Change of Address: Culebra?

After filling my love bucket with my favourite people in the world at home, it was back to the boat with Bill and Julie gracing us with their presence for a week. We drove through a snowstorm going to the airport at 6:30 a.m. (finishing as I started), and our flights were several hours late departing – the hazards of winter travel in Canada. Ralph, waiting for us in San Juan, was starting to panic thinking we’d miss the last ferry back to Culebra, which departs Fajardo at 7 pm. We made it, and had a slightly bouncy ride –I could tell I did NOT have my sea-legs after 2 weeks ashore! Even with a double dose of gravol before departure, I spent some time standing at the rail staring very hard at the horizon. (I consider it a win if nothing actually comes up.)

I was tired, Julie was sick with a nasty cold and plugged ears, and we had a lovely low key week, hanging around the west side anchorages, playing with the paddle boards, snorkelling for Bill, nights of Mango Rum, Bailey’s, gorgeous moon rises and raucous games of Monopoly Deal EVERY night (we were totally hooked – even Ralph played and had fun!) Snorkel slideshow photography credits to Bill Wickett.

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Bill and Julie walked from Carlos Rosario on the path over to Flamenco Beach only to be stopped at the parking lot at Flamenco and told to go back because the path was closed. (I might have told them if there weren’t actually workmen around they could probably just walk around the barrier and nobody would care. Oops.)  Carlos Rosario is a great spot, but we had another rocky night there. For those of you who wondered in an earlier post what carved the clefts in the cliff:

Just before departure, we went around to Dakity for some calm seas. The water was so flat behind the reef you wouldn’t even know we weren’t on solid land, and dinghy exploring netted a few nice shells. Bill spotted this starfish just off the boat.

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The day after Bill and Julie departed, we paddled almost to the sandbar in the Dakity anchorage, and I counted 24 starfish of different colours and sizes in 2 shallow patches of sand along the way. It was amazing! Next day, the wind was up a bit, but we made it all the way upwind to the sandbar. I looked for shells, but hadn’t taken my water shoes and it was rough walking, so I only found a few small sea urchins and 1 lovely puffy sand dollar, which made it back to the boat before I broke it – those things are so very fragile.

Even though our guests are gone, we’re still in no hurry to move on from Culebra, and our excuse is we’re waiting for a west component wind so we can actually sail to our next stop in the USVI. Plus one of the engines had a leaking water pump and needed work. Ralph had a repair kit, but couldn’t get the old pump apart, which meant another ferry trip to Fajardo to get it set up. (I stayed happily aboard for some serious writing time.) With the engine all fixed up, water tanks filled up, and my order of UV clothing delivered, we’re in good shape for waiting while we swim, paddle board, listen to music, clean, read, go to bed early, and I work on novel #2. Loving life!!

 

 

Old San Juan

The day of our flight home, Otto, Tara and I took the 6:30 a.m. ferry across to Fajardo, picked up a rental car, and drove to Old San Juan. We had time to walk a few of the cobblestone streets in the old town and admire the beautiful old buildings. Maintenance  must be a huge a mount of work in the tropical climate.

Old San Juan is extensive, and filled with history. We only had time for a very quick sample, so we headed for the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro. Built in the 1500s right at the tip of the promontory (del morro means promontory) at the mouth of San Juan Harbour, it was an important strategical position for the Spanish.

The walls of Del Moro are 18 feet thick (for those of you who only speak metric, that would be three times Ralph’s height), and dotted with guard towers. Note the different colour of the walls in the photos below. The top picture shows the original, and the bottom picture shows the walls cleaned with preservation and the environment in mind, all by hand. No power washers here!

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Some of the fortifications collapsed at the beginning of the 20th century, and were rebuilt with concrete (see the dark section in the wall below left).  Extensive work is ongoing to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage site. Erosion from weather and waves is constant, and controlling the ingress of vegetation is an ongoing battle.

During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the old lighthouse was demolished by cannon fire and, after the fort was ceded to the Americans with the Treaty of Paris, it was rebuilt (see below right) in the early 1900s.  We only walked around the portion that surrounds one side of the promontory of the fort, and that was a long, hot walk.

