Monthly Archives: May 2013

Strange Brew

You can hear it coming for a minute or more. One second you’re gently swaying to the anchor in a peaceful lagoon and the next you’re lurching, springing back due to the elasticity in our rope bridle after reaching the end of our anchor rhode, hoping that it holds. It’ll go from 5-10 kts to 35 kts in one of these williwaws which happen quite frequently, many times an hour. Apparently these winds are called catabatic winds and it’s cool or dense air that builds pressure at the mountain tops only to burst down through the warm air layer in the valleys. I first noticed them in Charlotte Amalie but it’s definitely more intense here. It’s a little disconcerting but I’ve learned the to chant the cruisers’ mantra…she’s gonna hold, she’s gonna hold, and so far she has.

We are waiting for the eight foot sea state to calm down a bit before we venture out again but time is growing short so we shall see. Heading south and passage weather dominate most conversation at the sailor bars. The lagoon on the Dutch side, at least, has thinned out considerably. Yesterday S/V Magus anchored next to us broke free of her anchor and headed for the barn (Barnacles Bar) and several cruisers got to her just before she hit the docks at that fine establishment. Turned out to be a broken link in her chain. That does not fill me with confidence, EV’s chain looks like it’s been around the world, which it has, but that’s got to count for something.

Andrew, our autopilot man, returned our AP ram today and with renewed confidence and a new set of brushes, it looks like we may have a functioning AP system. It had many problems but most were of the adjustment and why-the-hell-did-he-do-that variety. It’s no longer drawing huge amounts of current and shouldn’t overheat the autopilot computer anymore. With fingers crossed and touching wood because the problem with autopilots is the only way to truly check them out is to leave on an ocean passage. They all work great in harbor.


In the meantime many niggling projects are being addressed and St Martin is apparently one of the last stops for lots of reliable chandleries as we head south for a summer rendezvous in Grenada, out of the path of your average hurricane.

That’s life on the water.

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Is there gas in the car?

With Mark and Sue aboard our dink we head off to explore Marigot, on the French side of St. Martin. The dink can’t get up on plane with four adults aboard so it’s a long, windy, and wet slog into wind and waves to reach this charming town. They are negotiating a deal for a new inflatable, or as one wag on the Mantatech list calls it, a deflatable. We all got a more than a little salty with spray so I don’t think I did inflatables any favors.

I’ve been here before, and unlike St. Thomas the synapses start firing right away and soon I am oriented. I was on a shoot here several years ago and had the opportunity to sail in Stars & Stripes, a Dennis Connor 12 meter Americas Cup race boat. They have a little race with a couple of classic 12s, we won but after the race was finished I asked if I could hold the wheel for a minute. Our skipper was only too happy to oblige and I sailed that fabulous boat around the harbor for 20 minutes. Awesome!

We duck into shops and Bistros with a Gallic Caribbean flair…not us, just the proprietors. I point out Ft Lewis, guarding Marigot Bay from the top of the mountain overlooking the harbor. Marce recognized that I’d taken photos from up there when I was last here.





I think the French do this island thing best but when I asked our waitress which was her favorite side she immediately said oh the Dutch side of course, they really know how to party!

Be that as it may, the Dutch side has the serious chandleries so every day we make a run to that end of the lagoon right past Lagoonies, a small French Bistro where Marce has already had a run-in with their snooty French waitress, who as Mark says, seems to think that they are not happy until you’re not happy.

It’s amazing how much we still need from these stores, and to top it off the autopilot ram is out from under our bed and in the shop. Again.

We all pile back into the dinghy and start the long slog back to the anchorage but before long the trusty Yamaha outboard sputters and stalls. Now Dear Escapees, our outboard doesn’t do that and I had lifted the tank to guess at the amount of gas before we left. Oops…it’s considerably lighter now, in fact it’s bone dry. I may have to recalibrate my weight to gas algorithms.



Out come the oars and now we’re rowing back into a pretty stiff breeze but inflatables don’t row very well so when a French couple with a dog in their dinghy offers us a tow to the gas dock, in between gasps for air, I say thank you. Ok, that’s embarrassing, but with a full tank and hearts just as full for that French couple, we gratefully lay a course for the anchorage.


We are beginning to get a feel for the Caribbean in the off season with shops on reduced hours or just plain closed. One wonders where they go for vacation.



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The butcher’s bill

The butchers tab from this last short bash to windward is getting longer every day. At first blush we’d thought that Escape Velocity had just shrugged off a fairly serious pasting but time has revealed that our LED TV smashed itself silly on a block of wood that apparently was partially screwed into the cabinet intended to keep the TV from smashing itself silly. Its a substantial bill.

