April – May 2016: Antigua and St. Maarten

posted on
July 28th, 2016 by

April 17th: Jolly Harbour, Antigua – Pinney Beach, Nevis

We were due back at Simpson Bay Marina in St. Maarten on April 21st, when we would meet our friends Cat and Tim. We had a great weather window on April 17th, so we decided to leave and stay in Nevis for a few days. The perfect weather window was on Sunday, April 17th. I thought about checking out on Saturday, but the guide indicated that customs and immigration kept normal office hours on Sunday – supposedly opening at 8:00. I headed over to the office a little after 8:00, and found another boater waiting outside. He told me that the Port Authority and Immigration officers were present, but not Customs. We waited for about fifteen minutes, and then he asked the Immigration office if she knew when the Customs office would show up, to which he got a loud response – “I am Immigration, not Customs”. My fellow boater gave up at around 8:30 and went back to the marina office to do his checkout there. Amazingly, just after he left, the Immigration officer came out and told me the Customs guy would be there I five minutes. After he arrived, the checkout process was quick, except the Port Authority officer told me that our original 30-day permit had expired, and that I should have renewed it – but then she checked us out with no further fees. We left the marina and set out for Nevis in dead-flat seas. Once we arrived, we picked up a mooring ball. After we picked up the ball, the wind changed directions, and our beautiful Warriors flag blew into the hot stack and melted – d’oh!

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                                Nevis sunset                                             Our short-lived Warriors flag

 Position at destination: 17°09.145’N, 62°37.869’W
Air temp: 82, Humidity: 68%, Water temp: 83.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 47.09   Total: 9805
Departed at 9:45am, arrived at 4:15pm

April 17th – 20th: Pinney Beach, Nevis

We woke Monday to overcast skies and light winds. We went to check in, and just as we got back, the skies erupted. It rained quite a bit over the next few days, and we stayed on board. The following morning we discovered that the forward head was continually flushing. We used the breaker to turn it off, and I attempted to troubleshoot it. I believed the problem was a faulty control board. When we replaced the head in our stateroom, I kept the old control board, employing some rare forward thinking. I contacted the manufacturer, and they believed it could be either the control board or the solenoid. We had ongoing trouble with the solenoid, usually when a particle got into it, causing the water to flow. We had ordered some new solenoids, but when I looked at them, I realized they were totally different from the one in use, requiring some re-plumbing. Replacing the control board would also be very difficult – it required taking the back cover off of the toilet, which was glued in place. We decided to wait until we got to St. Maarten to try to fix it.

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                         Very unusual design                                               Stormy weather around Nevis

April 20th: Pinney Beach – White House Bay, St. Kitts

We decided to shorten the trip to St. Maarten a bit by staging to White House Bay. Also, we were subjected to some rolling in the Pinney Beach anchorage, despite the calm appearance of the water. We were allowed to check out of Nevis without having to check in at St. Kitts, as long as we left within twenty-four hours.

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                     More storms over St. Kitts                                  Salt Plage bar at White House Bay

Position at destination: 17°15.107’N, 62°39.501’W
Air temp: 80, Humidity: 74%, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 6.71   Total: 9811
Departed at 11:15am, arrived at 12:30pm

April 21st: White House Bay – Simpson Bay, St. Maarten

We left White House Bay at first light, and had a nice cruise up the lee shore of St. Kitts. It was windy, with gusts up to thirty knots, but the seas were calm. Once we rounded the north end of the island and turned northwest towards St. Maarten, we did experience some fairly large quartering seas, but the ride was reasonable. Despite a forecast of fifteen knots, the wind blew twenty to thirty all day – we felt fortunate that we weren’t heading into it. Once we entered Simpson Bay, we went as close to the bridge as we could before anchoring, and we had decent protection from the fetch. We put down the dinghy and checked in, and then we went in search of a bar to watch the Warriors playoff game. From the water, we saw a place that had a bunch of big screens, so we checked it out. It was The Harbour, and they said they could put the game on for us, which wouldn’t start until 9:00PM. We went back at game time, which was a big win.

