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Wednesday 19th February 2003 - Simpson Bay Lagoon, St Martin, Netherlands Antilles.
About a month after arriving in the BVI I the hard drive on my PC went faulty and sadly, since I had not backed it up for three months, all the prior entries in my journal, including the Atlantic crossing. Since the hard drive crash the keyboard has not seen much use. Well after much delay I have decided it is time to catch up, something I have kept putting off and of course the longer I put it off the larger the catch up task appears to be so the more I put it off. Itís amazing, you would think living on a boat, not working, no TV there should be all the time in the world to write, not so, somehow the days seem filled with jobs on the boat, sailing, meeting friends, seeing sights etc. When we moved aboard Gallant we brought with us a couple of teach yourself writing books, likewise how to sketch books plus pencils and pads, much as I would really like to explore those hobbies they all lay untouched and dormant in the cupboard. In my defence moving aboard a boat is probably like moving house, the first year after the move you spend a lot of time getting settled in and straightened out in your new home and locality. Aboard Gallant I have learnt that many tasks which are quick and simple to achieve at home take time and planning when you donít have a car, telephone, reliable mail, mains electricity and water etc. Prior to moving aboard one of the consistent messages we got from books about cruising is that you wonít have time for any new hobbies so donít bother taking paint brushes and palette if you donít paint already, how true.
Okay so thatís all the explanations and excuses. As a start, a brief recap of the time since my last update around the first week of January I believe, just after we completed the crossing and reached the BVI. We arrived in Sopers Hole, BVI on the morning of January 1st 2003 after 28 days at sea. In fact, we had to heave-to off Tortola just before midnight on New Yearís Eve in order to await daylight to make our landfall. It was blowing a force 7-8 as we hove to and whilst Tom and I made sure Gallant settled we watched the New Years firework display about five miles away on Virgin Gorda New Years morning we celebrated our arrival in Sopers Hole with cigars and champagne then went and cleared customs and immigration in a bit of a daze caused by a combination of a lack of sleep and the shock of being ashore on dry, stable land after a month at sea, perhaps the champagne didnít help. That evening Alexís friend from back in California, Katy Thomas arrived followed the next evening by Tomís girl friend Amanda from the UK. Robin, our friend who lives in Sopers Hole, loaned us his car so we could meet them at the airport. A dark night with heavy rain made for an Ďinterestingí drive on strange roads interspersed with a total of twenty four unmarked sleeping policemen (speed bumps) between Sopers Hole and the airport. The suspension of Robinís jeep was very unforgiving if you saw a speed bump too late and went over it at much more than 3mph, especially for anyone in the rear seat. Dropping off our guests two weeks later was much easier as we discovered we could anchor in a bay right next to the airport. It is rather neat to be able to dinghy ashore and walk into the airport terminal; no parking or traffic problems here. Now anchoring next to an airport may not sound wonderful but in fact the anchorage, Trellis Bay, was beautiful, exactly what one imagines in the Caribbean. Keep in mind Beef Island airport is not London or New York so we are not talking about heavy traffic of large planes buzzing overhead every minute of the day.
With our guests aboard, we spent January visiting all the popular anchorages in the BVI and it is easy to see why the BVI is such a popular yacht charter area, the sailing is easy and the bays are beautiful with some wonderful snorkelling.
Having dropped of our guests we spent a week in Road Town harbour had a look around town, restocked the food stores, did some jobs on Gallant (ordered a new ballooner and Genoa) and Tom looked around for work. Tom was very keen to stay and find work in the BVI so we left him temporarily bunking down with Robin in Sopers Hole whilst Andrea, Alex and I sailed over to St Martin. The passage from Tortola to St Martin is known not to be very nice, headed ESE we had the trade winds on the nose the whole way with steep uncomfortable seas against us and in the end motored most of the way. As normal I was sick but the girls although getting a bit grey made it without seeing their dinner twice. The distance is about seventy miles so to ensure a landfall in daylight we left Tortola in the evening sailed through the night and arrived in Marigot Bay, St Martin the following morning. Marigot Bay was like a picture postcard, for the first time we sailed into a bay that had crystal clear, azure blue waters with the white sandy bottom clearly visible five meters below us. This is the Caribbean I had expected from the pictures in books and magazines.
Marigot being French territory looked the part and sure enough ashore it was like being back in France. After a couple of days in Marigot I realised that not just the buildings, the road signs, advertising hoardings, shops etc are French style but even the aromas drifting from the restaurant kitchens into the streets smell as if you are back in France. Oh how wonderful to sit in a cafť and have coffee and croissants in the morning.
After a three nights in Marigot Bay we sailed around to the other side of the island to Simpson Bay Lagoon. The island of St Martin is half owned by France and half by the Netherlands, Marigot being in France and the side of the lagoon we anchored in being Dutch it was necessary to clear out of France and into Dutch side. Fortunately, the relations between the two halves are very amicable so travelling between the two is easy; there is no immigration at the border (we only had to clear in and out because we were moving Gallant).
I am typing anchored in a huge, land locked lagoon Ė Simpson Bay Lagoon. Entrance from Simpson Bay into the lagoon is via a channel and under an opening road bridge that opens three times a day for boat traffic at 9am, 11.30am and 5pm. We are on the Dutch side of the lagoon where the greatest concentration of chandlers and boat yards is. St Martin is a duty free island, the Dutch side is a little bit cheaper than the French although when we want to go shopping for special foods or feel like a taste of France we hop in the dinghy and motor about two miles over to ďFranceĒ. On the Dutch side the language is Dutch and English, on the French side its French and English, how territorial we humans are, even on a small island like this two cultures very different from one another develop and co-exist.
The past ten days in St Martin have seen very wintry (Caribbean style) weather. Squalls pass through anything from once to several times a day; the wind picks up from the normal 10-15 knots and gusts up to 25-35 knots with rain lashing down in torrents then after a couple of minutes the wind eases back to 10-15 knots, the rains stops and the sun comes back out. Frustrating if you are trying to do any work outside but it could be a lot worse, at least its warm rain. Last night was particularly windy with gusts consistently reaching up around 35 knots, I would wake when I hear this, look outside to check we are not dragging our anchor and then go back to bed. According to our pilot these strong winds the Christmas Winds and normally occur in late December (hence the name), 2003 must be running late.
Whilst we thought the BVI beautiful St Martin is where we have finally encountered the cruising community that we had anticipated and thought life would centre around. The BVI is dominated by the boat charter and cruise ship business, the vast majority of sailing boats are crewed by people visiting on a two-week holiday, consequently local businesses, prices and the attitudes are based upon this type of clientele. In St Martin all the boats are long term, live aboard cruisers or super yachts and we have made some really good friends amongst these cruisers.