Marce’s bruises – healable
One broken Buddha’s knot – glue-able
One Jib – irretrievable
One LED TV – replaceable
One autopilot ram – fingers crossed, touching wood -repairable

Make it so…please make it so.

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Hometown welcome

We had a rainy couple of days here in St. Martin. Friday we spent the morning aboard reorganizing our equipment manuals so we can put our hands on the one we want without disassembling an entire shelf of binders.


When the rain finally stopped we wandered around the Dutch side, found a grocery store and knocked a few items off our list at the chandleries. We ended up at Barnacles for happy hour and a rainbow.



After the rainbow the rain came with a vengeance. We moved under cover but the rain kept finding us until we ended up sitting at the well-protected bar. We looked up and found our favorite Pennsylvania teams well-represented up on the ceiling.




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The view from the back porch


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Party time

We learned when we got to St. Martin that the next day was Sue’s birthday. We initially planned to eat at a nearby curry restaurant but in the end Mark and Sue invited us and another couple aboard Macushla. We all agreed home cooked is better and Mark and Sue really put on the Ritz with an amazing spread. We dug out a bottle of Prosecco and puréed a couple of mangoes for a Caribbean version of Bellini cocktails. After all, what’ a birthday without bubbles? To add to the drinkable bubbles we brought little bubble wands to surround the birthday girl with a happy punctuation to our serenading.


We enjoyed meeting Meryl and Walter from Flying Cloud, and it turns out we just missed meeting them in Oriental, NC. We were all there at the same time, and they even ate Thanksgiving dinner at the cruisers’ buffet where we did. As many boats as there are out here, we’re always surprised at what a small world it really is.


Mark and Sue kept the food and drink coming and as the wind blew outside we had a warm and cozy evening full of stories and laughter until well past our bedtime.


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Measuring the Marigot

Finally free of the clutches of the Coasties we dropped Mark and Sue’s dinghy off at Macushla and they piloted us to the French side of St. Martin to check in and check out the town of Marigot. The customs and immigration office was closed for lunch so we got the Tour of Essential Places which included the market and the boulangerie. Jack remembered Marigot from his trip here on a job a few years ago — nice work if you can get it — and I even recognized it from his photos.






Eventually the customs office reopened and we got checked in, then we took Mark and Sue back to Macushla for their dinghy and they showed us the wonders of Budget Marine, Island Water World, another chandlery, and the watermaker supply place. Boater heaven!

We ended the day at happy hour at Barnacles close to where we’re anchored. Our next dilemma is that we are checked in on the French side but anchored necessarily on the Dutch side because the new and as yet uncharted bridge is not scheduled to open again for a few days. So do we fly our French courtesy flag here in Dutch territory? We decided to play ignorant and not fly a courtesy flag at all. Perhaps not cool, but at least people will just think we’re stupid rather than rude.


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This does not compute

Ahhhh…My first cup of fresh brewed coffee in what feels like days. We rarely manage coffee on one of our gonzo windward bashes so this is especially satisfying.

I’m anxious to do my morning rounds, due to the fact that I couldn’t really see where we were last night when anchoring. I grab that fresh cup of hot Joe and step out onto the side deck to an overcast world blowing a good twenty five kts which feels normal to me these days.

Not too bad. I had anchored in formation off a large ketch which in the morning light has a wild “starry night” paint job in blue and yellow, hoping that he hadn’t done anything stupid like anchor in the channel. He didn’t and neither did we. The strange shadows and shapes of last nights fun house approach to Simpson Bay start to make sense as I make my way forward scanning the anchorage and inspecting the rigging on the way. It’s difficult to see the canal to the bascule bridge but it must be here somewhere. Another sip of coffee and I think I can see the blue steel superstructure of the bridge into the lagoon. Not bad at all. There are quite a few yachts about so I’m going to call the bridge opperator on VHF to make sure we’re in the queue for the inbound 9:30am opening. As I turn to walk back to the cockpit I stop dead like a cat that has noticed something has changed. Something’s not right but I’m so exhausted and with just five hours of sleep I decide to think about it later.

Great, the bridge operator speaks English. After our check-in I hear several other boats call in so it’ll be a scrum at the…


Where the F#*K is the jib??!? The old torn sail, lashed securely on the side deck for 1000 miles of upwind sailing is gone. The bag is still tied securely but the sail has somehow been suck right out and now sleeps with the fishes. At least now we don’t have to decide whether to spend the money to repair it.