The site of Del Moro comprises 70 acres of history. The city walls surrounding Old SJ were constructed in the late 17th century, and were so extensive they took 48 years to build. On the landward side of the citadel are the Killing Grounds that guarded against any attack from the land – imagine the carnage in this wide open approach! The grounds are now designated as parkland, and are the site of family picnics, site-seeing, BBQs and kite flying, while the only battles fought are between soccer teams.

We finished off with lunch at Barrachina’s Restaurant, which boasts a lovely courtyard, very noisy parrots, and mouth-watering food (not to mention the excellent Pina Colada!)

Then it was off to the airport, and home to cold weather and snow squalls. I hadn’t seen snow since 2011, and two weeks was quite enough, thank you! Boots? Gloves? Scraping snow off windshields? Bah, humbug! It was wonderful to have time with our kids, though. We had great visits, and it made the trip home well worthwhile. I wish I could’ve smuggled them all back to Culebra in my luggage!

 

Of Golf Carts and Fishing

What a great time we had with Otto and Tara, and as Otto said, they saw and did everything. I told them they missed one thing – swimming with a sea turtle. We had to save something for the next trip, right?

We enjoyed a different anchorage each night, which was cool, and the ‘kids’ practised their snorkelling first in shallow water, and then all over. They didn’t even mind our rocky night at Carlos Rosario, although I liked it better when we went around to Dakity. In the calm water behind the reef, Otto took to paddle boarding like a pro, while Tara and I kayaked.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete if we hadn’t been able to get Otto out fishing, so we were happy to have a beautifully calm day to circumnavigate Culebra. We threw a couple of lines out in the deep water to the north, and Otto landed a decent sized black fin tuna. Believe me, you haven’t tasted fish until you’ve eaten a fresh catch: tender, flaky, and not even a hint of a fishy taste. The kids also tried some raw and said it was good. (Not me, thanks!)

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Some things never change: when Otto rented the golf cart to tour the island, he raced up and down Culebra’s steep hills as though he was in the Indianapolis 500. Tara and I sat in the back, and every time Otto yelled “Bump!” we braced ourselves and hung on for dear life. Thank God we knew where the seatbelts were this time!

At beautiful Flamenco beach, the kids walked, posed (and Otto played) on the abandoned tank, they walked the beach end to end, and then caught some great body surfing waves. Ralph relaxed while I did some walking and some sitting in the shade under the lifeguard station. I saw a real baby sea turtle that someone found and brought to the lifeguard. He planned to give it to a dive boat to take out and release.

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We aren’t done with Otto and Tara yet. Stay tuned for our adventures in Old San Juan….

 

Urchins, Sharks, and Other Adventures Jan.15-21

The Boys Are Back in Town…

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Waiting for the Ferry, Fajardo to Culebra

We had a wonderful week with Christa and Mac, mostly anchored near the ferry dock due to high winds. All we had to do was relax, catch up on each other’s news, and enjoy the wildlife and turtle sightings.

We also went into Dewey for the fruit and veggie market, groceries at Milka’s, and Belgian Waffles for breakfast at Vibra Verde – delicious!

It was great to have plenty of down time to read and play Mexican Train Dominos – ahem… new champion here – and Mac was a very good sport about his abysmally high scores (both nights). He was also very brave when he brushed his heel against a sea urchin while snorkelling. Several small spines were imbedded just under the skin, but a couple of soakings in hot vinegar took away the pain and dissolved the black spots. (Thank you Google.)

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They are HUGE. They are everywhere. They hurt.

When the winds finally died, we scurried around to Tamarindo Beach for paddle boarding, snorkelling, turtles, sharks, fabulous coral, giant tarpons, squids, and sightings of unusual and fascinating fish.

The two best stories of the week belong to the men, hands down. When we moored at Tamarind, Ralph checked out our mooring ball and then swam towards shore. He returned to the boat for the fish identification book and reported a 5 foot long Lemon Shark basking in the sand near the reef. Recalling our trip to the Shark Research Station on Bimini which researches Lemon Sharks, I reported that the adults can be very aggressive. Three of us decided not to snorkel. The fourth, thrilled with his large shark sighting, said, “It’s only a juvenile,” got on the paddle board with his Go-Pro, and went back to take pictures. (Guess which one of us that was!)