Position at destination: 18°02.120’N, 63°05.896’W
Air temp: 81, Humidity: 60%, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 56.86   Total: 9868
Departed at 6:00am, arrived at 4:15pm

April 22nd – 29th: Simpson Bay Marina

The next morning we went into the marina, and we were directed to a slip on the east side. There was a cross wind, and I had to get a push from the marina tender to get into the slip, which was just a short finger on one side. After we checked in, we discovered that this was carnival season, and that getting work done would be tough. We worked for a while on the toilet. We managed to get the back cover off with a lot of difficulty, but I could not figure out how in the world to get the old control board out. Defeated, we decided to call a marine plumber. But with the carnival vacation season on, we couldn’t get anyone to come out in the near future. We would have to ask Cat and Tim to use the breaker for flushing – not the end of the world.

Our friends arrived on the 25th, and we took them over to the Fat Turtle. We were surprised to find that the restaurant was closed, but we could still use the pool. Unlike our earlier visit, there were just a handful of superyachts at Isle del Sol – apparently most had left for the Mediterranean already. We took our own bar over and enjoyed the pool.

The dinghy incident

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                   This sign is there for a reason                   Tim and Cat on the beach – calm before the storm

The next day, we took Cat and Tim over to Maho Beach, world famous for the very close landings by the incoming jets. The sea was pretty calm, so we went by dinghy. We anchored it about twenty-five feet off of the beach and waded in. The beach had a steep incline, probably around 30°, then there was a flat section around thirty feet wide, followed by a double lane road and then the fence. After a couple of planes had landed, a Jet Blue A320 taxied to the end of the runway for takeoff. Rosé and I were standing about two-thirds of the way up the beach. When the jet spooled up its engines for takeoff, we were hit with a very powerful hot blast of air, mixed with sand. The blast was powerful enough to knock us down, and it was painful with the sandblasting. When I picked myself up, I looked out to the water, and to my horror, I saw Little Blend floating upside down. The jet blast had been powerful enough to lift it up into the air, and when the anchor chain caught, it slammed back down in the wrong direction – Tim witnessed it. We immediately swam out, and with the help of three other guys, we managed to right it. In a state of near panic, I made a mistake and tried to start the engine. One of the rules when your outboard is submerged is not to start it before flushing it. Needless to say, it didn’t start. We towed it out of the jet blast path. Our only option was to get a tow, so I used the phone to check for a towing service. I was surprised to find out there were no commercial towing services in St. Maarten. I called the Sea Rescue place, but they would only tow in an emergency. They gave me another number to try. That guy gave me another number, and that guy (lots of that guys) said he was in Marigot, and couldn’t come down. I then called the marina, thinking they might know someone, and they said they could send one of their tenders over – whew!

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         Landing planes were not the problem                             The offending Jet Blue A-320

It only took about fifteen minutes for our rescuer to arrive, and soon we were back at the marina. The dockhand knew a Honda mechanic and called him, but he couldn’t come over until late. Tim and I started to work on the engine. We sprayed it down liberally with fresh water, then we pulled the plugs and started to work on them. We sprayed copious amounts of WD-40 and carb cleaning fluid on the plugs and into the cylinder, and then reinserted the plugs and tried to crank the engine. Wash, rinse, repeat. After we did this operation, the engine was trying to start, but we couldn’t keep it running. After a few more cycles, we got it to stay running. The process took about an hour and a half. At this juncture, the outboard mechanic showed up, and said that we had done most of his work.

He had us raise the dinghy to change the oil, which looked like cappuccino. He pulled the carburetor and cleaned it thoroughly, and pulled a lot of the wire connections to clean them with fluid. We put the dinghy back in the water, and the engine started and ran well – we had dodged a big bullet. The mechanic wanted to pull out the starter the next day to be sure it was okay. I thought his time was going to be really expensive, but he only charged $25 per hour. The incident could have been much worse. We only lost my tee-shirt, a $20 tip to the marina tender driver, and $100 for the mechanic. We had left our flip-flops in the dinghy, but they floated, and Rosé retrieved them. After all of this, it was past 8:00PM, so we adjourned to the Mexican restaurant for some much-needed drinks and food.