We got through the bridge at 9:30 and slowed to a crawl as we tried to comprehend the dozens of channel markers leading us to what was supposed to be the way to the French side of the lagoon only to be stopped by a bridge. A bridge that was not on the chart. We looked at the bridge, back at the chart, back at the bridge. Sure enough, it’s not on our up-to-date Navionics chart, it’s not mentioned in the guide book or the online piloting discussions. And the bridge is closed and obviously under construction. I tried to hail the bridge but got no answer. Someone from a nearby marina answered my radio call and said he’d find out when they open. A few minutes later he came back and said they weren’t due to open for a few days. Great. We’re stuck on the French side, and a nearby boat told us the holding is terrible.

We picked a spot and dropped the anchor but immediately dragged and when I hauled it up it brought a whole garden of grass with it. Marce had th bright idea to try out our fish finder which can map the bottom. We must have looked a little drunk weaving through the anchorage but Marce finally found a sandy spot with no grass and we got a good hook in on the second try.

We were just pouring our second cup of coffee when Mark and Sue of Macushla knocked on the hull to welcome us to St. Martin. We poured them a cup and no sooner did we start to share passage notes than I saw a large black inflatable filled with large black-uniformed Dutch Coasties. Oh No! Suddenly we were being boarded by five jack-booted heavily-armed young bucks. I immediately went into Eddie Haskell mode (ask your grandparents) and told them we had recently been boarded by the USCG and had the golden paper to prove it but I could see by the sly smile on the head man’s lips that it wouldn’t prevent the inevitable. We must have been voted Most Boardable by the Coast Guards of the world. While Mark and Sue sat quietly in the cockpit we were thoroughly searched and our safety equipment checked. They were not pleased with our 7-year-old flares. Marce tried to tell them that they were classics and they don’t make them like they used to but we were advised to replace them anyway.



They finished the process with a ruthless efficiency and left just as they came, with a Heigh-O Silver, leaving behind nothing but a boot print on the side deck.< 20130525-123643.jpg



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Anchor aftermath

Between the two of us we have many talents but estimating the time a passage will take is not one of them. I looked at the chart, the weather and the predicted wind direction and figured it would take us about 24 hours to cover the distance from St. Thomas to St. Martin following our planned route. We had some errands to run Monday morning but even with our noon departure I was confident we could make landfall well before dark on Tuesday. As it turns out it took just under 36 hours because I haven’t fully learned to take into account the slowing effect of steep seas and countercurrents pushing us away from our destination. We’ve also come to realize that these short passages are in a way more exhausting than longer ones because our bodies don’t have time to adjust to the motion and we haven’t settled in to a restful watch schedule.

We arrived just before midnight which meant we had to anchor outside the lagoon overnight and wait for the bridge opening at 9:30am. We both just wanted to go to sleep but we were also hungry and very cranky. As Jack was finishing up the anchoring chores I went below to pick up the things that inevitably go flying on a bouncy passage even when they’re properly stowed. We often just leave them where they lie because it’s too hard at sea to move about without injury. My poor new Buddha lost his topknot. The rest was mostly books that had been ejected from their shelves clear over the fiddles designed to keep them put. As I was going down the steps to the starboard hull my feet slipped completely out from under me and I bounced down to the little piece of hallway below. The floor was slippery with the saltwater brought in on our feet every time we went to the bathroom and I decided this was a hazard that needed to be addressed immediately.

I was picking myself up from the fall and assessing the damage to my poor hip when I heard Jack bellow from the foredeck. “Maaaaaarce!” It took me awhile to realign my limbs and go upstairs.

“Turn on the wash down pump!”

“Do it tomorrow!” I whined.

“No! Now!”

I went back below, turned on the wash down pump then put some water and a splash of cleaner in a bucket to mop up the slimy salt slurry on the floor. I took four, maybe five steps toward the starboard hull and once again slipped on the step and down I went, along with the bucket of soapy water, now neatly contained in the bulkheaded hall. I lay where I landed and started to mop up the water with a sponge, squeezing it back into the bucket. Jack stomped into the boat muttering the kind of incomprehensible tirade spewed by Ralphie’s father in Jean Shepherd’s classic The Christmas Story whenever he worked on the furnace.

“I need your help on deck and you’re down here cleaning!” whereupon I burst into tears of exhaustion and frustration with myself for not being able to do a simple task.