I heard a splash and looked over with my heart in my throat. To my horror, the board was empty and there was significant splashing happening beside it. Did he fall in? On top of the shark? Of course not. He jumped in and dove down to get better pictures. Then he resurfaced to get the paddle, dove back down, and POKED a lemon shark almost as big as he is. He returned triumphant, bearing photos of a good sized shark and  the pleasure of knowing he’d chased it away.

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It’s a shark all right.

The rest of us decided we still weren’t snorkelling and it was time for sundowners in the cockpit.

The next day at Tamarind was what Sergej Berendsen, on our first trip, called a Golden Day. It’s one of those you hope you can revisit in your mind when you’re very old(er) and gray(er): the sky of brilliant blue, the calm, translucent water, and having the time, place, and opportunity to make memories with the best of friends.

We ate. We paddled. We kayaked. We basked. And oh, did we snorkel! We snorkeled until I was chilled ( in 80+ water). We snorkeled until I knew I’d better head back or I’d be too tired to swim against the current. We snorkeled until my skin was all wrinkly(er). It was glorious! Ralph spotted the first beautiful find – a conch wandering along the sand. And I, Wendy, chicken-hearted me, actually dove down over ten feet to get it. Isn’t it gorgeous? Of course, since it was occupied, we gently replaced her where we found her. Most stunning shell I ever saw!

I hope you aren’t tired of our underwater photography. Ralph is now as addicted to his Go Pro as I am to my Olympus, Canon, and Nikon. (Okay, so I’m a camera slut.) I shoot indiscriminately (being half blind even with my contacts) and hope for the best, but Ralph’s eagle eyes always catch sight of creatures, even when camouflaged. Can you see the Stingray in these pictures?

We spotted a squid, and were fascinated with the way it moved,

a Cowfish (Lactoria), which to my amazement would lie on his side to nibble at the coral

And oh, the fields of coral!

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Which brings me to the second (and definitely the best) story I promised. (Sorry Mac, but it must be told.) Mac and I were the last to swim back to the boat, and it was time to get ready to return to the ferry dock bay for the next day’s departure. I was showered and tidying the cockpit. Ralph was rinsing and putting away the paddle boards. Mac had come aboard, showered, and was drying off on the back steps when he spotted a shark swimming right alongside the hull. He leaned over to get a better look, yelled “Shark!” and promptly toppled into the water. On top of the shark. Ralph leaned over to look and said, “It’s only a tarpon,” but Mac probably didn’t hear because Ralph was laughing so hard and he himself was under water. Very briefly. Ralph says he hit those back steps again so fast he flew aboard barely touching the ladder. “Wish I’d had my camera,” I said, and Ralph replied that from start to finish, I wouldn’t have even had time to cross the cockpit it all happened so fast. It really was a tarpon, but in Mac’s defense, it must be said that they are big and scary looking. When Ralph suddenly breaks out in random guffaws of laughter (as he’s been doing for the last two days), I know what he’s thinking about. I still really wish I had a picture, or better yet, a video. Are you up for a re-enactment Mac?

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Tarpon (not shark) hanging out under the boat

Visitors Round 1 – Nothing Like Family

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What a wonderful week we had with Renata, Kurt and Rachael! We picked them up at the San Juan airport after provisioning, ate dinner at the touristy food stalls beside the highway on the way to Fajardo, returned the rental car, and caught the 7pm ferry to Culebra. The seas were much rougher than expected, and as we bashed across into wind and waves, Kurt, Rachael and I all went topsides in search of fresh air. It worked for me and I was fine as soon as I was outside, but I had my sea legs. Kurt did not, and let’s just say that without Gravol he probably regretted dinner and wished the ride was a lot shorter.

After our merciful arrival at the ferry dock in Dewey (and no doubt one of the longest hour and a halfs in Kurt’s life), we schlepped luggage and provisions from the ferry dock to the dinghy dock while Kurt staggered alongside, and Ralph ferried us, and all our clobber, across to Altona II in three loads. Thankfully, it was pretty quiet inside Ensenada Honda (the big bay), and we stayed put for Day One to so we could go to the market for fresh produce, wander around town a bit, and make sure Kurt was recovered. (No worries: the boy bounces back quickly.) He and Rachael swam off the back and everyone caught a little sun between the usual clouds and short showers.

