Dec
02

WHAT WE DID ON OUR SUMMER VACATION…

Antigua gets quite hot during the summer months and is in the “hurricane belt” so we decided that somewhere else was the place to be. We put Mermaid on the hard in Jolly Harbor and flew to Grenada for a few weeks R&R before flying to Alaska. We spent a month in Juneau sightseeing and enjoying Stacy, Frank, Autumn and Kaash. Lots of hiking, playing with the grand kids and enjoying the cooler weather.

We flew to Italy where we skippered a LeBoat charter with friends in the Venice Canal for a week and toured Rome, Florence, Sienna and more with Jessamine. It was shocking how packed Venice was but it was still great to see all the history and we even took a gondola ride.

  

Finally it was time to go to Holland! The plan was to find and purchase a boat to cruise the canals and rivers of Europe. We had been doing lots of research on canal boats. We’d been speaking with a broker in Rotterdam as well as talking with friends who own canal boats and reading everything we could get our hands on about buying a boat keeping it in the Netherlands.

 

We spent a week in Rotterdam before moving to Utrecht, which was a more central Holland location and allowed us to view boats all over the Netherlands. We used the fantastic train system in the Netherlands to get around and also traveled by bus and even rented a car one day. We fell in love with Holland and its people. The language on the other hand was a tough one for us… kinda like choking on lots of consonants. Fortunately almost everyone there speaks English!

Its official, we are crazy! We bought another boat! We found a Marak 1060 that fit our wish list in Roremond, down in the southern part of the country between Germany and Belgium. She is a 35 ft, steel canal boat with two staterooms, a nice size bathroom with a full shower. It has two steering stations (one inside and one outside) and isn’t too big, tall or deep. This is important for transiting shallow waters with low bridges.

 

We took the train and made two “big haul” trips to IKEA for all the necessities like linens, dishes, etc. Then the former owner took us shopping in his camper (which we filled!) to buy odds & ends as well as bicycles and even took us to Germany to purchase liquor because it was much cheaper there.

 Back aboard Compagnon (the name the boat came with) we got everything washed and put away and took off for an adventure. We first went to a nearby lake and tied up to the side where we stayed for three wonderful nights. We couldn’t figure out why so many people were naked and wondered if it was a European thing, but on a walk we translated a sign that said Nude Beach. It all made so much sense after that! We met new friends, ate and drank while having a funny time trying to translate their German to figure out what they were saying. Finally some friends of theirs showed up, speaking English and the evening was a great one.

We spent a week or so in a marina in the town of Roremond. We just couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away because it was such a lovely place. Finally we decided it was time to see more of Holland. Mike’s brother David and our friend Kathy were coming to join us in Utrecht so we headed that way.

 We learned to navigate the rivers, canals, locks and bridges sometimes having to take down our mast, bimini and even windshields to fit under some of the bridges. Every town was a little different from the one before and very special in its own way! It was amazing passing some of the buildings, churches and bridges that were centuries old. There was so much history at every turn of the river. The windmills (old and new) were quite fascinating and it was odd to be traveling on the water that was higher than many of the homes and buildings. And, the boats! Some of the boats were just beautiful! Oh, and did we mention the weather? It was perfect for the most part. Lovely and warm during the day and nice and cool at night.

David and Kathy had scheduled a visit and we decided that Utrecht was a great place to start their time. We had spent a week in Utrecht while searching for a boat and loved the town with its beautiful sites and history so we headed that way. We headed north on the Maas river and on the way we went through many beautiful little villages and even spent one night anchored in a lake. We got many strange looks and found out that most people never anchor but we are cruisers and that’s what we do best. From there we passed through a short canal to Nijmegen, which is on the Waal River, a distributary of the Rhine. On the Waal we moored for a couple of nights in the public marina in the shadow of the famous bridge that the 82nd airborne captured during Operation Market Garden. We navigated down the Waal for around 20 miles going with a three knot current but conditions were far from ideal. There was intermittent rain, constant barge traffic and a 15 to 20 knot wind blowing opposite the current setting up a nasty chop (not great for a boat basically shaped like a shoe box). Mike watched the barge traffic looking forward and Robin called the traffic overtaking us from behind. We were quite relieved to reach the lock for the canal that would take us up to Utrecht and get off that busy, rolling river!

We arrived in Utrecht and got a lovely box mooring (basically stern tie to a dock with two bowlines and spring lines on pylons) in town. The weather, which had been warm and sunny until this point, was becoming cooler and cooler. We got laundry done, provisioned and went to the train station to meet David and Kathy. We spent a couple of days in Utrecht touring the city. Then it was off on further adventures.

 

We took on water at the public dock and headed through the city under some very short bridges. We knew that we’d only have a couple of inches of space to pass under the bridges but what we didn’t count on was that the bridges were arches and the height listed on charts is the center part of the bridge. One of the bridges made an S shaped curve making it hard to stay under the highest part of the bridge. We made it under on only because David and Robin used their hands overhead to guide Compagnon right down the middle. We decided to remove the bimini and windshield for bridges of that height. Learning curve was getting less steep, maybe…

 

We stopped for the night in Odewater and were lucky enough to tie up at the last available tie in town. Long ago Odewater was the site of several witch trials. It sounds silly now but to discover if the accused was a witch the women were weighed. If they were too heavy to fly a broom, they were set free. Not surprisingly, no witches were ever found. We decided it was a good thing to be fat back then. We wandered through the town discovering the history, visiting a couple of pubs and returned to Compagnon for the evening.

