An Up & Down Day, Ended on a Good Note

Friday January 30, 2015

Genevieve & Jessica

This morning was a bit of an adventure.  Full of ups and downs.  Come to think of it, the whole day was like that really.

When we decided today that we finally needed to get our anchor up from Big Trunk Bay and move ourselves over to Tortola we had to go through the hassle of upping our stern anchor which had been pointing us into the wakes and swells (I forgot that this was the method we were using, not a bridle).  Matt had taken the dinghy over to pull it up but wanted to dive on it first.  Having left his snorkeling mask on the boat I thought I’d just toss it over to him since he was only about 50 feet away.

Yeah….kind of forgot I can’t throw an object of sustainable weight on a good day, let alone an 8 oz snorkel mask.  It didn’t even make it half way to him before it started sinking down into the water.  Well at this point in the morning I hadn’t even put my contacts in yet, so while I was being yelled at to retrieve it I scrambled to get from my pj’s into even part of a swimsuit and into the water while half blind.  Let’s just say that Matt’s mask was not recovered.

On my swim back from the search to the boat I ran into my first ever jellyfish with a bite to it.  I’ve swum through hunreds of those itty bitty things that are basically half the size of your palm.  I didn’t see whatever I ran into, but I know that it was painful.  Nothing I got tangled in, thankfully, but enough that it felt like I got caught in a swim by stinging from a few bees.  Once back at the boat I was able to get the rest of my suit together and took Matt out with the dinghy so I could motor next to him while he used my goggles to search for his on the seabed.

We could tell there was a bit of a current and that they had been most likely swept away further than we were willing to search.  Oh well, we’ll be back in Florida soon enough where we can buy him a new set and in the Bahamas and Caribbean again in a year to get some use out of them.  Motoring back to the boat we heard a call for help and suddenly realized that Matt’s snorkeling mask was not the only thing being swept away by the current.

There was a French flagged boat anchored behind us and in broken English we heard one man on board yelling to us that his friend went swimming and couldn’t make it back to the boat, could we please go get him.  We turned ourselves around to go behind the boat and found a man floating on his back about 150 feet behind the boat.  Luckily he was being smart and not tiring himself out by trying to fight his way back.  Coming slowly up to him we could see this poor man that was getting carried away had lost one of his arms, making what would have been a swim back even more difficult.

The dinghy from the boat he belonged to had just left with a few of the crew members, most likely to go to the Baths, and had we not been there, there’s no telling how or if he would have been able to get back.  Using his one arm to grab onto the lines of the dinghy we hauled the rest of him on and brought him back to his catamaran.  Just as we were dropping him off and his friend was helping him back on board we saw the other dinghy headed back.  We just smiled and waved as we headed back to Serendipity to get the anchor up and get moving.  Our good deed for the day had been done and we wanted to go before having to refuse a bottle of wine or any other kind of gifts, something we have found the French are famous for giving even for the smallest of favors.

With the sails up we were once again traveling in perfect conditions.  I seriously love the Virgin Islands.  15 knots of wind pushing us at 4 knots over calm waters to our next destination only 10 miles away.  If only all our sails could be like this.  Our intended stop for the night was Sea Cow Bay.  This is because in the bay right next door was Nanny Cay Marina, and sitting in that marina was my friend Brittany of Windtraveler.  Although I had been chatting online with her ever since her and her husband Scott left Chicago to go cruising in 2010, I already had the chance to meet up and hang out with her in the Exumas when we passed through there two years ago.  A ladies night on the beach that was quite fun and memorable.

We’ve still been keeping in touch and when we found out we were both going to be in the BVI’s at the same time we knew we needed to get together again.  Find a nice spot on the beach once more to drink a little (or a lot of) Sangria while she got some well deserved time off from watching her three adorable little girls, and I once more had a chance to get in some QT with a long long friend.  It sounded ideal.  Only, making it a reality was not quite as easy as I’d hoped.  Getting to the neighboring Sea Cow Bay, things weren’t looking very good for us.

Although our charts showed this as an anchorage, all we found when we pulled in was an extremely small space that has squeezed two sets of docks in, and what was supposed to be the anchorage was littered with moorings marked with milk jugs.  Which in my mind does not go synonymous with strong holding.  Something I’d normally be willing to forego this for one night, but the winds were beginning to pick up and these moorings were surrounded by land on one side, docks on another, and a reef on the other.  The only good place for us to drag if we did was into the channel and unfortunately we weren’t going to take that chance.  As much as it saddened me, I was going to have to give up my date with Brittany.

Road Harbor, Tortola

Road Harbor, Tortola

Moving just a few miles further up the coast we pulled in to Road Harbor and found that was lacking for spots to anchor as well.  With the sun getting lower in the sky though, we weren’t willing to find yet a new spot.  Pulling up to a mooring at the mouth of the bay we tied ourselves off and jumped online to an open signal we found.  Imagine my surprise when I saw a post from my other friend Genevieve that she was also in Road Harbor that night!