After that, wind and weather cooperated nicely for us to exit Ensanada Honda and go around to the east side of the island where there’s great snorkelling and a few quiet mooring balls. First we stayed at Tamarindo (sea turtles!!), then Carlos Rosario with its world class reef and fabulous snorkelling, and finally Melones.

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We’d hoped to get the trail from Carlos Rosario across to famous Flamenco Beach on the north side, but both the trail and the mooring balls at the north end of Tamarindo were off limits while the area is checked for unexploded ordinance. Culebra was used by the U.S. for munitions raining from the early 1900s through to the second world war, first shelled from ships, and later from planes. The efforts to find ordinance will continue for several months, so from Carlos Rosario we moved back south to Melones Beach.

Kurt and Rachael used the paddle boards to cross the strait to a beach on the Luis Pena Cay Nature Reserve, walked across to the beach on the other side, and paddled back just before sunset. Not a bad trek for their first time on the boards, and Rachael said the kayak seat add-on to our iRocker boards worked well.

The snorkelling was great at Melones, also, and Kurt and I had more time to play with the underwater camera. Renata and Rachael are both beautiful swimmers and put themselves through their paces for exercise each day: pure poetry slicing the water.

From Melones it’s easy to walk or dinghy ride into town, where we rented a souped up golf cart to drive to Flamenco. It is, indeed, a gorgeous beach.

After Flamenco, we had another of Ralph’s Excellent Adventures while trying to explore more of the island:

  • Decide to drive to Bravo Beach because Kurt and Rachael wanted to try to rent surfboards and Renata wanted another beach. (She has sand in her veins.)
  • Puzzle over and discuss the cartoonish tourist map trying to figure out how to get there.
  • Stop and ask directions.
  • Fail at following directions and go in a circle.
  • Find the right road and discover it ends in a dirt road, which ends in a dead end.
  • Talk to a jeep that turned around and came back and learn it’s a long walk on a bug infested trail to get to Bravo Beach from the end of the road
  • Head back to town because the golf cart, which had 1/8 of a tank of gas when we rented it (the guy said that would last a week) was showing a gas light every time it struggled up the steep hills.
  • Add $1.20 worth of gas to the cart and pick up some fuel for our tanks (cold beer).
  • Head out of town again to try for Zoni Beach and get pulled over on the main street by a motorcycle police officer. (Ralph was most offended there even was one on the island.) The officer did NOT seem happy with the fact that:
  1. we had 5 people in a 4 person golf cart
  2. nobody was wearing a seat belt (never occurred to us a golf cart would have them)
  3. Kurt, in the rear-facing seat, had just cracked a can of beer. In his defence, he did ask, and Ralph said, “This is Culebra. Nobody cares.” Then we heard the siren.
  • While the officer watched us with a displeased-teacher-worthy look, our golf cart sat in the road blocking traffic as we discussed options. Eventually, some poor soul in the pile-up behind the motorcycle started talking to the officer, who managed to keep one eye on us until we finally dispersed. Renata and I headed back downtown on foot, while the other three dealt with supplies and the return of the golf cart.
  • We met up downtown at the Dinghy Dock Bar & Restaurant to lick our wounds and bemoan the lost beaches, but dinner at Mamacita’s was an excellent end to the day.
  • I figure it’s a good outcome when my husband doesn’t have his rights read, our house isn’t searched, he isn’t contacted by the OPP (but those are other stories), and he doesn’t even get a ticket or have his name taken. Seriously, the officer was quite nice, albeit justifiably disturbed by the irresponsible behaviour of these damn tourists.

The evenings were reserved for good food, and games: Mexican Train Dominos and Monopoly  Deal. And the ‘kids’ treated us to a fabulous breakfast and lovely dinner out at Mamacitas on our last day.

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On Saturday, the kids took the 1pm ferry back to Fajardo so they could have a day to explore Old San Juan before their Sunday flight home; Kurt took Gravol just in case, but they were going with the wind and the ride was smooth. I fought back tears because it was such a wonderful week and I’ll miss them so, we consoled ourselves with pork skewers at the street stand, and then got caught in a real downpour (not tears, just rain) walking back to the boat. A really nice couple stopped to pick us up and didn’t even mind that we were soaking wet on their back seat. They’re residents and gave us their number in case we ever need anything ­– another thing to love about Culebra is the people.

Beautiful Culebra

After an uneventful overnight motor trip from St. Martin, we arrived back at Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands belonging to Puerto Rico and therefore US territory again.

