Thursday, April 19, 2007

Butterflys and Boats

Through the years, St. Martin has been a hurricane magnet, losing a number of its beaches and developments. The beaches are beautiful, as is the scenery sunbathing on it, especially on the French side. Marc likes to say, I’m not one to complain”. The kids’ reactions to the lack of modesty (a.k.a. clothes) of the surrounding boaters were funny. Sabrina did not mind showering off the transom here.. no one cares, were are in France”, she would say.

Having been to St Martin some years ago, we remembered the Butterfly Farm at Orient Beach. Our Englishman guide was witty with his descriptions of the butterflies’ habits, reproduction and purpose in life. Due to pesticides, habitat destruction, mono-cropping and other forms of human interference, the number of butterflies has declined drastically. They are breathtakingly beautiful and, like the honeybees, are fabulous pollinators. He and we encourage everyone to create a butterfly habitat in your yard.

St. Martin was the tale of cruising communities. Boat yards on the French side were littered with derelict project boats. We called it the yard of broken dreams. Many of the boats still served as the homes of salty sailors hoping to set sail again. On the other end of the harbor was the mega yacht contingent. Oddly the people who can afford to buy these things can’t ever seem to afford the time to spend enjoying them. So there they sit with a crew of 4-18 on the payroll doing polishing, relocations, and maintenance for the few weeks or weekends that the owners are on the boat. If you are thinking of living on the seas in laps of luxury but don’t quite have the 10 million plus to get into one of these, just accept one of the hundreds of paid crew positions out there. A farm kid from our hometown of Hastings with knowledge of diesels and hydraulics would be worth his weight in gold on one of these vessels.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Adventures Had by Helping Others

Chris Parker, the SSB weather reporting guru, was describing a near perfect storm that hammered several boats returning back to Cape Hatteras from the Bahamas. Sadly, one young group of sailors perished on a boat and 3 other boats were abandoned. For our area, 10’ swells that would become breaking waves in our anchorage were predicted, so we moved further east on St John's to avoid the possibility of being a surfboard. Fortunately, the waves never reached that far south and all was well.

The next morning, we visited the remains of an old sugarcane mill. While climbing and milling about the ruins of previous human existence, we wondered what it once was like. While there, we met the Crouse family on St. John's for a holiday. Being homeschoolers, they could vacation whenever they wanted. We invited them onto Side By Side for some lunch and snorkeling. A particularly great memory was the thousands if not millions of silver minnows that surrounded us. Moving our hands like a conductor made the fish dart in unison with our hand motions.

They insisted we join them ashore and so we piled into their cabana covered pickup truck. We meandered through the lush mountains to the house they had rented on top of one of the mountains. The view was nothing short of spectacular. That evening we once again piled in to the cabana truck and went to dinner, their treat! We had the kids table and the adult table which worked out very well. The food and the company was terrific. It was well past dark when we arrived back at the dinghy….and we were leaving for an overnight passage to St Martin! Wine and passage making do not mixed. Luckily, the BVI's is not that hard to sail through.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

You Mus’ Go Fastaahhh

The night was dead calm as we motored out of the anchorage and through Sir Francis Drake Channel of the British Virgin Islands. Several kid boats had reported that of all places, the BVI”S was being a real pain in the stern clearing in cruisers, especially with children. Two families were asked to provide tons of educational documentation to verify their children’s education. On the way, we caught a 50” Mahi Mahi, almost as long as the kids! Dinging to the Dutch side to get wifi ..and a beer at Shrimpy’s we spotted Cayuga which we hadn’t seen since Flo’s Conch bar several months ago. We knocked on the hull and yelled, “hey, I know you” as Susan had done when she saw us there.

That night, the stories Cayuga shared had our guts aching all night. The stories were so vivid I knew they couldn’t be making this stuff up. The tales they shared of their experiences, particularly with the boat a German boat had tears streaming down our faces.

After the Capitan has anchored too close and the wind has shifted:
“You must move! You have dragged anchor! You are anchored too close!”