I first met Genevieve the same night in the Exumas when I hung out with Brittany, and we’ve been close online friends ever since.  She was also someone I desperately wanted to see while we were in the Virgin Islands, only I thought they were still in St. John at the moment.  Quickly typing in some messages while hoping I’d get a speedy reply, I asked if she was available to get together that night and if I could dinghy out to see her at the marina she was staying in.  Luckily I did get a quick reply and she said she’d be more than happy for me to come hang out.

Going through a lightning pace to make and then eat dinner, I was getting in the dinghy just as the last bit of dusk was turning the sky black.  It was an interesting motor to the interior of the bay, running into some in-water construction that I had to find my way around, but soon enough I was at Moorings Marina and wandering the docks while looking for Necesse.  It wasn’t too hard to find since it was one of the only two non-Moorings charter boats there, and before I knew it Eben was tying off my dink while I was jumping on the dock to give Genevieve a big hug.

Coming out to greet me as well were her two super cute daughters, Arias and Ellia.  I had come prepared with gifts for them and if they had been excited to see me at first, they were even more excited to tear into the coloring books and temporary tattoos I had brought.  Genevieve was given some milk chocolate that I had brought from the Canaries, and Eben, well…..sorry, I didn’t have anything manly for you except a Star Wars coloring book.

For the first 20 or 30 minutes the five of us sat in the cockpit where the adults enjoyed some wine and the girls (now joined by their boat friend) were trying out the tattoos.  Ellia looked a little sad when she came out to show hers and at first I thought Genevieve said it was because she was worried it would rub off too soon.  So trying to make her feel better I said, “Oh don’t worry.  I put one on before and it stayed on for a month!  I was pretty sure it was going to be permanent!”  When her eyes widened even more I found out she had originally been worried that her temporary tattoo was in fact never going to come off.  I probably scared the little thing half to death with my ‘assurance’.

Just after that though, all the girls went next door to s/v Mirador and it was just us adults left to hang out and drink wine.  Although I had never forgotten, I was instantly reminded what a cool couple Genevieve and Eben are.  The conversation never had a lull in it and there was plenty to catch up on since the last and one time we had seen each other.  They have a very interesting Rickshaw Run coming up in India in a few weeks, but there was also lots of talk of the Virgin Islands and things to do there.  I had been devouring Genevieve’s latest posts about the area and had plenty of questions for her.  I quickly leafed through their guidebook of the area since we did not have one, and Eben was even nice enough to write down a list of the ‘must-see’ places with our limited time here.

As that conversation was winding down we were joined by the adults of neighboring Mirador, Joaquin and Maria.  A bottle of Moscato was opened and the hours continued to fly by.  There was one casualty of the night when I kept pestering Eben to take out his tripod to get a group photo of us and there was a distinctive plop noise when the connector piece when in the water, of which I take full blame for since it wouldn’t have been brought out in the dark in the first place if it wasn’t for me.  Do you still need a replacement guys?, I promise I’ll have one sent to you.

Other than that the night was nothing short of perfect.  I stayed out way past my curfew (What?  It’s past 23:30? I have to go!!) yet was already counting down days until we might be able to hang out again, hoping we’d cross paths again before my long trip home to Florida.  For a day full of ups and downs this was definitely a high high, and the perfect way to end the night.

Ellia with tattoo

Arias with tattoo

Eben & Genevieve

Eben & Jessica

Maria

group shot

 

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Big Trunk Bay

Thursday January 29, 2015

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

We have found our own little slice of heaven here in Virgin Gorda.  A little secret I was tempted to keep to myself, but since I kind of let it slip in my last post anyway I may as well share it so that others can enjoy it as much as we have.  Are you ready for these three little words?  Big.Trunk.Bay.

Imagine that you are anchored in 15 feet of clear and pristine turquoise waters and just in front of that is a powdery white sand beach.  As if that wasn’t tempting enough, just behind this is a jungle of palm trees, and situated behind those are gigantic boulders rising out of the earth.

If that’s not enticing enough, just a few hundred feet down the shore is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders you’ll ever come across.  The Baths and Devi’s Bay. Enjoying it at your leisure, it’s just a quick dinghy ride back to your secluded paradise.  Less than a handful of boats may join you during the afternoon and once the sun begins to set it’s likely that you’ll have the entire place all to yourself.

This is where Matt and I found ourselves for three consecutive nights and had a very tough time tearing ourselves away from this morning.  Each day so far has been started with a cup coffee out in the cockpit followed by general lounging.  Afternoons have included a trip to the Baths, or snorkeling the offshore boulders.  Evenings are spent on deck with a cocktail in hand watching the sun sink behind the hills of Tortola.  At night the starts come out in the dozens and if the water is calm you can see the moon illuminate the sand below your boat.

Yes, this place seems to be as close as you can come to perfection. If there is one downside to this area though it’s that during the late morning to mid afternoon there are unfortunately a fair number of boats running people to and from the Baths which means you will get waked from time to time.  We had this along with just a bit of a swell coming through, but fixed it easily with a bridle pointing us west where the swell and wakes were coming from.