One of our favourites spots: Dakity, at the mouth of Ensenada Honda (the big bay with the town of Dewey at the end) is a wonderful mooring field well away from the buzz of town and protected by a semi-circle of reef. The seas can be raging outside, and within the reef it’s utterly calm. Exposed to the breezes, mosquitos and no-see-ums are not a problem.img_4916

In Ensenada Honda, we met a delightful new couple, Chris and Karen aboard Skebango, and the next day we moved with them to the west coast of the island where all the best snorkelling bays and beaches are. Carlos Rosario, in the north end had the best protections, and right after we arrived, the biggest pod of dolphins I’ve ever seen entertained us for a remarkable length of time. It was fabulous!

Other than missing French food and fast, unlimited data, Culebra is delightful. Cooler temperatures than St. Martin (but still hot), free mooring balls, beautiful scenery, exceptional snorkelling right from the boat, and visitors from Canada just a flight, Publico/Uber, and $2.00 Ferry ride away. Here we float for the next few months so our children can catch flights to San Juan at reasonable prices. Can’t wait to see them, but it’ll be a relaxing wait! The snorkelling is wonderful and the paddle boards are good exercise.

We swam with a sea turtle at Melones yesterday, and it was incredible! I was even motivated enough to dive down and swim closer to him, and it was so much fun I seem to have lost my fear of going down. A little bit of magic in a mystical place with a perfect creature. Enjoy the underwater slideshow.

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Cruising 2016-2017: Startup St. Kitts to St. Martin

It completely amazed me to fly into St. Kitts on Monday, launch Altona II Tuesday, and be under sail to St. Martin Wednesday. No bundling up for November temperatures in northern Florida; no five day motor-slog down the ICW; just blazing temperatures, sunshine, and hoist the sails. Mind you, it was not so easy for Ralph: he came down ten days earlier to prep the boat, work on the hull, sweat boatloads in the heat, and eat out of cans because I wasn’t there to prep the galley.

Provisioning in St. Martin was a dream: cheap wine and beer, fresh bread, the creamiest Brie I’ve ever tasted, and non GMO flour from France that I seem to be able to eat. B is now my favourite letter of the alphabet: I gorged myself on Baguette, Butter and Brie. Every. Delicious. Day. (I am also fond of the letter D.) Either French food is far superior to U.S. provisions, or the ambience while anchored in Marigot Bay kick starts the taste buds. I suspect a lot of both. Between the fabulous food, the lovely anchorages, the fact that my very rusty French started to come back to me, and the messy squalls up Puerto Rico way, we were in no rush to go anywhere.

The only drawback to St. Martin was the heat. I know, I know, you’ve already had a lot of snow back home, but when every day is well over 30 with no AC, those hot flashes are vicious. At least we could just jump in off the back step to cool down, the water was warm enough that sudden full immersion was painless (even for sucky me), it still cooled us nicely, and temperatures were marginally more moderate for sleeping at night.

From Marigot Bay we motored up to Grand Case, where the anchorage isn’t as busy as Marigot Bay, it’s very picturesque, and the town caters to tourists. There are lots of mouthwatering gourmet French restaurants, and also wall to wall open air restaurants with huge BBQs along the beachfront. Which do you think Ralph chose for his milestone birthday dinner? (Hint: not gourmet, but he loved it.)

 

The best thing was coming back to the boat after an ice cold beer at the beachfront and just dropping into the lovely, clear water (again) to wash the sweat off. Except for jaunts ashore and swimming, we were very lazy, enjoying slow meals in the cockpit, tracking the comings and goings in the anchorage, and watching the ever changing light on the mountainous shore.

The only drawback to St. Martin was the heat. I know, I know, you’ve already had a lot of snow back home, but when every day is well over 30 with no AC, those hot flashes are vicious. At least we could just jump in off the back step to cool down, the water was warm enough that sudden full immersion was painless (even for sucky me), it still cooled us nicely, and temperatures were more moderate for sleeping at night. St. Martin is well worth a little sweat!

