the galley counters, etc. and the colors are bright and fun – which makes the whole process much more pleasant.
Casabella also makes specialized mops and window cleaners that are just perfect for boats. There are also a couple of non-microfiber products that we really love because they are so well designed and boat perfect. The toilet bowl brush and holder is so slim that it fits in almost any head. the flexible dust pan and broom conform easily to the vagaries of the sole and tucks in to any available cranny. And the bright pink rubber gloves have a permanent place in the galley (the old yellow ones have been relegated to pump-out duty. Check out their line at http://www.casabella.com
Another useful resource for similar products is StarFiber http://www.starfibers.com/
What is microfiber? According to Starfiber, the term “microfiber” is based on the size of a fiber measuring below 1.0 denier (the diameter or fineness of a continuous or filament fiber—the lower the number, the finer the fiber, which in turn is more effective for cleaning surfaces). Each strand of microfiber is comprised of two components–wedge-shaped polyester filaments and a core of nylon. Made of both oil-attracting and water-attracting polymers, these strands are woven into masses of tiny “hooks & loops”. The sharp edges of millions of these fibers cut through dried-in stains, attracting and absorbing dirt and micro-particles, eliminating the need for additional chemical cleansers. Most microfiber products are not treated with any chemicals. The capillary effect between the filaments and nylon core creates a high absorbency, which in turn, enables the fiber to clean and polish at the same time. Therefore, only water is needed as a detergent to clean any type of surface.
- Post a list of the possible meals and snacks for the cruise – that way all the crew members know what the snack situation is and can pitch in and help with meals without a lot of instruction. That may be the best advice for improving the onboard environment.
- Store the drinks in a separate cooler on deck or below. This keeps the refrigerator from being opened twenty times a day as people rummage for that special can of whatever. Reload daily and keep it iced down. In very hot weather, a wet towel over the top keeps the ice frozen longer.
- Use fuel-friendly cookware. Woks were designed to cook quickly and spread the heat source over the surface. Small ones are galley-friendly and work wonderfully with propane and CNG units. On that same note, add a space-friendly four-quart stainless steel pressure cooker. For those who remember the temperamental, exploding pressure cookers of yore, rest assured that these new foolproof designs are safe. And they still cook fast, have tight seals that make them perfect for cooking underway, and double as a saucepan.
- If the boat is moored locally, purchase a few identical stainless baking pans, so entrees can be frozen in them — this eliminates the issues of weak disposable aluminum pans, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, etc. Imagine removing a bubbling lasagna that was frozen in an unstable disposable aluminum pan from a gimbaled oven in a rough sea. And look at the new silicone bakeware which neither rattles nor rusts – and the Silpat liners that make everything nonstick and clean-up a breeze.
- Identify all the possible the farmers’ markets along your route – and their schedules. A visit to one or two will net an enjoyable morning replenishing the galley stores with locally-grown and often organic produce (plus cheese, meat and fish) while affording a look into the local community.
- Look, particularly, for local farmers’ markets that have expanded to include arts and crafts, entertainment and prepared food stands or trucks featuring local specialties – perfect for a quick lunch or a “to go” meal back on the boat.
- Search out local farm stands that tend to be open all week – Google “Farm Stands” or look at the ACC Marina Reports for the area that include Produce Markets as well as Farmers’ Markets.
- Google “Food Trucks” in the harbor you are headed to – most of them have websites. Sometimes they are a source of very high-end food at quick and easy prices. Local chefs often use Food Trucks to try out culinary concepts or test out new offerings planned for their brick & mortar eateries. Other Food Trucks are first steps for new businesses that tend toward authentic and ethnic. They are all, invariably, interesting and relatively inexpensive.
- Ask about local fishermen who sell off the boat (ACC often includes this info in Marina Reports) or local fishmongers who buy right off the boat