We finally made it to St. Maarten, a month after we planned – sorry about that Ove and Lene! We left Tortula at mid-day. First, Vinni had to recover somewhat from her evening enjoying a couple too many “painkillers” at the Full Moon Party, then we had to bunker fuel (back in Nanny Cay Marina) and finally we had to clear out via Customs (a busy morning).
Finally, yes, finally we sailed and it wonderful sailing – the swells were only 1-1.5 meters high and the winds were weak – albeit directly on the nose. So we fired up the iron–jenny and it was easy-peasy.
It doesn’t take much seamanship to sail straight when you are on the engine and have a good autopilot, so we relaxed the rest of the day, I took the first evening watch so Vinni could get some (much-needed) sleep.
It’s not every day that Vinni falls off the wagon and gets drunk – so I teased her unmercifully all day, although I did tell her that I would only tease her this one day – she deserved it but one day was enough. She also didn’t need the teasing, the hang-over was more than enough punishment. At 11:00 p.m. I woke her so she could take the dog watch. But by 2 a.m. she was back down waking me, saying she simply couldn’t keep herself awake.
Hmmmm- I said I would only tease her for 1 day and it was after midnight – but I did say a few words about painkillers and too many of them as she crawled off to the seabunk. Despite being woken before time, I felt sorry for her – yes, it was self-inflicted, but we’ve all fallen off the wagon at time or another and just like Vinni sworn we would never do that again – until the next time we do it J. The night was almost daytime as we sailed under a full moon and clear skies – wonderful!
Sunup found us a couple of nautical miles from St. Marten and here we had to wait. The bridge over the channel into Simpson Bay only opens every hour and you can sail in on the odd hours and out on the even hours. The sea was calm and we enjoyed the sunrise with fresh brewed coffee (tea for Vinni).
Finally, we sailed in and across the bay towards Lagoon Marina – Oops! Where are all the buoys shown on the chart that supposedly mark the channel? Blown to China by hurricane Irma 5 months ago. Ok – so we slowed way down and snuck our way across the bay, keeping a wary eye on the chartplotter and the depthfinder. Suddenly we stopped as we hit a sandbar. Damn! We were on our way round 3 anchored wrecks and apparently I needed to be much closer to them than I was.
Fortunately, we could back off the bar ourselves, turn a bit to port and continue inwards. I had tried many times to call Lagoon Marina, both on the phone and on the radio as we got closer to reserve a slip, but never got an answer. We didn’t know if the marina still existed or if it had been blown away just like the buoys. It was still there but there were no empty slips. Fortunately, there was an empty slip right next door at FKG Rigging, a company that had been recommended to us by other cruisers as someone who probably could fix our anchor platform. We docked, I went up to the office and had a chat with Larry – yes they certainly could fix that – no problem and we could just in the slip until they were done.
Well that certainly seemed easy – so we looked at the anchor platform, discussed how it should be done and they got started. All the while we sent our clothes out to be laundered (oh what joy – someone else does the laundry – actually it costs almost the same as going to a laundromat and doing them yourself and this is much, much easier.) I went to the Budget Marine and bought a few things we needed and didn’t have, such as a dinghy ladder. We’ll be scuba diving on Saba next week and will need a ladder to be able to get back in the dinghy.
Simpson Bay I big, very big. The island has a French side and a Dutch side. We were on the Dutch side. Everywhere we looked, there was devastation, Mario and Grazyna had warned us. There are still many sunken boats lying in the water all through the bay.
Amongst others, this Superyacht. What you can see are only the two upper decks – the rest is under water. Vinni and I are speechless. Such a ship has a professional Captain and crew. Why the hell did they stay in the harbor with a Cat 5 hurricane on the way? Those ships can easily sail 20+ knots and could have sailed away from the hurricane without any problems. If they had left just 1 day before it hit, they could have been all the way down south by Grenada enjoying drinks in the sunset.
As I said, there are many destroyed buildings here on the Dutch side – rebuilding is going very slowly- but there is rebuilding and the locals seem to be cheerful and working at it. One of the reasons it is going slowly is lack of money, of course. The Netherlands offered to give them 500 million Euros (a tidy sum) but the local government said “no thank you” because the Dutch, for some strange reason wanted an accurate accounting of what the money was used for. The locals here say they said no thank you because if there was an accounting then they couldn’t embezzle very much. Yep – life goes ever onward – no surprises here.