Laying Up at St. Kitts April 2016

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St. Kitts Marine Works (SKMW)
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West coast of St. Kitts south of SKMW

What a pleasure it was to be hauled at St. Kitts Marine Works rather than Florida! Everyone at the boatyard is really friendly, they do the work well and on time, and an unexpected bonus was watching the goats, pigs, and monkeys while we ate lunch in the cockpit – very entertaining. However, we learned we should have done all the packing and cleaning while on the water, as it’s hot and buggy on land. Smarter people hauled their boat, offloaded their suitcases, and left for the airport all in the same afternoon. Next year.

organic-lawn-mowers-at-skmw-40-50-of-themanother-boatyard-visitorAfter the work was done and we still had a few days before our flight, we rented a car and circumnavigated the island, driving up a few side roads and seeing some lovely anchorages. St. Kitts is beautiful, with gorgeous views everywhere, and the long tail of the island in the south east is particularly stunning. We checked out a several beaches and beach bars, and settled on The Shipwreck for a late lunch. It was mouth watering: BBQ chicken/ribs, salad, fries/rice, and fried plantains. The plate was heaping (enough for my dinner too!) and every bite was delicious. Two meals plus drinks for $30 U.S., and the ambiance and view were free.

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The second day we drove up to Brimstone Hill Fortress, overlooking the marina. It’s a world heritage site, extremely well restored, with a fascinating history that kept us riveted for hours. So many fascinating pictures that I made a slideshow.

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Then we explored a bit of the capital city, Basseterre, found the Laundry, went to a batik shop/factory, and visited one of the old sugar mills, or rather the ruins of it. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, I hope you enjoy these!

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Looking at Nevis

St. Kitts Or Bust! Okay… maybe St. Martin/Sint Maarten

My apologies for confusing a few people. This posting, as well as the previous two, were drafted but not completed last spring, and are, in fact retroactive to March and April 2016. (The voyages were completed, just not the blog posts.)  One  more retro to come, and then I can start on this year. Also please note that my email has changed from Rogers to wihodgson@yahoo.com. I’ve had technological issues (long, boring, frustrating story) and I have lost a few email addresses along the way… so if you didn’t get an explanatory email about these posts, that means you need to email me so I can get you back in my address book. Please? Now, on with Altona II’s happy progress…

We made it all the way ‘down island’ – Hurray! The trip from Culebra was calm and uneventful, but soooo s-l-o-w! Slipping our Culebra mooring ball at 6:30 Wednesday morning, Altona II anchored in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, at 1:15 in the afternoon Thursday. We should’ve easily made it all the way to St. Kitts by then, but the forecasted wind shift did not happen. That left us motoring (again) into light east wind and waves. It wasn’t too uncomfortable, but it slowed us right down to just 4 Knots and change. We put the mainsail up and blew on it a bit, but it didn’t help.

Not wanting to risk getting to St. Kitts after dark, we headed for St. Martin, where we relaxed, made water, and ogled the huge and lovely yachts until the bridge into Simpson Lagoon opened at 5 p.m.

Once inside, we had to go through the Causeway Bridge to anchor, but we were nicely settled by 5:30, right in front of a small mountain called The Witch’s Tit – a very descriptive and memorable name.

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The Witch’s Tit

St. Martin is picturesque, and unique in that half the island is French and half is Dutch. The story is that a Frenchman started walking south with a bottle of wine, and a Dutchman started walking north with a bottle of gin. Where they met decided the border, and the French got more territory because the wine wasn’t as strong as the gin, so the Frenchman could walk faster. There are two of everything here: 2 airports, 2 hospitals, 2 Customs and Immigration, 2 chandleries (boating stores), and loads of restaurants and duty free shops on both sides.

The Dutch side is ridiculously expensive, which is why we came right through to the French side of Simpson Lagoon. Between Customs fees, Bridge fees, Lagoon Fees (which they charge whether or not you bring your boat into the Lagoon) it costs about $100.00 to check in with the Dutch. The French side costs $8.00. Then we found a chandlery, Ocean World, where you can check in online and they don’t charge anything except $2 for charity. There were so many different stories about how/where to check in it was almost as bad as U.S. Customs and Border Patrol!

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Strip of beach right alongside the runway of the Dutch airport. Note the odd looking vessel on the left.