We set out the following day for Gouda. As we made our way down the Lek we came up to an area where they were dredging the river and as we got near the engine came to a very sudden stop and died. The tug had lost a two-inch mooring line and our prop found it. We drifted to the bank where David and Robin jumped off with lines to hold her. The tug captain told us we needed to go to the other side so we explained the situation. He pushed us across while phoning his boss and David hopped off and tied us up. The only thing to do was go in the water, which was cold, thick, and dark (we were by the dredge). Compagnon doesn’t have dive gear because no one would ever go in the water. Mike went over the back with our new bread knife because it was sharp and serrated. After diving under Compagnon several times he was able to cut the huge line off our prop and jumped into a hot shower. About this time the boss showed up and was amazed that Mike had taken care of the situation. He asked who Mike was and when David told him that Mike was the owner it confused the boss. He assumed we were chartering Compagnon because she is a Dutch boat and we are Americans. We all had a good laugh. Mike had some hot coffee and we continued along our way. The weather had gotten even cooler, windy and rained off and on.

When we reached Gouda we found the lock to get to the city moorings in town from the Lek was closed until mid-January. No worries. We went past the town through several locks and came in the other side. Gouda is famous for the cheese of the same name. In the past all the farmers brought their cheese to Gouda where it was weighed in the town center and sold in an open-air market. We discovered that we Americans have been mispronouncing it. We had always said Goo-da but it turns out that in Holland they say Khow-da. Who knew? We toured museums, cathedrals and ate cheese fondue. David and Kathy departed by train and we decided to spend another night in Gouda. It turns out that the bridges and locks in Gouda do not operate on Sunday so we decided to stay another day since we were too tall to pass under. Then the rains came… we spent a few more days in Gouda which gave us a chance to contact marinas to find a winter home for Compagnon and explore the town a bit more. They had a lovely market in the square and even had livestock being shown and sold. Finally the rains passed, the bridges and locks were open and it was time to move on. We backtracked back to Utrecht and turned north to cruise down the Vecht. We stopped in Broukelin, which is the city Brooklyn, NY was named after when New York was still New Amsterdam. Compagnon passed through the original Broukelin Bridge and found a lovely spot to tie up and wandered through the town. We realized that our prescriptions were going to run out soon. They had been issued on the Dutch side in St Maarten and that area had been destroyed by a hurricane. We took them to a pharmacy that told us we needed to visit the doctor. We walked into the doctor’s office were we found no appointment was needed, prescription written and no charge! Back to the pharmacy where they agreed to fill for six months since we didn’t know if we would be able to fill in the Caribbean for a while. The prescriptions cost about ¼ of what they did in St Maarten, which was less than ½ of what they were in Panama, which was a huge discount, compared to the USA.

We left Broukelin and headed further down the Vecht stopping along the way in front of a restaurant called Charlie’s American Diner… how could we pass that up?! We met an Australian couple who had been spending summers here for several years. We enjoyed a good burger, cold beer and learned much from our new friends.

We bid our new friends farewell and headed on to Weesp Yacht Club and a nice end tie. The Yacht Club was very welcoming and it was a busy day for them. It was the end of the season with Opti regattas for all ages followed by… not a bbq… but crepes, how Dutch. We were able to get lots of laundry and shopping done as well as touring Weesp. We decided to leave Compagnon on the hard in a marina in Weesp and now had some time to kill since we weren’t going further this season. We backtracked a bit to a spot outside of town we had seen and thought would be nice to visit. From there we had some good bicycle adventures. A cat from a nearby house came by the boat each morning and night but we had nothing to feed it and tried butter. Cats love butter or at least this cat did! It decided to hop aboard but we ran it off. We don’t need a pet aboard.

We returned to Weesp and began getting Compagnon ready for winter, which by the way was much easier than getting Mermaid ready for summer! We vacuum packed all the clothes, linens and towels. We ate and drank what provisions we had left; got Compagnon cleaned and enjoyed our vantage point near the lifting bridges. The later in the season it got the cooler the weather became and we really enjoyed our central heat aboard! Our entertainment was watching the charter boats navigate the lifting bridge, we watched a few hit it, one run aground and even one man overboard trying to push off. Fortunately only egos were hurt. Our last preparation for hauling out for the winter was to fuel up so down river to Muiden we went. We got diesel from a dock right under a big castle and decided that might be our first stop next season. We hauled Compagnon and checked into a hotel for a few nights. Since this is our first experience winterizing a boat and a powerboat at that we decided to hire a mechanic to do the job while we watched and learned. There will be a couple of jobs to have done before our return. Our huge rope woven around a big cable that runs around the hull had broken. The cable inside of it had rusted through and isn’t fixable so will have to be replaced. Also, when the boat came out of the water we saw to our shock that our bottom paint had fallen off! It seems that primer may not have been applied. So… new bottom paint will have to be put on before we return.

The EU has this thing called Schengen (which basically means that as Americans we can only spend 90 days in a six month period in the EU), which meant it was time to leave our Compagnon. We took a fast train from Amsterdam to Paris, spent one night and flew to Los Angeles for a week. It was about $1000 each less to fly from Paris to LA then Antigua than it would have been to fly from Amsterdam to Antigua… and, we got to spend some time in LA before returning to Mermaid.

Jun
07

Antigua

Jolly Harbor Sunset

Antigua is steeped in sailing history. Back in the 1700s the British and French fought it out firing big cannons at each other from close range in the waters nearby. The Brits had the winning hand and the old English traditions left an indelible mark on Antigua from Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbor to the numerous cricket fields dotting the island. Antigua’s main crop was sugar cane and many slaves were brought onto the island to work the crops. The descendants of those slaves now make up a large majority of the population and unlike some other Caribbean islands, where racism simmers just under the surface, we found Antiguans very friendly and open. Almost everyone we met had a smile on their face and was eager to share their island with us.