It’s safe to say that if we had more than just a few weeks to spend in the Virgin Islands we would have been in this spot for at least a week or maybe even more.  Although as it stands, we have other islands and eventually a panhandled state calling our name.  But now that the secret’s out you can enjoy this Shangri-la on your own.  Just don’t tell anyone I sent you.

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

View of Tortola from Virgin Gorda

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

Big Trunk Bay 2, Virgin Gorda

gatos del mar

Big Trunk Bay, Virgin Gorda

sunset over Tortola, BVI

sunset over Tortola, BVI

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The Baths of Virgin Gorda

Wednesday January 28, 2015

Matt & Jessica The Baths

After my incredibly necessary night with Kim and Jereme on Sunday night, we made our way to Spanishtown to check ourselves into the country on Monday.  It was such a surprise when we came out of Gorda Sound to find the close proximity of all the islands to one another.  Knowing that we just had to travel down the coast of Virgin Gorda a little further I kept looking at the chart plotter and then looking up to what I was seeing in real life and scratching my head.  Because what my eyes were telling me was that I was looking at Tortola, but my brain, which was so used to islands being 40 miles apart at a minimum, could not fathom that you could literally always see the next island you were sailing to.  I just expected a speck in the distance instead of lush hills right before my eyes.  But so it was.

After spending one somewhat uncomfortable and rolly night outside of Spanishtown, we knew that we wanted to visit the Baths at Virgin Gorda next.  Based on multiple friends blogs and posts we knew there were moorings available right at the park, but you could not stay overnight at them.  Motoring down the coast since we couldn’t see the need in raising the sails for a one mile jaunt, we ended up stumbling across a perfect little beach in which to anchor that was just a half mile up from where the Baths were showing on our charts. Anyone who has been here will tell you that The Baths on Virgin Gorda are an absolute must see.

What they are is a geological formation of granite boulders that are settled into the sand and shallow areas of the sea.  Filled with caves and small sea pools, they are an incredibly neat place to explore.  With some of the boulders having a diameter of over 40 feet, being dwarfed by them in such a beautiful location was not something I wanted to pass up. Making the move over to Big Trunk Bay on Tuesday morning, we made one attempt at the baths by just jumping in the dinghy and motoring over.  Having done no research at that point, we had no idea what to expect.

Puttering in front of these massive pieces of granite for the first time was definitely awe inspiring, and even though a lot of my friends had been going a great job of capturing them on (digital) film, nothing compares to seeing them first hand. What we had not been expecting this first day is that to get to the baths by water you need to park your dinghy about a hundred feet out and swim in through a partitioned off area.  Since I had my non water proof camera with me and no water proof case at the time, this attempt was going to be a no-go.

We were however able to pull up to a spot on shore half way between the main attraction and Serendipity, where we did wander the beach a little and tried to climb through caverns in these massive boulders to get to the main park, only to realize that swimming would be involved anyway.  On the beach we met some very nice vacationers who said it was well worth the effort to go back to the boat to drop off my camera and head back once more.  “You will never find anything like this anywhere else in the world”, they kept telling us.

It was obvious that, yes, we would need to come back here fully prepared.  Running back to Serendipity to drop off my camera as well as devouring a quick lunch, we were back in the dinghy and making the swim through the properly named bath like waters and toward the shore.  Taking a second to catch our breaths we then followed the crowds to find there was a trail head through the boulders that led to an area called Devil’s Bay.

Ducking through the crevice of the grand bedrock over our heads we quickly popped out in an area where we were surrounded by walls of rock that towered over our heads with just a small patch of blue sky above.  The open air was swiftly gone as we continued to follow the path into one of the caves made by the formation.  Inside was a waist deep pool of some of the most beautifully turquoise water I’ve ever seen.  Taking a little time to ourselves to explore we wandered in and out of cracks and gaps of the boulders, splashing through warm puddles and gazing at the natural wonders surrounding us.

The Baths Virgin Gorda

The Baths Virgin Gorda

The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda

Once we were finally back on track we followed fellow trekkers across the tops of slick rock while holding on to a rope along the side to help you keep your balance.  Getting let out at the end I made a graceful tumble into the ankle deep water and righted myself in time to continue on to other aids that helped us get across more trecherous areas.  One we actually found through you get get through without the little bridge if you can suck in your stomach to it’s limits to squeeze between a few boulders.

After one more steep ladder and then crouching under a few more boulders while scaling over others on a bridge, we were finally let out at the other side where Devil’s Bay awaited us.  Very much worth the maze, although truthfully that was just fun on it’s own.

The bay was a protected section of beachfront with boulders circling 2/3rds of the way around it.  Bright crystal waters gazed back at you and it was no surprise that the crowds were taking advantage of the refreshing waters and soft sand beach.  If there was a downside to the area it’s that it is in no way a hidden gem.  Everyone and their grandmother knows about it and will probably be visiting at the same time you are unless you happen to stop by first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon.  But for once, we actually didn’t mind the crowds.