The Dutch airport runway runs right alongside the beach on a narrow strip of land separating Simpson Bay and Simpson Lagoon, so everywhere in both Bay and Lagoon it’s very noisy. I should’ve counted the planes that landed and took off during the few hours we were in the Bay. Dozens and dozens, and I sure wouldn’t want to pay to stay in any of the hotels there. At least we weren’t disturbed by any night flights. With the duty free status, tourism is huge, with flights from all over the world and cruise ships galore. All the marinas on that side cater to the Mega Yachts, and I do mean MEGA! The ones that are too big for the 52’ wide bridge (seriously – they can’t fit through 52’, which means they’re wider than the whole lot my house sits on) stay out in Simpson Bay, and tenders make huge deliveries of exotic supplies. One yacht was so big we thought it was a small cruise ship at first. I find the affluence somewhat appalling when so many islanders (not to mention too many people in the U.S.) struggle just to make ends meet. We did walk around the Dutch side a bit, and found it much like the U.S., and yes, expensive. Strolling the town of Marigot on the French side, we met a really nice couple who said they did some required boat repairs in a marina on the Dutch side, it cost them a fortune, and everyone was unbelievably rude. Even though they’re Dutch, they couldn’t wait to get out of there and come to the French side. It may be a bit shabbier and not as efficiently run (those Dutch bridge keepers are unbearably strict and hustle everyone through lickety split – if you aren’t right on the ass of the vessel in front of you, you’ll be yelled at!), but it seems much friendlier.

Marigot is interesting. Some of it is pretty, but parts are downright shabby and none too clean. I suppose that’s true of any city, though. The cruising guide claims it has a charming European flavour, and I guess it does. Streets are narrow and some cobblestoned rather than paved. There’s no question the food is great – Ralph had a spectacular roast beef and brie sandwich on a baguette, picked up some delicious rye bread, and we couldn’t resist a couple of pastries. The smells coming from some of the bakeries and restaurants were to die for! Restaurants are expensive, though (even though it’s duty free), as it’s Euros. Most places will accept payment in U.S.$ but then, of course, it becomes even more expensive, and when you add another 35% for what it actually cost you in Canadian $, well, you get the picture. We did not eat out, but we’ll definitely have to make another run to Marigot for bread and pastry, and maybe some Brie…

The weather is absolutely gorgeous! It’s really hot, but not a bit humid and there’s a wonderful breeze. It also cools off quite comfortably for sleeping at night. The winds are steady, and since they’re almost always from the east, and the Leeward Islands run in a north south chain, I think we’ll have some wonderful sailing to look forward to. We plan to SAIL down to St. Kitts on Monday to check out the lay of the land before we put the boat up there in April.

Good Morning Culebra!

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Peeking out the porthole when I woke up our first morning… oh yeah!

The first night on our mooring ball at sheltered Tamarindo Beach was glorious. We admired the bio-luminescence in the calms waters of the bay, had a quick dinner, then passed out to the sound of waves on the beach and the distant howling of winds that did not touch us.

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Headland at Tamarindo

Culebra is gorgeous and this sheltered shore is littered with pretty coves and beaches. In the morning we moved to Melones Beach to be closer to the little canal that goes across to the town of Dewey. Each of these little coves has only a few mooring balls, so it’s very quiet and peaceful. We dinghied through the canal into Ensanada Honda and the town dock, then hitched a ride to the Airport to check in. Part of Culebra is National Park, and right away we encountered a rare and endangered species: a U.S. Customs & Immigration officer who was polite, helpful, informative, and had a sense of humour. We had no idea such a life form existed!

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Moored at Melones

Dewey is quaint, and there are lots of good places to eat, which is requisite after six days of minimalistic meals on passage. The best discovery was a fabulous place for street food: 2 picnic tables, 2 coolers and 2 BBQs right across from the little grocery store. Ralph had a good hamburger, and I had the most mouthwatering skewer of pork I’ve ever eaten for $2.00 – sure beats McD’s for fast food.

Culebra’s snorkeling is world renowned, and even more spectacular than we remembered: lovely clear water, sunshine, and a whole coast lined with spectacular coral. The varieties are unbelievable, the colours gorgeous, and the fish – I’ve never seen such a variety and so many! Each day, we swam in a different direction, always discovering some unique sight.

Ralph is happy to be back at his all time favourite island, and so is Wendy! Hopefully we can get the engine looked at sooner rather than later, and then it’s on to St. Kitts for a little more exploring before laying up the boat.