 

Robin relaxes on a secluded beach near Jolly Harbor

Mermaid spent the majority of her time at anchor in Jolly Harbor where we ran into several old friends. John and Ellie Wheeler of SV Serenity who we met back in 2003 when we sailed from Mexico to the Marquesas were there as well as Jeff and Melody Christensen formerly of SV Double Diamond who met several years ago in Mexico. Jolly Harbor is a well protected anchorage with a nice marina and lots of bars and restaurants as well as a good grocery store so it was a great base to operate from. It was also served by the small local buses and we used them to get around the island. We also anchored in Hermatage Bay where the movie Wendy was being

Mike on a dingy adventure in Five Islands Harbor

filmed. We thought that a boat had gone on the rocks where they were filming but it turned out to be just a set as the next day it was gone. Jeff and Melody were visiting friends at their stunning house overlooking Falmouth Harbor and we were graciously invited over to spectate during the Antigua Classic Regatta and Antigua Race Week. Claudia and Richie were fantastic hosts and had some wonderful times at what Mike dubbed Cherry Hill Manor. One morning during the Classic Regatta our hosts, Claudia had Pavoratti’s Nessun Dorma blasting as we sat outside sipping champagne watching the start of the race. Fantastic!  Who knew that yacht racing and opera could go together but the majesty of the music as the old, classic boats hoisted sails and started the race was magic.

Mike and Robin at Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbor

John and Ellie brought us our new Ocean Cruising Club burgee

Robin mugs as Lord Nelson

Antigua tail lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun group at Cherry Hill Manor

Addix during the Antigua Classic

Robin showing off the view from Cherry Hill Manor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cherry Hill Manor pool at night

Hanging in the pool at Cherry Hill Manor

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pool was cool!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just after a jibe

Robin on the rail

During Antigua Race Week we sailed in the Round the Island race on Hotel California Too, a Santa Cruz 70. It was a ton of fun, a great sail and even ended up on the podium, taking third in the race. The crew had never sailed together until we rolled out the jib about two minutes before the start. It was blowing 17 to 20 knots and we didn’t have a small jib so we were a bit overpowered going upwind. We ended up breaking three jib sheets on the beat around the southeast corner of the island and lost some time but once we rounded the corner we were zipping by boats on the reach up the windward side of the island. Across the top of the island we poled out the jib and did quite well going downwind. There were large orange marks that had to be rounded to keep everyone out of the shallow water and reefs near shore and we had a map showing where they were but there were no GPS coordinates and finding them was a challenge as there weren’t many boats in front of us. Heading down the leeward side we weren’t sure where the next mark was when Mike spotted a pair of boats heading back towards us. We spotted the mark as they rounded it and were on our way. After the race we headed back to Cherry Hill Manor for a lovely apres sail around the pool. 

Skipper Steve relaxing after the race

It was a fun crew

Dining al fresco at Cherry Hill

Robin and Claudia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin limin

Our intention was to take Mermaid down to Grenada and haul out for hurricane season but Antigua had great skilled workers and good haul out facilities so we decided to haul out there. We rented a small condo within walking distance of the yard. It was very basic but more than sufficient for us and we jokingly dubbed it the villa. Mike and Robin spent many days sweating to get Mermaid ready to leave for the season. We started off with a page long list but slowly ticked off the items until everything was ship shape. We’d head down to the boat in the morning, have lunch at Linda’s, who served up very tasty and economical island fare. Robin’s favorite was the chicken roti. Roti is a West Indes dish that has a curry inside a tortilla like roti skin. Delicious. The condo had an extra bedroom so we talked Mike’s brother David Stout and our friend Kathy came for a visit. We had a ton o’ fun touring the island, contesting the Big Two and Mexican Train world championships and voyaging out for snorkel and sail on a tourist boat. Big Fun. 

Mike checking out the mill house of an old sugar plantation

We rode the bus to get around but the driving wasn’t always the greatest

David and Kathy

Robin spotted a Peacock Flounder on Cades reef

May
31

Lovin’ St. Barts

St. Barts is different from many other islands in the Caribbean in that it’s language, cuisine and culture are distinctly French. Because there were no plantations on St. Barts few slaves were brought in and so today the reggae and rasta culture seen on other Eastern Caribbean islands is largely absent. St. Barts seems to be a bit of St Tropez teleported to the Caribbean.

Mermaid’s visit to St. Barts was a memorable one. We started out enjoying the natural beauty and nice snorkeling of Isle Fourchue then moved over to Anse a Coulmbier. Both of these are National Parks with moorings installed to protect the sea grass. The sea grass is a favorite food of sea turtles and they were abundant at Coulmbier. Robin spotted a couple feeding quite near the boat one afternoon and we jumped in and swam with them for some time. Tres cool!!

The turtles were way cool!!