Sitting in the sand we got in a great deal of people watching, and when it became too hot we moved ourselves to the giant shadows cast off by the rocks.  We both agreed that this place was unimaginably beautiful and there was no way we could make this our only visit.  Better prepped, we came back again once more stocked with a water bottle, snacks and the waterproof case for my camera.  We toyed with the idea of bringing our snorkel gear to make the swim in, something we had seen almost everyone else with a dinghy do, but we didn’t want to carry it around with us all day or pay for a storage locker.

If we didn’t have to keep our pace moving to see a few more of the islands, I imagine that we’d permanently park ourselves at Big Trunk Bay and make an almost daily trip to the Baths.  So my advice to you if you’re ever in or anywhere near Virgin Gorda is to see this natural wonder of the world.  Be prepared for some possible crowds, but otherwise, I don’t think there is any way you could be let down by this place.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.  I mean, just look at it…

The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda The Baths Virgin Gorda

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Laho!; Virgin Islands

Sunday January 25, 2015

Laho Virgin Islands

“btw, where do you think you’ll be in the Carib in Jan/Feb? Maybe we’ll be seeing you……”

“how the heck might you be seeing us in Jan??? We will be somewhere in the eastern carib for sure. I’m flying to Florida next week for a week (photo sessions) and then when I get back we are going to start moving again. We think we’ll be in the Virgin Islands by the end of the month. Who knows after that. What the heck are your guys’ plans???”

“I was hoping to see you in the Eastern Carib this winter…because we’re going to be back there! We just bought a new boat in FL, we’re crossing back across the Atlantic!”

“shut the hell up!!!!!!!!!!!!!! what did you buy and why?????????????? :))))

I am dying over here.

but excited you guys are going to be in the carib!”

 

still dying. hurry up and message me back. lol.”

 

It’s really fun to mess with your friends when you send them a message like that when they’re expecting you to spend the next two years in the Mediterranean.  This is this exchange I had with my good friend Kim from Lahowind when I let the news spill to her that we were in fact turning around and eventually making our way back to Florida.  As you can see, we were both excited at the prospect of seeing each other again so soon.

I won’t lie when I say that part of our schedule lately has been based on when we could meet up with our friends Kim and Jereme.  They were already entertaining family, but I was going to be damned if we were so close to each other and I missed out on a meeting.  With Matt’s “We need to get back to Florida to begin work on the new boat ASAP” mind frame, I knew that any chance I was given with Kim and Jereme, I had to snatch it.  So when they told us they’d be in Virgin Gorda on Sunday, we said “We’ll be there”.

Leaving St. Martin yesterday after making yet one more quick stop to Island Water World, we were on our way to the Virgin Islands in perfect conditions.  15-20 knot winds on the back quarter, sun shinning.  I’m not going to hide it from you….it was a perfect day to lay out on deck while getting rid of tan lines and sipping on the cheap gin we had just purchased at one of the mega marts in St.Maarten.

The evening and night went quite smoothly as far as sailing goes although it was quite nice except for the fact that there were actually boats to watch out for which we hadn’t seen since our sail from Lanzarote to Gran Canaria.  Moving along quite swiftly we actually had to slow ourselves down so we wouldn’t arrive before sunrise, and Matt woke me even a few hours early for my 8 am shift since he could barley keep his eyes open once it became light out.  Part of his vampire syndrome where he can only be active when it’s dark out.

Having stayed up to date on Kim’s blog with the little internet we were eventually pulling in Simpson Bay, I knew that Prickly Pear had spots to anchor, and even though Laho was going to try and take a spot near Saba Rock that night, we should still be in dinghy distance from each other.  Pulling into Gorda Sound just after 9 am, we dropped anchor in a near empty spot and fell heavily back into sleep until the early afternoon.  From there we tidy’d up a bit and swam in the beautiful teal waters until we were able to reach Kim and Jereme on the radio.  They had been coming from another spot in the BVI’s and we weren’t always in easy connection.

When I did finally reach Kim she told me they were running a little behind schedule and should be getting to Virgin Gorda around 5:30.  Since they had planned on making a delicious dinner for us on their boat but were apparently a sweaty mess and needed to clean up before we visited, we had no trouble pushing back our original 6:00 dinner reservation to 7 while they cleaned up and prepped the boat for us.

Virgin Gorda Sound

Laho in Virgin Gorda Sound

sunset in Virgin Gorda Sound

When we got the call on the VHF that everything was ready, we loaded ourselves into the dink along with a full cooler and a gin & tonic in my hands as we went to greet our long lost friends.  After getting easily lost in the dark anchorage but finding them surprisingly easily considering all the anchor lights shinning against the black sky, we climbed aboard to lots of hugs and excited chatter.  Kim led me below to watch as she prepped our baby back ribs and fed me a Laho dark & stormy that I admittedly hadn’t stopped bugging her aobut since she first blogged about it on her site.  Those liquids mixed in that cute glass?  How should I have been able to resist?