The captain during a night passage where they were tagging along:
“You are falling behind! How fast are you going? You Mus’ Go Fastaahhh!
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Click, the guily party's face is hidden

Sunday, April 15, 2007

St. John's, U.S.V.I

The crossing to St Johns took all of 20 minutes from anchor up to anchor down. The hillside developments were ostentatious displays of wealth. With home prices from $1 million-$10 million, the coexistence of less affluent locals and second homers is sometimes tense. The National Seashore Visitors’ Center provided interactive and interpretive displays about Rockefeller’s donation and creation of nearly half the island as a National Park.

While back in the U.S., we mailed to the IRS and friends/family at domestic rates making our day. We also realized we could make toll free calls. With one of our credit cards expiring and being miles from our mailbox, Angie made called Capital One customer service to “clear things up.” 20 minutes and a half dozen department transfers into the exercise, our beloved Sabrina, for no fathomable reason, walked up to the pay phone and just went “click” on the receiver handle. With a flick of her hand she had us back at square one….because…. “I don’t know why!?” The mother daughter exchange of eternal love was one for the annals of family history.

St. Johns was absolutely gorgeous with its steep lush mountains, emerald green bays, and palm lined beaches. The park service has buoyed off the eco-sensitive parts of most of its bays. Anchoring is discouraged in favor of honor-system park moorings. We delighted in the constant sightings of Hawksbill turtles as they searched out a suitable beach to lay their eggs.

As we left the beach having snorkeling the highly overrated “underwater trail”, we saw a family struggling to paddle their overloaded kayak back to their boat. They gladly accepted our offer for a tow to their boat, which we assumed as the other sailboat in the harbor.

“No, ours is the blue one,” they declared.
Oh, the 160’ mega-yacht, Shalimar. Wow, they must be doing an executive charter, I thought
“Do you want to come aboard OUR boat while the kids swing off the crane boom?”
The kids eyes were the size of saucers with Sabrina most interested in finding a hot tub.
“It’s right up on the bow, one of the crew will take you up there.”

The crane was used to lift the 30’ “tender”, jet skis, a smaller tender, etc. It also was used to swing everyone over the water prior to dropping 25 feet to the water below. The company, conversation and crane swinging were lively. Over several glasses of champagne, the adults discussed St. Croix tax incentives. The couples lived in St. Croix after moving there from the U.S. They confirmed that you can run a business under the US flag, make millions and pay a total tax bill (including property tax) of only 5%!!! Hhhmmm.

We retired to our humble abode and had leftovers as they motored off during a sit down gourmet dinner served by a crew of 7. They had to be to work the next morning and I had to just wake up. Well I guess everything is a trade off. What a great experience, perhaps our paths may again cross. Funny, today we saw the boat here in Puerto La Cruz, VZ.

Wal-Mart, Highways, and Chili’s

After 36 hours at sea, we anchored in Bahia de Rincon near Salinas, an area known for its manatees or seas cows. The water is murky brown, and they scared Angie while surfacing next to the dingy, looking very much like water cows. She could see how boats kill many of them every year; you can’t see them surfacing.

After an $8 “toll free” call to customs, we were told to call back later. After several walks to a local restaurant, to use their phone we were “conditionally” cleared into our own country. Unlike all the other countries where customs is on the water so they can inspect your boat, in the U.S., you call the airport and no-one ever sees you, your documents or your boat. We need the all important a Home Land Security decal to be allowed in. The insuring drama to obtain the decal was a study in government efficiency and took Angie 4 frustrating hours.

In an effort to preserve its remaining shorelines, no waterfront construction is now allowed in Puerto Rico. Away from the shoreline, corporate America has been busy super-sizing and “malling” the territory. Parker and Sabrina were ecstatic! Look, Burger King, Home Depot, Staples, Mobil-mart, Kentucky Fried Chicken, isn’t it grand!? After a family meeting, the majority vote went to Chili’s for fajita Monday’s. A first since we left Atlantis in Nassau, the restrooms worked and had… soap and toilet paper and paper towels.

I had no trouble acclimating to being behind the wheel of a car on a highway, accelerating up to 10x boat speed!!! A bus tour of historic Ponce was our home schooling lesson of the day. The center of the historic city was bustling with activity. Shopping!! Everyone but me found a little something to buy. They didn’t have Crocs in XXL in PR.

Now that we had been cruising several months, though, we realized how little we really needed. Our rental car agent dropped us and our trunk full of plastic shopping bags back at the dock from Walmart. That evening, we weighed anchor and motored our way to Vieques, a PR island to the east.