Robin at Isle Fourchue

Mike swimming with the turtles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isle Fourchue sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We rented a car one day and took a drive around the island. Driving on St. Barts is a trip because most of the roads are very narrow and there’s almost no place to park. You might think that a sidewalk is a good place to walk but on St. Bart’s if you have a sidewalk there’s a real good chance that it will look like a parking place the locals. Cars pulled up over the curb and parked on the sidewalk are the norm. The the song Atour du Roche by Jimmy Buffett has long been one of Mike’s favorites. Its about a small hotel, well not really a hotel more like a patio bar with bad wiring and funky rooms near Lorient that Jimmy owned back in the 80s. The place hasn’t been opened for years. As Jimmy says “The gendarmes finally closed the place and the fire did the rest” but when Robin and I drove down that little road by Lorient we got a photo of what’s left on that little hill. The song is written as a remembrance of the “the old St Barth” but we think that it still captures the island’s vibe. Here’s a link if if you want to give it a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1q3FalWnTI

Robin takes in the view

That little hill near Lorient

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After heading back to St. Maarten for the Cruising Outpost party and the Heineken Regatta, we returned back to St. Barts to find Richard and Donna of Petit Profligate anchored in Gustavia harbor. They’ve been spending part of every year on St. Barts for decades and introduced us to several local characters. One of them was David Wegman, a local artist who’s been living in a room over the Le Select bar for around thirty years. Another character of note we got to know was Randy West. Randy was a boat captain for many years and penned an interesting book titled “A Sunny Place for Shady Characters: Tales from St. Barts Le Select Bar”. The local hangout was the Le Select bar. Gustavia has many spendy shops and restaurants but the Le Select goes against the trend. It’s a tiny bar with reasonable prices and almost all the seating in an outdoor, tree shaded patio. There’s also a small hamburger stand that was the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in Paradise. It changed hands many years ago however and the burgers, well, let’s just say that they live on their reputation. The Le Select is a great people watching spot. Robin decided that it has some of the best people watching on the planet!

Gustavia Harbor

Mike having a cheeseburger in paradise

Mike blowing the harp at an after hours jam session at Eddie’s restaurant.

Robin having sushi with Richard and Donna

 

 

David Wegman jammin at Le Select

Mike and David Wegman with the decoupage we purchased.

Jam session at Le Select

Mike and Richard hanging at Le Select

Robin and Richard at Le Select

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bucket Regatta, an annual event open to invited yachts 100 feet or over was held while we were there and it was a spectacle. Richard graciously invited us out on Ti Profligate a couple of days to go out and spectate and watching the big boats out sailing was awesome. The mega yachts were packed in at the wharf in Gustavia and lined up in the anchorage outside. During the regatta the anchorage was beyond packed and it was entertaining to watch some of the anchoring maneuvers, except when they would anchor on top of Mermaid which happened often. The Maltese Falcon, one of the largest privately owned yachts in the world was anchored not far behind us and one evening they unfurled a sail and showed a movie on it.

The 298 foot Maltese Falcon beating to weather

Robin and a couple of guys from the band

Insane Indian brass band at Le Select. What they lacked in talent they made up for in enthusiasm.

Varsovie’s skull and crossbones sails

The J class yachts Topaz and Lionheart

A J Class yacht and a hobie cat

Eleana of London. under full sail.

It takes a big crew to sail the 180 foot gaff rigged schooner Elena of London

May
31

Back to Sint Maarten

The Cruising Outpost Cruiser’s party, Carnival and the Heineken Regatta beckoned so we headed back to Sint Maarten and anchored in the lagoon. First up was Carnival. It was held in the afternoon in Marigot over on the french side. Robin and I dingied over in the morning and showed up early on the parade route to get a good spot. We ended up with a great spot, right in front near the judges stand. It was worth the wait. The people watching was cool and the parade was long and colorful and a few of the groups had confetti cannons go off right on front of us. After the parade was over we had a nice lunch at a french bistro on the waterfront.

a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen

The spectacle of Carnival on St. Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main man, none other than Mr. Bob Bitchen himself along with Jody arrived a couple of days before the big Cruising Outpost Cruiser’s party. The first afternoon we all headed to the Sint Maarten Yacht Club for happy hour. The club is located adjacent to the lift bridge that connects the lagoon to the ocean and we were just in time for the afternoon bridge opening. They can’t say no if you don’t ask so Robin went over and asked the Bridge operator if she could operate the bridge. To her surprise he said OK! Robin headed into the control booth and assisted in getting the boats through including Limitless, a 316 foot megayacht owned by Les Waxner, founder of the Limited and Victoria’s Secret. “Only Robin could get away with that” Jody observed as Robin came back with a big smile on her face.

Bob Bitchin

Robin ready to lift the bridge

Limitless passing out of the lagoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cruiser’s party at the Buccaneer beach bar on Simpson Bay lagoon was a big hit. Cruiser’s packed in, the beer flowed, the band was rocking and the pizzas were tasty.

Bob admiring the artwork

The Cruiser’s Party

Women Who Sail gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The annual Heineken Regatta is a serious sailing event but also a lot of fun hence the regatta motto Serious Fun! Boats and crews flocked in from the US and Europe to participate. It was an impressive fleet led by a group of three Volvo 70s. We spectated the first couple of days with Robin going out on a photo boat on the first day. In the evenings we attended some of the legendary Heineken Regatta parties. Robin got an invite to go out on Monster Project, one of the Volvo 70s on the final day of the Regatta and had a phenomenal sail. Monster Project sliced through the waves upwind and blasted downwind hitting over 25 knots on one leg. The final party was epic. The place was packed and the joint was jumping to a great lineup of bands headlined by UB40.

Planing with the kite up.

The racing was competitive

Monster Project beating to the weather mark.

Monster Project crew

Robin at the big party

Jamming

Spectators at Sint Maarten Yacht Club

  With the regatta in the rear view mirror we stocked up on provisions and waited for good weather to head down island for more adventures.