When dinner was served it was nothing short of amazing and the buffet style Kim had set up below deck worked out perfect for the six of us to grab plates and fill them with food at our leisure.  Oh that’s right, I forgot to mention the cousins!  Jereme’s cousin Lindsay and her husband Keith were visiting at the same time as us.  I do remember that they were extremely cool people that had extremely cool stories to tell, but I can’t remember all of it and I’ll tell you why in just a sec.

Jessica with margarita

Kim

cousins

I have a condtion and it seems to be that I’ve become a bit of a lightweight lately.  The gin & tonic I brought over with me?  One drink down.  The margarita that Kim made me with the tasty tequila she first let me sample in Bimini?  Two drinks down.  (Or should I say three by the strength Kim mixed it at, haha).  The delicious Dark & Stormy?  I was O-U-T.

Ok, maybe not like, passed out right away, but I definitely wasn’t completely with it.  I think I snapped a few photos of everyone enjoying themselves in the cockpit and may have commandeered one of our Canary Island beers from Matt.  I was still enough with it to pose for a few photos with Kim which I looked surprisingly sober for.  I am a little ashamed that my first day back with one of my good friends and I was not quite myself 60 minutes in….but I blame that on Matt for not drinking with me enough in the Canary Islands or having nightly sundowners on our passage.  Like that would have been a possibility anyway in the not-so-great conditions we suffered in for 2,200 miles.

Kim & Jessica

Photo courtesy of Lahowind

dark & stormies

laughs on Laho

So, even if I don’t remember every detail that happened, I do remember enough to know that I had a great time that night.  And the pictures prove that as well.  I had a least a little time to connect with Kim again while her margarita was working it’s way through my system and catch up on our last 10 months apart.

We’ve both traveled so far and experienced so much.  Yet the universe found a way in it’s heart to bring us back together.  A set of friends who’s bond was immediate and strong and has continued over moths apart and thousands of miles in distance.  I can easily say that I love this couple with all my heart and visiting them again, especially after the loneliness that followed me through the Atlantic Island of Europe, was enough to fill my soul and last me for months to come.  Plus these are the few people I know that would let fall asleep in a temporary tequila/rum coma on their coach roof, wake up with enough energy to make one joke about boobs before getting shoved into a dinghy to say good-bye, and still want to talk to me the next day.

Jessica & tequila bottle

laughs on Laho

Jessica & Jereme

 

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Mega Yacht Central

Saturday January 24, 2015

Yacht in Simpson Bay

Back when we were still doing pleasure cruises on Lake Michigan with Serendipity, there wasn’t much boat envy in our little home port of Muskegon.  At 34 feet we were actually on the larger side, or at least average, of all the boats in our mooring field.  Even though we did see the occasional yacht near Mackinac Island or Lake Saint Clare, we remained within 10 feet of everyone else until we cruised into Annapolis.

That’s when 34 feet began to feel a little small in comparison.  It’s also where I had my first breakdown about living on a boat.  I’m actually surprised it took that long.

From that point on we’ve been off and on with boats within, let’s say 15 feet of us, but without any mega yachts cruising the same grounds.  Sure, I got a little ecstatic on our first cruise over to the Bahamas when I saw a 120 ft yacht that I thought might be Tiger Woods (holy crap, we’re cruising in the same grounds as celebrities now!), but usually it was just us and other sailboats near our size from then on out.

If anything over 100 ft came wandering by we were glued to the deadlights wondering who these rich and/or famous people were that could afford such extravagant water crafts. Oh foolish me.  I thought 130 feet was as big as they came.  Or at least, the ones who would come into the same cruising grounds as us.

Well the tables have turned and now that we’re in the Eastern Caribbean in the height of the winter cruising season, we’re taking over the same areas that these mega yachts call home.  And I mean, the MEGA yachts.  I’m talking about the biggest boys any of these seas have to offer.

First there was Eclipse and Le Grand Bleu off St. Barths on our way in.  Eclipse is currently the largest yacht on the water measuring in at 536 feet, and although Le Grand .Bleu is only 371 feet, it carries a 73 ft sailboat on it’s deck as a toy.  Are you freaking kidding me?  Trust me when I say I was half tempted to contact them to see if they wanted to swing by Las Palmas on their way out of the Med and throw us up on deck as well so we wouldn’t have to make another Atlantic crossing.  I would have even worked in the galley for a shot at that ride back.

St. Barths is just a small slice of the pie though and many of the yachts move themselves to the lagoon in Simpson Bay where they sit at docks and have crews mercilessly clean them from top to bottom all day in the blazing heat.  These floating mansions arrive by the day and the best part is that while we sit anchored outside in the harbor, we get to watch the daily parade of them entering and exiting the small channel.  The smaller ones (under 150 feet) will normally wait for the appointed time for a bridge opening and line themselves up at which point we’ll normally fire up the AIS to gather intel on them.