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                                                Hard at work getting Little Blend back in shape

Island tour

After the Great Dinghy Incident, we decided to play it safe by staying on shore. It was Carnival in St. Maarten, and on Wednesday morning, they held the 4:00AM jump-up in Philipsburg. We rented a car and drove over there around 10:00. What we saw was the carnage left by people drinking all night. Lots of people were passed out on the sidewalks and buildings, and there was evidence of powdered paint, as well as a ton of plastic garbage. There were still a lot of revelers wandering around, but for now, the drinking had stopped. We walked over to the beach for some drinks and shopping.

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            Having drinks on the waterfront                            Cat enjoying her Pineapple Champagne160425 SXM 1

On our island tour, we had lunch at Dawn Beach, just before the French border, and we had some drinks at Orient Beach before returning to the marina. Also being from the Bay Area, Tim and Cat are Warrior fans like us, so we were watching playoff games with them. We watched a Sunday afternoon game at The Harbour, where Tim discovered a very, um, creative urinal design. Say no more.

April 29th: Simpson Bay – Anse Columbiere, St. Barths

We took Cat and Tim to see St. Barths for her birthday. She had a special request for drinks – a Pineapple Coconut Champagne cocktail:

Pineapple Coconut Champagne Cocktail

Ingredients

  • Pineapple Juice well chilled
  • Coconut Juice Blend well chilled
  • Champagne or Prosecco well chilled
  • Simple Syrup
  • Unsweetened finely shredded coconut

Instructions

  • Pour some simple syrup in a small bowl and the shredded coconut in another small bowl. Dip the top ¼ or so of your champagne glasses in the simple syrup and then in the shredded coconut making sure the rim is well coated. Set aside to dry a little
  • Fill each champagne glass with 1 ½ ounces of EACH pineapple and coconut juices. Fill the rest of the way with the champagne or Prosecco. Serve immediately.

We all enjoyed the drinks, and we had a pleasant cruise to St. Barths. Based on our previous experience with the rolly outer harbor at Gustavia, we stayed in Anse Columbiere, a protected anchorage on the north end with mooring balls. With the swells, and four of us in the dinghy, it was a slow and wet ride to Gustavia, but much better than rolling all night. We walked around Gustavia doing some shopping (more like looking, with the St. Barths prices), and had some of the most expensive hamburgers we have ever had, at $20 each – well, that’s St. Barths. Once back on board, Tim did some snorkeling and we had more drinks on the beach.

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            The inner harbor at Gustavia                                                      Cat and Lucky

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                           Tim and Rosé                                                  Anchorage at Anse Columbiere

Position at destination: 17°55.473’N, 62°52.128’W
Air temp: 87, Humidity: 62%, Water temp: 83.5
Nautical miles for this leg: 17.08   Total: 9885
Departed at 8:15am, arrived at 11:30am

April 30th: Anse Columbiere – Simpson Bay

The next morning we awoke to a problem – our two-drawer freezer in the pilothouse was not running. We pulled it out, and determined that it was getting power, so there wasn’t much we could do about it. We transferred what we could to our small freezer in the salon, and gave out the rest to the boaters in the anchorage. It was definitely another d’oh! moment. The cruise back to Simpson Bay was fine, but once we dropped the anchor to wait for the 5:00 bridge opening, the rolling was terrible. We had read about this, but not experienced it in our previous stays. Fortunately, we only had to wait for an hour and a half, and I was able to check us back in to the country. Once through the bridge, we docked without incident, but it began to rain hard. Tim and Cat left to find a hotel for the rest of their stay – they probably had enough of the SS Broken Boat.

Position at destination: 18°02.120’N, 63°05.896’W
Air temp: 85, Humidity: 67%, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 16.19   Total: 9901
Departed at 12:45pm, arrived at 3:30pm

We met up with them for dinner the next night before they returned to California. Now that Carnival was over, we were able to get some work done on the boat, including the faulty guest head and the freezer. The head just needed a replacement control board – fortunately, we had kept the control board out of the master head toilet when we changed it out, so it was a simple fix. The freezer had a bad power converter. Technically, it was supposed to work on either AC or DC, although I had never been able to run it on DC. We found that the original installer had crossed up the DC power and ground wires, which explained that particular problem. The refrigeration repair shop had a generic DC power converter that would work, and I was happy to have it run on DC only. We also contracted with the shop to overhaul all of our air conditioning units, which of course turned out to be much more of a project than we had anticipated.