Apr
04

Anguilla – The laid back Isle

Anguilla is only a short hop from Saint Martin where Mermaid had been anchored for a few weeks but it’s a big change in culture. St Martin is hustle and bustle with cruise ships and big jet planes dropping off loads tourists daily. Anguilla has it’s share of tourism but it comes in a much more laid back atmosphere. We left Simpson Bay mid morning and had a fantastic sail over to Road Bay in Anguilla. We went ashore to clear in but were met at the door by the Immigration lady saying that the customs man had to go home sick. She invited us to enjoy the island that evening and come back in the morning. No problem for us but there was another couple on a charter boat who insisted that they be allowed to clear in and out as they planned to leave early the next morning. We headed over to a nearby beach bar for a cold beer and they were still discussing it when we were heading back to the dingy. When we headed in the next morning the Immigration Lady greeted us a bit coolly. She told us that the couple argued until the customs man came back from his sick bed to process them. We let her know that we just showed up at the same time as the other boat and we weren’t with them. Things proceed much more happily after that.

Anguilla was quiet, peaceful and friendly. We spent most of our time chillaxing, hiking and walking the gorgeous beaches. Our biggest outing was hiring a taxi for an island tour where we saw the island through the driver’s eyes. Our favorite place ashore was the Pump House, a bar and restaurant in the building that in past times served as, you guessed it, a pumping station for the now closed salt works. Great burger, drinks and friendly service.

We had to cut our stay short when a large, north swell was predicted to moved in and make the exposed anchorage uncomfortable.

Our taxi driver relaxes while we explore the beach

Our taxi driver relaxes while we explore the beach

Mermaid in Road Bay

Mermaid in Road Bay

Robin loved the beaches

Robin loved the beaches

great place to sit and watch the world go by

great place to sit and watch the world go by

Road Bay

Road Bay

Hiking up to the Road Bay overlook

Hiking up to the Road Bay overlook

Ahhhh

Ahhhh

Apr
02

Sint Maarten

St Martin is an island shared by two nations. The French side occupies the northerly half with the Dutch in the south. While this arrangement could be quite inconvenient, people are allowed to pass freely between the two jurisdictions and moving the boat between them requires a relatively painless check in and check out.

After a pleasant overnight motor sail from Virgin Gorda where we buddy boated with Bob and of Sarah of SV Rhapsody, Mermaid arrived in Simpson Bay on the Dutch side just at dawn. The anchorage was rolly as the swell wrapped around the island into the bay so after we cleared in we decided to move into the lagoon. This caused a bit of anxiety as the charts showed the Dutch side of the lagoon from 5 to 11 feet deep and the French side shallower still. We took the dingy in and using our hand held depth sounder located a spot to anchor with a minimum depth of around ten feet. This only left us with a couple of feet of water under Mermaid’s eight foot draft but we got in through the bridge and dropped the hook without incident.

P1170196

The Lagoon isn't pristine anymore

The Lagoon isn’t pristine anymore

St Martin is the cruising hub of the Leeward chain with hundreds of cruising boats scattered around the island. One of the hardest things about cruising is parting with friends when you head separate ways. However, one of the best things is coming into an anchorage and finding an old friend who you haven’t seen for some time. Turns out several of our old buds from the Pacific were passing through at the same time we were. We caught up with James and Charlotte of MV Pegasus and Peter and Mary of SV Neko whom we hadn’t seen since 2014. We met both on the Pacific side of Mexico and shared many an adventure coming down the Central American coast to Panama. We spent some time reminiscing about past adventures … “remember that time Mary jumped in the fountain in Suchitoto, El Salvador to rescue the dog?” … as well as having some new adventures. We rented a car with James and Charlotte one day and headed out for a circumnavigation of the island. We took in the sights in Marigot on the French side walking up to the old fort to gaze out upon the bay, had a fantastic lunch at a small, seaside restaurant in Grand Case and strolled along several white sand beaches. We also enjoyed a great time at a small, Indian restaurant to celebrate Peter’s birthday. The butter chicken was delish and the camaraderie sublime.

Mermaid and Pegasus overlooking Marigot Bay

Mermaid and Pegasus overlooking Marigot Bay

sea side dining view at Baie de Case

sea side dining view at Baie de Case

James and Charlotte of Pegasus

James and Charlotte of Pegasus

Neko, Pegasus and Mermaid in Marigot

Neko, Pegasus and Mermaid in Marigot

Robin shows off the view

Robin shows off the view

The Lagoon is notorious for poor holding when the wind blows. The bottom is nasty looking, soft, black mud covered in most places with grass. We were informed by some long time residents that the trick to avoid dragging was to have at least 150 feet of chain out. This seemed like a lot of scope for ten feet of water but not wanting to tempt local knowledge we laid out our 150 feet of chain, set the anchor well by backing down several times and never had an issue with dragging. Not all out neighbors were as successful. One afternoon with the wind gusting to 30 knots we looked out to find a boat that had been anchored in front of us just off the port bow. We sounded the horn several times and the crew came up into the cockpit. They continued to drag and after a couple of minutes they were about a boat length off the beam still sitting in the cockpit looking like they were trying to figure out what was going on. Robin calmly looked over and said “You’re dragging.” This seemed to take them out of their trance and they sprung into action picking up their anchor and getting safely re-anchored. The fun wasn’t over. That night just before we were going to bed Robin went up to take a look around and discovered that a boat that had been beside us was only a few feet away from anther boat. There were no lights on either boat but the dingies were there. Blowing our horn didn’t get their attention so we hopped in the dingy and knocked on the hull. A sleepy eyed skipper poked his head out and when we pointed to the boat just a few feet away his eyes went wide. He roused the mate and they safely re-anchored in the dark, blustery conditions.