These poverty-stricken yacht owners will pay the bridge fee of $300-$500 every time they transit out back into the bay.  The larger and wealthier yachts though prefer to transit whenever it’s most convenient for them and will hand over $1,000 to have the bridge open on their demand.  It’s actually disturbing how many choose this option.  But with all that money I’m sure $1,000 is just pocket change to them.  Although I’d gladly take it off their hands since that is the same amount we’re getting our monthly cruising budget down to.

Inside the lagoon we’ve also seen Steve Jobs’ (family’s) newest yacht, Venus.  It’s quite a different design and even though Matt had originally hated the looks of it from photos he instantly fell in love with it’s sleek lines upon seeing it in person.

All these mega yachts we’ve been coming upon recently though have me baffled by all that space.  Is it really necessary?  What are you even going to use it for?  You can easily entertain your guests on something much smaller, trust me. All you need is a decent cockpit and, ok, maybe an over-sized fridge and a well stocked liquor cabinet.  I have a feeling that if I were ever invited on such a sizable vessel I’d probably feel so out of place that I’d be hanging out with the crew, socializing with someone more on my economic level.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be hanging out in the galley and chatting with the chef as he prepared my rare premium cut steak before bringing it topside to savor with a select bottle of red wine while enjoying the sunset as a personal quartet played classical music in the background. Hey, you can’t blame a girl for wanting to enjoy a few of the perks that would come with it.

Yachts lining up

The daily line-up to get into the lagoon.

Yachts Z & Sea Owl

Mega Yacht in Simpson Lagoon

Yacht Ester III

I bet Ester III felt big…until Steve Jobs’ yacht pulled in next to it.

Steve Jobs' yacht Venus

Steve Jobs’ yacht….Venus.

Steve Jobs yacht Venus

Matt originally hated this yacht in photos but fell in love with it in person.

Mega yacht 'Z'

yachts in Simpson Bay Lagoon

Mega yacht Eclipse

Eclipse.

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Sint Maarten by Bicycle

Wednesday January 21, 2015

Maho Beach, St. Maarten

Enough was enough and it was finally time to get ourselves off Serendipity for a proper day of sightseeing. After a few false starts earlier in the week, we found ourselves at Island Water World this morning just after 9, ready to go. Not that we were about to take a tour of all the marine chandleries on the island, although I’m sure that could fill a full day as well, but we were there to take advantage of their bicycles. For a deposit of $50/day/person, they have a small group of bicycles to use and since we like free (or at least, returned money) to us it was worth it over taking the mini-van taxi’s across the island.

As we were handed over the keys to our locks, we hopped on and hobbled through the narrow path that leads to the front of the store and out to the main street. On to destination 1 for the day, Maho Beach. Probably one of the most famous stops on the island, it draws tourists from near and far for one reason. To have huge jumbo jets fly over your head as their tails seem to just skim above the water and the sand as they make their landing at Princess Julienne Airport. Ever seen a photo where there’s an extremely low plane, people, and water in the background? This is that place. Also referred to by it’s airport code, SXM.

Although there is a schedule somewhere or another of when the big planes land, we never found it and figured that if we stayed at the beach for an hour, something was bound to come careening in, right? Turns out, it is best to check the schedule first. Arriving so early may have been one of our downfalls, but as we set our bikes down in the sand at 10 am we overlooked a mostly empty beach and no planes on the horizon. Grabbing a couple of cold cokes from a drink stand set up to cater to the many needs of it’s hundreds of daily tourist, we sat to wait. 20 minutes and nothing.

Then over the horizon I could see the light of a plane making it’s approach. Getting all giddy and bouncing around like a child I grabbed my camera out to prepare for the moment I’d be squished like a bug….only to find out as it got closer that it was just a little puddle jumper. Three planes later and that was all I had come in contact with. At least the sun had started to poke out from the somewhat overcast sky and threw light onto the water turning it all shades of brilliant blues and turquoises. Plus the looming shadow of Saba was visible off in the distance and it was, for a short time, just a nice are to sit and be.

As the morning drifted on, more and more people began to show up at the beach, staking out seats in the sand just in front of the runway. There also appeared to be a photo-shoot happening where we spied (and tried not to stare at) a leggy blonde switching between different swimsuits in preparation of that perfect shot when a 747 would be above her head. It started to become that the only way we knew when a plane was coming (even just the smaller ones), is when her entourage would disperse from touching her up and she’d begin posing.

Then it was the moment we’d been waiting for all morning. A large jet was on it’s way in. A few private planes had already come through and sent their jet of air into the sand and crowd, but we were ready for something bigger. Gathering with the crowd at the mouth of the runway, we waited as the little dot grew bigger on the horizon and prepared to swallow us whole. Thinking that ‘Ok, this is the time the big guys are starting to come’, I lived the moment behind my camera lens and thought I’d wait for the next one to really experience it.

As it came over our heads it cast a shadow on the beach and left strong gusts in it’s wake. Cool to see come in, but apparently it’s when they’re taking off and flying over you that you get the winds that will knock you off your feet. As soon as it landed Matt turned to me and asked “So, ready to leave?”  I guess this wasn’t an all day plan of his and waiting around yet again to actually experience one of the big blows from an engine jet sans a camera up to my face wasn’t going to happen.