The day that Tim and Cat left turned out to be miserable for them. They had an 8:30 flight out, but there was a problem with their airplane, and they didn’t get to leave until almost 6:00PM – ouch! A fitting end for their adventure on the SS Broken Boat. Finally we had everything fixed, so it was time to resume our cruise.

May 1st – May 13th: Simpson Bay, St. Maarten

We would end up spending two more weeks in St. Maarten, fixing various things on the boat, including the air conditioning overhaul, which took more than a week. We had also noticed that the temperature reading for the generator was low, which turned out to be a faulty sending unit. Shortly before leaving the marina, we found that we could not close our port pilothouse door. It had been problematic for some time, but we had been able to close it with some lubricant on the latches. But this time, we saw that the hinge was sprung. I took it off and soaked it overnight in oil, but I wasn’t able to straighten it out. By removing the hinge, we could bolt the door shut. Fortunately, we were able to order replacement hinges from Nordhavn, to be delivered in Antigua. This was a parting shot for our St. Martin problems.

In addition to finishing up repairs, we watched more of the Warriors playoff games. Our usual joint wasn’t working out, as they had only one receiver, and there seemed to be some hockey fans that had tuned in to games before ours would start. One night while walking back to the marina, we saw a twenty-four hour café on the road that had several televisions. We checked, and they said that they really were open all night. We went in three times at 10:00PM to watch games – it was amazing how much food business the café did that late at night. The Warriors closed out Portland, so we were happy campers, going back to the boat at 1:00AM.

We made a couple of big provisioning runs to Cost-U-Less and Le Grande Marche, knowing that provisioning in Antigua was more expensive. We also visited Orient Beach on the French side again. Our friend Marty, who would be visiting us in Grenada, asked if we could get him a tank top at the Bikini Beach store. Amazingly, we found the store, and they had the tank – maybe our luck was turning around.

We really enjoyed St. Maarten. It’s an inexpensive place for provisioning, and has some of the cheapest liquor prices we have ever seen. There are lots of reasonable bars and restaurants, especially for Chinese food. We took advantage of the pool at the super yacht Isle del Sol, and other than the repair work and the dinghy incident, we had a great time.

And on a strange note, a catamaran pulled into the dock next to us near the end of our stay. It had, well, an unusual name: Corpse Pounder.com.

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                   The margaritas were big at Jimbo’s Mexican Restaurant

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                                                                  Scenes from Orient Beach

May 14th: Simpson Bay – White House Bay, St. Kitts

We decided to break up the cruise back to Antigua by stopping for the night in White House Bay in St. Kitts. In order to leave early in the morning, we left the marina to catch the 5:00PM bridge opening, then we anchored in Simpson Bay. The conditions weren’t rolling as bad as our previous stopover, but it was pretty uncomfortable, despite the lack of wind and apparent lack of a swell.

We left early in the morning with a favorable forecast, but it didn’t last long. We had a steady swell hitting our port bow all day, occasionally big enough to roll us somewhat. During the day, we checked in the salon for movement of loose items and doors, but things seemed to be okay. Once we rounded the north shore of St. Kitts, conditions improved. However, shortly before we reached White House Bay, we found that the salon refrigerator (which is installed parallel with the beam) door had swung open, and stayed open. The latch doesn’t work well, and now we had a mess. The refrigerator had completely warmed up, and the ice in the tray had melted – and the water poured out into the salon as we rolled. Complicating this concern was the presence of a St. Kitts patrol vessel as we approached White House Bay. St. Kitts has a very strict rule about anchoring in White House Bay – you cannot be there unless you have checked in at Basseterre, which we learned was a real pain on our previous stop. We had seen some boats get citations in the bay. Knowing that we would be arriving at the end of the day on a Saturday, we decided to take our chances, but seeing the patrol boat put some fear into me. We slowed down, and the boat continued to Nevis, so we were okay. We cleaned up the mess, but the episode was certainly depressing. It would take more than twenty-four hours for the small refrigerator to cool down again.