This wasn’t the end to our good Samaritan act. One morning we noticed a gentleman in a hard dingy whose outboard had gone kaput while transiting the lagoon. He had thrown out his anchor near Mermaid while he was working on the motor but after a few minutes gave up and was just sitting there. Mike inquired and found that he would be most grateful for a tow. Mike jumped in the dingy and towed him over to his boat, an old, classic yacht. The next day he had the outboard repaired and came by Mermaid to deliver a European chocolate bar. Cruisers are the best people around. Mermaid’s rescue service wasn’t done. One evening Robin spied a couple of young ladies vainly pulling the starter cord of their outboard as they drifted toward the rocks. We dingied over and grabbed their painter. As we headed back to their boat a squall hit and we were all soaked when we got there but we shared a glass of wine in their salon as we dried out happy to have some new friends.

Mike's towing service

Mike’s towing service

Feb
11

The Virgin Islands

There was more we would have liked to see and do on Culebra but the Christmas Winds were taking a short break and we took the opportunity to get some easting done. We checked out, said adios to friends and headed out of the anchorage.

St. Thomas is not far from Culebra and we had the anchor down on Water Island just off St Thomas in time to contact our friend Katie who lives on the island. Katie met us at a local hangout on the beach in Honeymoon Cove where we enjoyed catching up and making plans for the next few days. After a rolly night in the anchorage Katie took us on a tour of the island in her golf cart and ended at her lovely home. Robin enjoyed the hospitality, view and lack of rocking so much she spent the night while Mike returned to Mermaid.

We moved Mermaid over to Charlotte Amalie where the anchorage was crowded but quite calm. The anchorage was so big a large navy could fit. We would regularly have four large cruise ships, lots of boats and yachts and even sea planes taking off or landing. It was busy but very convenient to provisioning, restaurants, wifi and chandleries.

We moved to Brenners Bay alongside the runway for Christmas and found the anchorage flat calm. Lovely! We snorkeled and enjoyed the bay until it was time for Alan to visit and moved back to Charlotte Amalie for convenience. Alan and his girlfriend Rachel flew in and we had a nice beach day at Honeymoon Cove on Water Island. The following morning we had a boisterous trip over to St. John. We played lots of games, had many snorkeling adventures and an all around good time. Their trip ended all to soon so we returned to Charlotte Amalie where they took an early flight out on New Years Day. After a day or two of rest and recovery, we moved to Hawknest Bay on St John for more snorkeling before heading to the BVI.

We had a lovely, quick sail to Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands and grabbed a mooring ball as is required many places. The Virgin Islands has installed many moorings to try to protect the reefs. We went to shore and enjoyed Corsairs and Foxy’s remembering lots of memories of our numerous times at these restaurants.

We sailed down to Benures Bay on Norman Island and anchored for a few days. We snorkeled and had dinghy adventures enjoying the peace and beauty. Winds were predicted to become strong and last a couple of weeks so before they moved in we took the opportunity to sail to the North Sound on Virgin Gorda where we would wait for the opportunity to sail to Sint Maarten. We anchored on the west side of the bay off Prickly Pear Island between the Lunch Box and Saba Rock. We were the only boat anchored until the winds kicked up then many, many boats joined us in the calm. The wind blew as predicted for 11 days. We didn’t just sit and wait, this was the North Sound; home of The Bitter End Yacht Club, Saba Rock, Levericks Bay as well as other fun spots. We enjoyed them all! We ate good meals, took in a Michael Bean Happy Arrrrh (or two), enjoyed a few happy hours, watched the Cowboys loose the playoffs, rented a car with Bob and Sarah of Rhapsody and toured the island.

Robin on the Bow from the top of the mast

Robin on the Bow from the top of the mast

Alan's pic of a nurse shark taken in Francis Bay on St John

Alan’s pic of a nurse shark taken in Francis Bay on St John

Red Hind pic by Alan from Francis Bay snorkel

Red Hind pic by Alan from Francis Bay snorkel

Alan limin' on a beach day

Alan limin’ on a beach day

Exploring ruins on St. John

Exploring ruins on St. John

Rachel snorkeling in Francis Bay on St. John

Rachel snorkeling in Francis Bay on St. John

Rachel on beach day

Rachel on beach day

Rouge II in St Thomas

Rouge II in St Thomas

Robin buying a copy of Cruising Outpost at Corsairs on Jost Van Dyke

Robin buying a copy of Cruising Outpost at Corsairs on Jost Van Dyke

Micheal bean doing his thing at happy Arrgh!

Micheal bean doing his thing at happy Arrgh!

Robin, Bob and Sara at happy Arrgh!

Robin, Bob and Sara at happy Arrgh!