Princess Julianne Airport

waiting for a plane at Maho Beach

Maho Beach, St. Maarten

puddle jumper over Maho Beach

Back on our bicycles we took off on the long way around the island to get ourselves to the French side.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing on some minor hills and went to show me just incredibly how out of shape I actually am.  Losing 5 pounds on an ocean crossing does not equal fit.

There were some very lovely cottages we found along the way and some very large shopping centers nestled inside resorts that were very obviously for the rich and famous.  We’re neither, so we stayed far away.  Getting from Dutch Sint Maarten to French Saint Marten our next big goal of the day was finding lunch which also meant switching back from US to Euros.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’ll just let you know we didn’t quite care for the French side as much as the Dutch.  To us it was touristy and expensive and not what we were looking for.  Don’t get me wrong, if you’re headed there on a vacation or you’re willing to splurge a little I think you might enjoy it very much. French pastries and little cafes…. But since we’ve gone into a budget lockdown with all the increasing costs of rebuilding a boat we have yet to lay eyes on, we’re on the cheap route from here on out in the Caribbean.  Don’t feel too bad for us though…we’ll hopefully be back here in about a year and ready to make a few splurges.

Marjiot Bay, St. Marten

St. Marten

With our stomachs still rumbling we got back on our bikes to get to the cheaper Dutch side of the island.  It wasn’t until we were just about back to IWW to return our bikes and giving up on the idea of food altogether that we stumbled across a Colombian restaurant that one of our neighbors in the anchorage told us about.

Before I could even fully settle in my chair I had an ice cold Presidente in my hand and an order in for a shredded chicken meal served on fried plantains.  I had no idea what it was, but it sounded interesting.  It did not disappoint my expectations.  Holy crap.  In fact it was probably one of the best meals I’ve had in such a long time.  When I get back to Florida and have full run of a grocery store I might have to move heaven and earth trying to recreate it myself.

Colombian meal

I’m sure there’s still a ton to Sint Maarten and Saint Marten that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy or experience, but I’m not sad about that.  Even after just a week here we’re realizing that we want to come back in the new boat and see what the rest of the Eastern Caribbean has to offer.  A little more researched and with slightly deeper pockets.  And of course, with good friends by our side.

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Seeking Internet in Paradise

Tuesday January 20, 2015

boats at anchor in Simpson Bay

Sometimes finding internet while cruising can include many difficult things.  Like sitting in the blistering heat outside of Island WaterWorld while trying to pick up a barley there signal that keeps failing.

And sometimes it means visiting all the beach side resorts and ordering a beer so I can get the password to their wifi and then bringing it back to the boat to see if we can get the signal there with our long range device as well.  If this fails I have to fall into a routine of try and try again.

Sitting at all these beach resorts in the shade while sipping a cold Presidente and regaling my ocean crossing to resort guests while groups of men twice my age look at me in wonder that I was half of a crew that just sailed over 3,000 miles from Europe.

Drinking beer and chatting with friends I haven’t spoken to in a month while overlooking a pristine beach and all the boats at anchor is a very rough life.  But let me tell you my friends, I am fully up for these duties.

Presidente beer

resort overlooking Simpson Bay

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Unwinding in Sint Maarten

Saturday January 17, 2015

sunset in Simpson Bay

Who would have thought that after so much time on the boat, the last thing we want to do now that we’ve made landfall is get off the boat.  Maybe it’s because we’re in that two week period where we’re catching up on our loss of sleep.  Or maybe it’s because after three weeks of being stuck below deck in rough weather, we finally have the opportunity to use the cockpit again.  Yeah, that sounds like a winner to me, I’ll go with that answer.

All joking aside though, there is no reason we’ve wanted to get off Serendipity now that we can enjoy her in all her beautiful surroundings.  The views here from our deck are breathtaking, and while we’re still catching our breaths, there’s been no reason to abandon them by spending all our days ashore.

Take yesterday morning for example.  It was our first full morning at anchor after getting a very relaxing 12 hours of sleep.  After rolling out of bed a little after 9 am we turned on the Caribbean tunes wafting through the radio waves and put on a pot of coffee.   (Or AeroPressed a few cups, same diff).  Taking our drinks to the cockpit we let the gentle morning breeze roll over us as hundreds of little yellow butterflies fluttered through the air.  A mass hatching of some sorts.  This was ecstasy for Georgie as there were constantly moving targets floating past her on the deck to chase.  After a few swift moves, a few of them even ended up in her mouth.  Very good morning entertainment for us.

We have managed to get off the boat for an hour or two each day to find the Island Water World for boat supplies, and most importantly, topping off our propane tanks; and the grocery store and bulk food store to replenish our dwindling supply of food and alcohol.  No energy for exploring at the moment though, it’s always right back to the boat for a nap and relaxing.