Position at destination: 17°15.107’N, 62°39.501’W
Air temp: 82, Humidity: 65%, Water temp: 83
Nautical miles for this leg: 58.32   Total: 9960
Departed at 6:50am, arrived at 5:50pm

May 15th: White House Bay – Jolly Harbour, Antigua

160514 NevisWe left at first light before the patrol boats were active. As we rounded the south end of St. Kitts, the winds were light and the seas were calm. But as soon as we turned east towards Antigua, we got slammed with thirty-knots of wind and six-foot seas on our bow, making for a very uncomfortable passage. We pounded all day long into the gale, which wasn’t in any forecast. About eight miles off of the west coast of Antigua, the seas started to calm. By the time we entered Jolly Harbour, you would not have known that there was any wind at all. We were greeted by extremely loud music – apparently this was the pre-Carnival kick-off. We checked in to a fairly empty marina. Note that we passed 10,000 nautical miles during this passage!

Position at destination: 17°03.959’N, 61°53.064’W
Air temp: 88, Humidity: 50%, Water temp: 82
Nautical miles for this leg: 48.97   Total: 10,009
Departed at 6:10am, arrived at 2:45pm

May 15th – June 5th: Jolly Harbour

The Hinges

One of our first orders of business was to get our hinges. I checked with the tracking information, which indicated they had arrived at the marina. However, the office handed me a slip of paper which was actually called a detention slip. The hinges were being held in Customs at the airport. I could either hire an agent to clear them, at $70, or go to the airport myself in a rental car, at $40 – an easy choice. Steve went with me, as he had recently had to free some golf cart parts from detention. We went to the main terminal and asked for Customs. Unfortunately, they told us we needed to go to the air freight terminal; Steve’s part had been brought in by friends as passengers – cargo went to the Liat freight terminal. We drove over to the freight terminal, and I found FedEx. They gave me a form to take to Customs at the terminal, and then the officer retrieved the hinges. They asked me to open the package, and laughed when they saw it was only four hinges. They cleared them without charging duty. But, these hinges cost $40 for four of them, plus an additional $80 for shipping, and $40 for a rental car – I felt like they were made of gold.

Sailing and snorkeling

Steve and Joan invited us to go sailing with them. On one trip, they took us out to Cades Reef, just off the southwest corner of Antigua. It’s a big reef, but it’s not as healthy as we would have liked it to be.  But Steve was very excited to use his new anchor – we had brought him a Rocna from St. Maarten, at a significant discount to what it would cost in Antigua.

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On a different occasion, we joined Steve and Joan for a cruise down to Turner’s Beach for a swim and lunch. Joining us were local people – Brendon, who was working for Steve on his boat and golf cart, and his wife, who was doing housecleaning for Joan.

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              The skipper was brave and sure                                    Vivi, Queen of S/V Salty Dog
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              First Mate Joan, looking good                                                   Turner’s Beach

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                       Where’s lunch?                                                        Salty Dog at Turner’s Beach

Our exit plan

We had kicked around the idea of getting a villa in Jolly Harbour during our previous visit, but we hadn’t decided if we were ready to end the cruising life. Perhaps after the annoying boat problems we had been experiencing, we came to a decision that we were ready to plan for life after cruising. We also realized that unlike some cruisers, we didn’t really want to spend years cruising in the Caribbean. Our original plan had been to consider a circumnavigation, but that’s a three-year commitment on its own. We also weren’t too keen on cruising to the Mediterranean, as the EU regulations on bringing a boat there are rather difficult. We decided to take a serious look at available villas in Jolly Harbour.

Most of the villas for sale had the wrong orientation for us – they had patios on the western side, which meant getting blasted by the sun and heat every afternoon. We also wanted to be where the breeze blew through the unit – it’s enough to mean you rarely use the air conditioning. We focused on one unit located at the west end of the harbor – it had a great view with the right orientation. It was extremely rough inside, but we plan to totally remodel it anyway. We made a fairly low offer, and it was accepted! Now, we would have to wait to get the non-citizens property license, a requirement for foreigners purchasing property in Antigua. We were advised that the process could take up to six months, so our closing date was fixed for the end of November. Now we just had to work out our plan for the next year or so.

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             The view from our future home                                       The villas at Jolly Harbour

 

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