Robin at the Baths on Virgin Gorda

Robin at the Baths on Virgin Gorda

Mike at the Baths on Virgin Gorda

Mike at the Baths on Virgin Gorda

with Bob and Sara at the Baths

with Bob and Sara at the Baths

Saba Rock

Saba Rock

Feb
10

The Spanish Virgin Islands

We’d planned to set out early from Ponce, Puerto Rico and head east for the Spanish Virgins. The plan for the first day was to make a stop at the fuel dock to take on diesel then hop down the south coast of Puerto Rico and spend the night at Patilla. Fate intervened. As we were preparing to cast off a power outage put the fuel dock out of commission. After more than an hour of waiting we got a call from the fuel dock that they had rigged a generator so we filled up both the diesel tanks and motored out of the harbor. The wind was light and we got a few squalls along the way but pulled into Patilla an hour before sunset. There was a bit of southeast swell running that rolled right into the anchorage but we arrived too late to head anywhere else making for a very rolly night. We left early the next morning for Sun Bay on the south coast of Vieques where we thought that we might get some protection from the southeast swell. We were wrong. The swell was sneaking around the corner right into the anchorage. We decided to head down the coast to Ensenada Honda near the southeast corner of the island so we headed back out. Ensenada Honda is a remote spot that’s well protected by barrier islands but after looking at the chart closely we noted that there were several spots that you had to navigate around where the depth was six feet or less so we turned around again and headed back to Sun Bay. A rolly night being far superior to a night on the stones. The next day was Robin’s birthday and as the tradition on Mermaid we were underway. This time we were heading for Culebra. It was a nice sunny day and as we motorsailed along a big drop off along the south coast of Vieques we hooked a couple of nice barracudas before turning north for a nice sail to Culebra. Culebra is a great natural harbor. The large lagoon is protected by a ring of hills on three sides and by a reef on the other. We came through the well marked cut in the reef and dropped the hook in the calm waters of the lagoon. Culebra is very laid back and we took to it immediately. We enjoyed a wonderful birthday dinner with Sue and Rich along with other new cruising friends.

Many cruising boats make Culebra a stop on the way to the Eastern Caribbean island chain so we met a number of the boats passing through as well as a few that were long term residents. A favorite hang was the Dingy Dock Restaurant where a school of Tarpon swim along the dock waiting for handouts. We had a nice dingy raft up one evening and rented a golf cart and toured the island with some new cruiser friends Bruce and Tammy. We got in some very nice snorkeling and would have loved to spend more time there but the Christmas winds were starting to fill in so when we got a break in the winds we decided to head east to St. Thomas.

soon to be on the menu at the Dingy Dock on Culebra

soon to be on the menu at the Dingy Dock on Culebra

Tarpon at the dingy dock

Tarpon at the dingy dock

Robin checking out the tarpon

Robin checking out the tarpon

Robin and Tammy in the carrito

Robin and Tammy in the carrito

This tank was a target for bombing practice back in the day.

This tank was a target for bombing practice back in the day.

A new painter for the dingy

A new painter for the dingy

Robin heading out the bridge in Culebra

Robin heading out the bridge in Culebra

P1150304

Open some days closed others - that captures the pace of life on Culebra

Open some days closed others – that captures the pace of life on Culebra

Feb
09

Puerto Rico!

After a four day passage from Santa Marta Colombia we arrived the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club on the south coast of Puerto Rico just after sunrise. We had reserved a slip but it was hours before they opened. Robin hailed them on the radio anyway and the security guy at the fuel dock responded and pointed us to a slip that would handle our eight foot draft. It was right next to an over the water restaurant with a patio below. We pulled in, tied up and called Customs on the phone. Wow! The friendly, welcoming official on the phone gave us clear instructions on what to do and welcomed us back to the USA and all in perfect English. Mike napped as we waited for the Customs man to show up at the boat and by late morning we were visited by Homeland Security and checked into the country.

Early that evening we heard music and went in the cockpit to see what was going on. There was a party on the patio with great Latin music booming from a boat tied up around the corner from us. We were sipping a cocktail in the cockpit when one of the party goers stopped by the boat to see where we had come from and were surprised when we told them Colombia. One thing led to another and the next thing we knew we had a small crowd at the boat. One lady brought us excellent home made paella from the party and we were introduced around and the commodore of PYFC invited us aboard his large power yacht for a trip to Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island) with his family. The next morning it was off to the island in a big Hatteras. It was a blast at the island with this gracious family and their friends. Late that afternoon a big squall moved in and we roared back in the big Hatteras at 30 knots beating the squall to the marina. The people at Ponce Yacht and Fishing club were fantastic! They gave us phone numbers in case we needed anything, offered us rides and gave us some great ideas of places to eat, shop and get sails fixed.

After a few days of boat chores we were ready to explore inland. Time for a road trip. We rented a car on Mike’s birthday and drove over the top of the Island to San Juan on the north coast. We stayed in a small, boutique hotel in Old San Juan. While touring Old San Juan we came across what looked like an old time barber shop and realized that Mike was overdue for a haircut. We popped in and told them he just needed a trim… The lady that gave him the haircut was a bit OCD… she took a very long time and for about the last 15 minutes she was actually measuring and cutting one hair at a time. In the evening we strolled the narrow streets browsing through the shops stopping frequently to sample the libations of the many bars in the area. For dinner we went to the historic Barrachina Restaraunt where we took in a flamenco show and made new friends. After dinner we ended up in a local bar where Mike made a new Puerto Rican buddy who seemed so happy that we were having a great time on his island. When you’re a cruiser inland trips have to include stops at chandeliers to pick up boat parts. We hit just about every one on the island. We stopped at the big West Marine in San Juan and made a significant donation when we left, but it had been a long while since Mermaid had been near a West Marine. We headed back for Ponce but stopped to eat at Restaurante La Guardarraya, a place that both our LA friend Alicia and our new Ponce friends said we must try. The spot is off the beaten path, has been there forever and is given the reverence that someone from Fort Worth would give Joe T. Garcias. The specialty of the house was Chuletas Can Can. One of our new Puerto Rican friends described it to us as “You know in the opening of the Flintstones where they carry out the huge hunk of meat, its like that.” He didn’t lie. Chuletas Can Can is a pork chop with the rib still attached and a thick strip of fat around the edge. It’s seasoned and fried until the fat is crispy and the meat is tender and juicy … ¡muy sabroso! On the morning that we returned the car we stopped at the Plaza Delicias in the historic part of Ponce. The colonial architecture around the square was way cool and the old fire station was an impressive sight.