There was a huge 59 foot Oyster lying at the next dock at FKG and one late afternoon it sailed. Or rather, it left – it was obvious that the 3 guys on board didn’t know much about sailing. First, they backed over top of a mooring ball, luckily not getting the mooring chain wrapped around their propeller then they could barely turn the boat. As they sailed away, one of the FKG employees came running out on the dock yelling “No,no, no- further to port, further to port.” All the while waving his arms. As we sat there and watched – they sailed the boat aground. They couldn’t get loose and a few minutes later the fkg guys took their skiff out to help. The skiff had an 80 horse engine and even with that, the boat never moved. They came back after a half hour or so. A little later, two of the guys from the boat came in in an old dinghy and left the one poor young fellow alone on a stranded boat.
The next morning we could see that he had moved. Apparently, he floated when the tide came in, but he was now aground in a new place.
There’s a “Cruiser’s Net” on the VHF radio every morning at 7:30 and as we listened he came on and asked if anyone could help him – he was hopelessly aground and didn’t know what to do.
Ok – someday it could be us out there asking for help, so I radioed him and told him I was coming out.
A few minutes alter I was there along with another fellow in a dinghy. A 59 foot Oyster has a 2.5 meter keel deep keel and the water out here was only 2-2.2 meters deep. To make a long story short – we finally got him floating again and then he asked me if I would sail the boat to another marina for him – he didn’t know how to sail! The owner had left for England telling him that if it needed to be moved – he could probably find someone who could help him! Well shit! The two that had been with him the evening before couldn’t sail either and they had gone home when he grounded, leaving him out there alone all night.
It is not every day that I get the chance to sail a 59 foot Oyster so I said Ok – but with the provision that I took no responsibility for the boat – if we hit anything – too damned bad. We got it over to the marina and as we came into the marina basin, we could see little white buoys everywhere – Oops! They marked all the wrecks that were still lying on the bottom. So, it became slalom sailing in and out between the wrecks. Finally, we got it in and managed to dock it even though the wind was blowing us away from the dock.
Fun it wasn’t – such a huge boat weighs more than 40 tons and continues straight ahead even though you put it reverse or turn the wheel. I had a few nervous minutes before I managed to get it backed into the slip and we tied her off.
Vinni and I also went over to the French side – here, the devastation is even worse. Sunken boats everywhere in the water, the shores lined with wrecks.
We walked around Marigot. Almost all the stores were still closed and those that weren’t closed were in terrible shape. Even MacDonalds was still closed – here 5 months after the storm.
Here, on the French side, the population seems apathetic. There isn’t the same charm or laughter we’ve come to know in the Caribbean. We walked on a main street and we both felt that most of the locals we met along the way were sullen and unfriendly. We weren’t afraid – but we didn’t feel completely secure either. We’ve never felt that way before when we wandered streets in the Caribbean.
There seems to be a great difference in the energy levels in rebuilding here in the Caribbean. On BVI they were rebuilding like mad and repairing damaged boats and hauling sunken boats out of the water. On the Dutch side of St. Maarten, things are going much slower, but they are rebuilding – the locals say the slow pace is due to the unusually incompetent local government who are more intent on embezzling than rebuilding. The French side is influenced by the French socialism – after this is all the fault of the society, so the society should take of me and repair all the damage without me having to lift a finger – so everyone is waiting for Paris to show up and make everything right again.
Our anchor platform is now as good as new, if not better. It is strong and we have no concerns about dropping the hook, so we sailed out into the middle of the bay and dropped it. We’ve decided to stay a few extra days – the winds have picked up and it is blowing like mad outside and why should we go sailing in that? Besides, we’re going to Saba to go diving and we need calmer waters for that.
This laziness will probably cost us a dinner at the local Mexican restaurant whose menu looks very inviting – and they also serve margaritas by the pitcher – and who knows – perhaps Vinni will feel that margaritas aren’t as dangerous as “painkillers”. We’ll find out and I will let you all know……………………………..