The past few nights have been ended with a cocktail in the cockpit while watching the sun sink into the open horizon in front of us and watching the evening shuffle of cruisers either coming back to their boats or about to head out for a night on the town.

Although we know we have to be cautious with our time since the new boat is still beckoning to us and our stay in the Caribbean won’t be long, so far we haven’t felt the rush to keep busy or take in all of the sights just yet.  There will be time for that.  Right now we’re enjoying each moment.  Transitioning quite fluidly into Island Time and finding there is no rush for anything.

sunset in Sint Maarten

kids on sailboat, St. Maarten

Simpson Bay at dusk

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Champange Celebration

Thursday January 15, 2015

champagne celebration at Sint Maarten

After 28 consecutive days on the open ocean, we finally made landfall in St. Maarten this afternoon. Luckily today was the kind of day that we knew we didn’t have to beat the clock and there was no worry if we’d be pulling in after dark and therefore waiting just outside the harbor and staring longingly in while we wait at sea for just one more night. Not only did we have that exciting news to look forward to, but the conditions had finally turned favorable and it was a perfect day for sailing.

Still on a downwind tack, we had winds of 17 knots behind us and swells that had died down to about 5 feet or under. The sun was shinning and there was barley a cloud in the sky. As Matt woke me for my first morning watch at 8 am, we scrutinized our position on the chart plotter and our intended course to Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. Coming below St. Barths we would stay in deep water for a longer period and have a better transition into waters going from 10,000 ft to only 150 feet. Realizing that St. Barths was less than 10 miles from us I looked up at Matt and asked if he’d been able to make it out yet on the horizon. Telling me that he hadn’t, I did quick glance around thinking that there would be nothing out there…until I saw this huge peak sticking out of the water on our starboard side. St. Barths….it was the most beautiful thing anyone could see after two fortnights on the water.

In very high spirits now that there was A.) Sunshine for the first time in two weeks, B.) Some of the best sailing conditions we’d ever seen, and C.) A big hunk of paradise in front of my eyes, I went into full tropical preparation mode. At the top of my agenda was making my first cup of non instant coffee in a month. Lana Del Rey blasted out of the speakers and I daydreamed of what the next few weeks will have in store for us.

As St. Barths grew larger and I could make out details of the land I switched to some upbeat Enrique Inglesias and mixed a fruit juice spritzer as I planned land and beach based activities in my head and texted friends via our satellite phone to let them know I had been able to scream ‘Land Ho!’. I was also able to tell them of the mega yachts I’d already been spotting anchored outside of Gustavia Harbor, including Eclipse, the current largest yacht on the market at over 600 ft. I honestly thought it was a cruise ship when I first spotted it until I looked up it’s information through our AIS. Oh yes, we’re playing with the big kids now.

St. Barths from sea

Eclipse at St. Barths

Jessica sailing

When Matt woke up we took our showers in what again had been the first time in about six days. Be very thankful you were nowhere near us on this passages. Showers were so few and far between that our clothes could basically stand up on their own by the time they came off. But today was completely different. The sun was shining, I could keep my balance while using the foot pump in the head, and I even got a shave in. Operation ‘Caribbean-girly’ was in full swing. As I combed out my hair and put on my last bits of eyeliner and mascara I came out into the cockpit to find we were soon approaching St. Maarten.

Coming up from the SE side we were greeted with small cliffs followed by the harbor of Phillipsburg (filled with cruise ships, no thanks), we sailed on in the mid afternoon sun to Simpson Bay. There’s an option to anchor out in the big bay for a small charge or pay to go through the draw bridge and into the lagoon. This seems to be a popular thing to do but held no interest for us. I know I just spent 28 day straight staring at nothing but the big blue ocean, but I still want to keep it close. I miss it’s view if I’m away from it for too long.

I had been a little wary of what we’d find there since the photos in our guidebook were taken with a terrible camera, but we were in love as soon as our anchor hit the sandy bottom. Under our keel was 15 ft of beautiful turquoise water, to our starboard side was open water featuring a golden afternoon sun, and off our port were lush green hills with sandy beaches and resorts lining their foreground.

After breezing through customs and immigration (and having McDonald’s for dinner…I mean, come on. It was right there), we were back at the boat in need of a little R&R. Not before we could celebrate our crossing though. Ever since we left Michigan we’ve been carrying around a bottle of champagne that Matt’s sister had given us, waiting for the perfect occasion to open it. First it was supposed to be our friend Jackie’s 30th birthday in the Bahamas..but that didn’t happen. Then it was supposed to be when we passed the rock of Gibraltar….but that didn’t happen. So, covering 3,100 miles in one go? I think that deserves a toast.

Having picked out what I can only describe as the absolute perfect champagne for us, a Moscato since Matt likes things super sweet, we popped the cork and enjoyed our first hours of stillness in four weeks. Caribbean music floated through our speakers and Georgie delightedly wandered the decks again. Paradise, we have finally arrived.

Sint Maarten from the sea

kissing Georgie in Simpson Bay

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