Caja de Muertos fun

Caja de Muertos fun

Caja de Muertos Friends

Caja de Muertos Friends

Great day at Caja de Muertos!

Great day at Caja de Muertos!

Big fun on Caja de Muertos

Big fun on Caja de Muertos

Ols San Juan alley

Ols San Juan alley

Mike ready to tear into his Chuletta Can Can

Mike ready to tear into his Chuletta Can Can

Robin at the city wall in Old San Juan.

Robin at the city wall in Old San Juan.

Mike and a new Puerto Rican buddy

Mike and a new Puerto Rican buddy

Flamenco at Barrachina in Old San Juan

Flamenco at Barrachina in Old San Juan

Happy hour in Old San Juan

Happy hour in Old San Juan

Ponce Colonial building

Ponce Colonial building

Fountain in Ponce

Fountain in Ponce

Ponce Fire station

Ponce Fire station

Ponce Fire Station

Ponce Fire Station

Robin with the main sail at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club

Robin with the main sail at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club

Jan
15

San Andres, Colombia to Puerto Rico

Sometimes going from point A to point B is not even close to a straight line! Our intention was to go from San Andres (a small island off the coast of Nicaragua that belongs to Colombia) to the Dominican Republic or Jamaica if necessary, then hop along the southern coasts of the DR to Puerto Rico and beyond. We checked out of Colombia November 1st with a zarpe stating our next port of entry would be the Dominican Republic and got underway.
We headed east hoping to avoid a counter-current and reach some southeasterly winds to head to the DR. It seems the weather had other intentions. The weather in the northwestern Caribbean was squally and northerly winds were blowing. This put the wind on the nose with rough seas if we wanted to head north. However, in the Southern Caribbean the wind was light with flat seas and when the trades filled in the forecast was for southeast wind. We decided to head out of San Andres and motor sail due east while the winds were light setting up a nice reach to the Dominican Republic when they filled in. We checked in with Caribbean weather guru Chris Parker by radio each morning and evening for a weather report and his advice on what weather was coming. We made nice progress for a couple of days but the forecast changed and now the trades were going to be out of the northeast turning our nice reach into a beat right into the wind. We decided to head for Santa Marta, Colombia and wait for better weather. The last night the wind filled in and we bashed into a steep, short sea so we were very happy when we made port and in a slip in the marina in Santa Marta. Four days after departing Colombia we returned to Colombia – no big deal right? WRONG! It seems Colombia or at least Santa Marta customs and immigration was not at all happy with a Zarpe saying we were going to the DR and here we were in their backyard. A few extra “tips” to a few extra “officials” and we were checked back into Colombia.
As we tied Mermaid to the dock we noticed Second Wind, friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while two slips down. We took a picture and posted it on Facebook. Much to our surprise, Roger and Susan were aboard. We all had a good visit and spent the next week or so enjoying the lovely town of Santa Marta waiting for favorable weather to head north. We walked to town in the evenings enjoying mojitos, good food and people watching around the town square. We spent the days working on boat projects, combing the town looking for parts and provisioning.
After about a week a weather window to head north formed. We fueled up, checked out of the country and headed to Puerto Rico. The first night was not fun! The Caribbean coast of Columbia is notoriously windy with the highest wind between 2:00 and 6:00 am. By Colombian standards what we got was mild but we still had big square seas with a gusty wind right on the nose for several hours. By morning things had calmed down and we continued motor sailing east in mild conditions, rounding Cabo Vela the evening of the second day. That evening the forecast for the southerly winds were were hoping for changed to easterly. If the south easterlies didn’t materialize we decided to head for Bonaire and wait. Bonaire looked like a place we would like with clear water and great snorkeling. We were actually looking forward to it. Meanwhile, we kept going east passing about 10 mile north of Aruba where we realized that a cruise ship that was passing us didn’t have their AIS on to identify them. We were only about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, not a safe area so we decided to turn ours off as well. That evening the winds filled in from the southeast. We were looking forward to Bonaire but realized if we stopped there may not be another window to cross and it would put us in PR late in the season.
So, we turned left, waved at Bonaire and headed to Puerto Rico. We had a great sail through the night with Mermaid galloping along at 8.5 knots but that didn’t last. The next day was ugly. It was squally with no wind between the squalls and the wind in the squalls was unpredictable. Sometimes the squalls literally were black when we entered them and calm as we passed under them. Other times they didn’t look so bad and would suddenly hit us with 35 knot gusts of winds with driving rain for long periods of time. They really kept us on our toes!
As we approached the entrance to Ponce, Puerto Rico in the early hours of the morning, one last squall passed behind us and gave us a beautiful rainbow. We decided this had to be a good omen!

Street Dancers in Santa Marta

Street Dancers in Santa Marta

Santa Marta local art

Santa Marta local art

With Roger and Susan of Second Wind in Santa Marta

With Roger and Susan of Second Wind in Santa Marta

Santa Marta

Santa Marta

Ice Cream!

Ice Cream!

Shade underway

Shade underway

Robin trimming the main in a squall

Robin trimming the main in a squall

Sunset at Sea

Sunset at Sea

Booby on board

Booby on board

Ponce Rainbow

Ponce Rainbow

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