POST-CHRISTMAS WEST INDIES CRUISE: High Maintenance Vacation

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Una and Lucy

Truth be told, I originally resisted the idea of basing Lunacy in St. Maarten this winter, primarily because she previously spent two other winters there, and I was hoping to check out someplace new. Also, I’ve always found the island to be a bit over-developed, with too many people, too much traffic, and too many big-box stores. Inexorably, however, it was the place that made the most sense for the sort of winter cruising we do (in short bursts of a week or so), because the airfares are reasonable and there are often direct flights from Boston. And during our just completed post-Christmas cruise, the island’s over-developedness in fact turned out to be a blessing, as we spent an inordinate amount of time attending to boat maintenance (a price one often must pay when wandering about on one’s own boat), and St. Maarten, if nothing else, is a great place to buy boat gear.

Problem number one, annoyingly, was simply getting out of Oyster Pond, where the boat was docked. Examining the boat’s bottom from dockside it seemed to be very clean, and I therefore assumed the propeller must also be clean, as our high-tech Ultrasonic Antifouling system has historically succeeded in keeping the prop much cleaner than the bottom. But no! On trying to motor out the pond’s famously sketchy entrance, fortunately in rather calm conditions, I found, as Gertrude Stein might put it, that there was no there there when it came to forward propulsion under power.

We barely made it out by the skin of our teeth. After we sailed around to Marigot, on the French side, and I finally got a chance to jump in the water with a mask and fins on, I found the prop was in fact incredibly foul with barnacles, though the rest of the bottom was almost spotless. Go figure. It took me about an hour of free-diving to scrape the suckers off with a very sharp knife, and after that maneuvering the mothership under power was much less hair-raising.

(Note to self: remember to ALWAYS get the boat’s bottom scrubbed before exiting Oyster Pond, even if it seems entirely unnecessary.)

This is probably as good a place as any to bloviate a bit more on Oyster Pond, in case you’re cruising through the area. First, you need to know that the fuel dock at Captain Oliver’s Marina is currently not (repeat NOT) operational. There’s actually nothing wrong with it, but it seems the marina recently changed hands, and the local government is dragging its feet about issuing the new owners the permit they need to pump fuel. The delay evidently has been going on for months now, which is a major pain in the butt, particularly for the Sunsail and Moorings charter fleets that are based there. They’ve been dragging all their fuel in by truck and have to schlep it out to all the monohulls in jerry jugs, as they draw too much water to come in close alongside shore to top up their tanks.

Also, if you’re approaching the Oyster Pond entrance from outside, don’t waste any time looking for the big sea buoys that used to be there to help lead you in. They all got wiped out in Hurricane Gonzalo last fall and have yet to be replaced. All that’s left are the three spindly little stakes that mark out the entrance itself, and these are very hard to spot until you’re within half a mile or less of where you need to be to shoot between the two east-facing reefs that make this such an interesting inlet to transit.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s something weird about the entrance on the Navionics chart I run on my iPad. My tracks both in and out suggest something is seriously out of place and that you should rely strictly on your eyeballs when coming in here.

Doing it at night would be a very bad idea!

Oyster Pond  entry track

This is the track I recorded on my iPad coming into the pond after our cruise, and it mirrors the unrecorded one I saw going out. In reality I stayed very close to the three red stakes both coming and going, but the track shows me running perilously close to the shoal on the entrance’s south side, well away from the two easternmost stakes

The next major problem, coincidentally, had to do with our dinghy’s propulsion system. Our old 5-hp four-stroke Honda outboard had been getting increasingly unreliable over the past two years, and I had thought before leaving New Hampshire that this would likely be its last season in service. After I spent far too much time trying (and failing) to get it to run properly after we reached Marigot, I reluctantly concluded, as visions of the family getting swept out to sea in the dinghy coursed through my head, that we had to replace it immediately.

Fortunately, there were not one but two chandleries (Island Water World and Budget Marine) in Marigot for me to shop at, and the upside of the inconvenience (and expense!) was that at least here in the W’Indies it is still possible to buy brand new two-stroke engines that are lighter, more powerful, and more reliable than the fussy (but cleaner) four-stroke models that are available in the States.

While cruising the chandleries, I also bought Lunacy some new dock lines (we found one of her old ones had snapped since I left her at Captain Oliver’s in November) and some new padlocks (the old ones are starting seize up solid at very inopportune moments), plus an extra life vest for daughter Lucy, who is forever mislaying them.

And yes! They do have a working fuel dock in Marigot, at the Fort Louis Marina, so we were able to top up our tanks there. And we also bought groceries.

Beached boats

Wrecked boats on the beach in Marigot. More casualties from Hurricane Gonzalo

Fort Louis

View of Marigot and Simpson Bay Lagoon from the ramparts of old Fort Louis. The fort was allegedly built to ward off noisome English pirates back in the early 18th century. I noticed, however, that most of its guns are facing the town

At last, on New Year’s Eve, a full three days after first arriving on the island, we had the boat ready to go somewhere else. And though I had sworn to myself I would never ever spend another New Year’s at Gustavia on St. Bart’s, I was persuaded by certain females aboard that this was in fact where we wanted to go.

Sailing to windward

The long beat to windward in search of 2015

Gustavia anchorage

One very small portion of the very large, very crowded anchorage at Gustavia

Anchoring there at this time of year is always a catch-as-catch-can affair. (See this previous post on some of the politics and etiquette involved.) After finding a crack to wedge into, I dove on our anchor to make sure it was biting, but after our neighbor dinghied over to cheerfully inform me that the last two boats anchored where we were had both dragged, I found it hard to feel sanguine.

The scene ashore, at least, wasn’t as frenzied as it usually is, and we had little trouble finding a place to eat. Afterwards, certain younger members of the crew (read teenage daughter Una) made a point of staying up until midnight to watch the madness and fireworks from on deck.

The next day we retreated (gratefully, on my part) to nearby Anse de Columbier for some swimming and snorkeling and beachcombing.

Lucy jumps

Lucy jumps off Lunacy‘s gunwale for the very first time!

Case test

Una conducts submersion experiments on her new (allegedly) waterproof iPhone case before trusting it in action

And the day after that, unfortunately, it was already time to head back to Oyster Pond. The forecast was for some fearsome wind to come up, so we left early before the sea could build up at the entrance.

Lunacy docked

Lunacy back on the dock at Captain Oliver’s. Note the new Tohatsu outboard and the new dock lines

Smashing the coconut

Lucy remembers the coconut we bought in Marigot and decides to smash it open on the dock with a hammer. Unfortunately, it was all rotten inside

This turned out to be unnecessary, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

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