“I’m not cleaning! I fell and spilled a bucket of water and now I’m mopping it up!” Jack offered to help but I sent him back on deck to finish his chores and I finished cleaning up the spill then washed down the starboard bathroom, which gets completely doused with seawater on a passage because there’s no way to close off the sink drain to keep the water from backing up into it and spraying all over the place. Next haulout we’re installing a seacock there for sure.

After that I took a quick shower, put on clean pajamas and poured myself a glass of wine. Seconds after I sat down I reached for something on the table and knocked the glass over, spilling wine on the iPad, my phone, the camera and our quarantine flag. Up again, moving faster than we thought was possible in such a tired state, we dried off the electronics, took the battery and memory card out of the camera and hoped for the best.

Jack was having his own struggles with the anchor and boat-tending, but eventually he looked at me and said, “How ’bout if I scramble some eggs?”

Perfect. It was nearly 3 am when we finally collapsed into bed, knowing we needed to have the anchor up ready for the bridge opening at 9:30.

They call it pleasure boating.


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Anegada Davida Baby

Our only consolation was that it wouldn’t take long, only 120 rhumbline, as the crow flies, nautical miles. Escape Velocity doesn’t fly, and we’ve all had a dentist say it’ll only hurt for a minute. How’d that turn out? GIVE ME THE NEEDLE!

Ron, our ship’s personal sailor head shrink shrugged, smiled that smile and said that’s why he sailed around the world, he just couldn’t take another bash into the easterly tradewinds. We’d just deposited Ron ashore into the chaos of a community waterfront walk/run against violence event. An amazing turnout.


It was already blowing 25-30 kts in Charlotte Amalie Harbor and Ron had graciously spent two hours working through our stubborn SSB radio’s connections, all to no joy. He left us with a patented Ronisim. It’s only a day and a half of pain and then you’re there. Yeah, we just did eleven and a half days in similar conditions but I say “give me the needle!”

It was with no small regret that we leave St Thomas with things left uncovered,
undiscovered and unseen, but leave we must. The siren song of St. Martin calls, and it calls right now.


Up anchor at noon, motoring out into Pillsbury sound, it’s a beautiful day and the incredible beauty of this island group is overwhelming us once again. This time we kept St John to Starboard and headed North to cut between Thatch Cay and Grass Cay, out into the Caribbean Sea, well offshore but parallel to beautiful Tortola.

The plan, dear Escapees, is to gain easting but also to avoid the worst of the wind born seas and current by shadowing the Virgin Islands using them as a shield and after rounding Necker Island, to have a decent angle to head southeast down Anegada Passage to St Martin with, as a plan B, Virgin Gorda as a possible stop over if the weather worsens earlier than expected.

Ok Escapees, all together now. We rounded Necker rock and turned into a thirty knot HEADWIND, even steeper seas with a frequency so close you couldn’t even time the confused peaks with a stopwatch. We are taking green seas over the bows and each time EV stops dead in her tracks but soldiers determinedly on. Boarding seas are everywhere so it’s hard to miss them for the spray. Where are the pain killers?

We are nearly at St Martin’s latitude with plans to go south of the Island and then tack north up the coast using the trades instead of bashing into them.

At sundown we dropped the sails, turned east into the wind and asked Mr. Volvo to take us out of this mess. Bash. You bet. Take us out of this mess. Thanks Mr. Volvo.

Now we never approach an anchorage in the dark. There are too many things that can go pear-shaped when your perception is clouded and tired. In this post we find Yr. Hmbl. Srvt. breaking several rules at once and it’s not even my birthday. Plus there are the smells as you approach land. Marce always turns to me and says something’s burning and makes me run around the boat looking for something on fire.

It’s tantalizing watching the mass of twinkling lights on shore but you know that some of those lights are extremely important navigational aids; it’s just that you can’t separate them from the rest. At fifteen miles out you feel like you could just reach out and touch those lights glowing in the dark but you still have three hours of bashing left to go. Still we motor on creeping ever closer but we can’t see any boats at anchor. There must be boats anchored outside waiting to transit the lift bridge opening into the Lagoon in the morning, but we can’t see them. Just when I decide that somehow we’ve gotten it all wrong or the GPS on the chart plotter has gone haywire and it would be insane to press on I see the faint glow of an led cockpit light on a sailboat just like the lights I use on EV, only ours are garden solar lights from Kmart. I guess they’re not as bright as I thought. Suddenly I see the shadow of a motor yacht to the right, maybe another sailboat ahead. We are surrounded by anchored boats! Never approach an anchorage in the dark.

Once again we’ve been granted special dispensation for spunky fools.

Midnight in St Martin.





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