Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
37Trip End Ongoing
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After only a few minutes in the water, we were surrounded by a dense cloud of three-inch long, beautiful silver fish. These guys were so amazingly thick that we couldn't see through the school and felt as if we were in a snow globe of silver glitter. When we saw pelican feet dangling near us, we decided to swim away. The fish parted for us as we made our way to the next bit of coral reef. Here we saw many more varieties of brilliantly colored tropical fish - black and white striped sergeant majors;
We had a nice dinner, picked up NPR on our radio and as I was ready to hit the sack, I looked out at the night sky and marveled at the brightness of the stars. Next my eye caught something glowing in the water and as I looked down, I saw spots of glowing phosphorescence here and there around our hull. Chris and I watched for a few minutes and then, all of a sudden, the glowers were gone. A beautiful end of a beautiful day.
After leaving Tortola, we headed southeast to St. Martin/Sint Maarten - the tiny island sharing two nationalities. Last year we spent our anchorage time on the Dutch side at the noisy end of the international airport. Other cruisers related a unique pastime on Dutch Sint Maarten. Princess Juliana Airport runway starts right behind a public swimming beach. The guide books warn that if you go to that beach, you should tie your belongings down to prevent them from blowing away from the jet blast. Some idiots (no other word comes close) find it exciting to hang onto the security fence just as a jetliner powers up at the beginning of takeoff for the thrill of having their bodies blasted across the beach and into the water. The books say nothing about your brains.
This year we checked in on the French side and spent our anchorage time in French waters. Although we had more wave action here it was quieter and a much better decision. We had good holding and being outside of the lagoon, the water was beautifully clear.
One thing about the French though, is their belief in the "less is more" philosophy when it comes to clothing. Seeing women with no tops on is common place on the boats. When we arrived in Marigot Bay getting ready to drop the anchor, I heard some sort of power tool buzzing on the next boat over. I looked and was greeted by the butt of a totally naked man bent over doing some woodwork. I wondered if there shouldn't be some sort of warning on the tool like on some other appliances "Don't use toaster while in the bath" this one should warn, "Do not use sander while naked". Ouch.
We usually have to find internet connections at coffee shops or bars. While connecting at "Shrimpy's" bar on the Dutch side, a cat wandered the bench behind us and a few dogs meandered back and forth as is typical around here. After a bit, one of the dogs climbed on a stool at the bar. I expected to hear, "Hey bark-eeper, I've had a ruff day. Give me some of the hair of the dog that bit me."
We took the opportunity to visit the Saint Martin Butterfly Farm one day. It was lovely - all stages of butterfly life were visible with 10-20 different types of butterflies flitting about. The hardest part was trying to get photos.
Our Christmas in St. Martin was definitely unique for us. We dinghied in to the dock and walked to the little church for Mass. This church celebrates in three languages - French, Spanish and English. Makes for long services, but we certainly felt included. After Mass, we walked back to the dinghy and zipped back to Quest.
We decided to stay in St. Martin until after New Year's so that we could watch the fireworks from the harbor. This was reminiscent of our Fourth of July fireworks in Juneau. The display was wonderful and what we had hoped to be our farewell to St. Martin.
The weather, however, was the last word in that department. We were planning on a forecasted decline in the strength and direction of the trade winds. They had been blowing for the past two weeks 20-25 knots from the southeast with 35 knot squalls. The seas were 10-13 feet. In Marigot Bay, we had strong winds, but only 1 ft wind chop. Since we began our cruise in the Atlantic, we have come to learn that the weather is determined by the location and passage of cold fronts and areas of high pressure. This was the case as we waited to leave for Antigua.
A large cold front extended all the way from east of Bermuda down into the Caribbean. After nearly a week of waiting, the front finally passed and dissipated. The winds dropped to what the weathermen forecasted as 15-20 knot trade winds. We then waited one more day for the height of the seas to drop to the 7-8 foot range. With the winds in the high teens from the northeast and the seas about 7 ft, we hoisted anchor and headed southeast toward Antigua.
Since leaving the US east coast, we have discovered what life is like sailing eastward to the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. Our experience crossing from St. Martin to Antigua is an excellent example of how cruisers pileup in harbors waiting for weather and then leave en masse bashing eastward during a relatively moderate weather window. The eastward bound traffic sits in harbors while waiting out the passage of the continual march of cold fronts from the US mainland out into the eastern Atlantic. The bigger and heavier sail boats will leave shortly after the passage of a front with the wind in the high-teens. The smaller sail boats will wait another day or so for the wind and waves to calm slightly more. The power boats will wait even longer hoping for a window of near calm wind and seas. This process repeats itself every two weeks or so, depending on the passage of cold fronts.
We are currently anchored in nearly the exact place as last year, in our current favorite bay - English Harbor, Antigua. We just saw a woman kayak past. Chris did a double-take and asked me, "Is that woman topless?" Aayup - must be French.
Antigua is the place that Frommer's "Caribbean Ports of Call" book describes as "Sun, Sand and Sloth". Bring it on.