St Kitts, St Barts,St Maarten, BVIs

Beer of the moment: Red Stripe (St Kitts), Carib (St Maarten)

Monday 1st March

The beach and island of Nevis look very inviting. We especially wanted to see some of the old plantation houses, but we hear on the radio that bad weather is on the way and we need to find a more sheltered anchorage. There are not many good options so we decide to scramble over to Basse Terre on St Kitts a few miles away.

Tuesday 2nd - Monday 8th

We got anchored off the commercial and oil dock in Basse Terre as it looks more sheltered than the rest of the bay and we have heard that the marina at Port Zante is badly affected by swells.

.. and the wind blew and blew...

 We had to move to let an oil tanker come in to the floating oil pipeline, but other wise we were pretty secure despite the wind speed showing 40 knots at one stage !. A boat anchored next to us dragged their anchor overnight. They were about a mile or two out into the bay by the time we, and they, woke up in the morning. Another boat near us broke free from its mooring and we had to call the Coastguard to retrieve it. It seemed to take them all day which was surprising given we were anchored only 100m from their station - by then the boat was well out to sea..

Eventually we decided to brave a trip ashore. It was a mile long drenching slog in the dinghy and with the benefit of hindsight a bit too risky really. We needed to get a few provisions and have the wind generator support re-welded where it had shaken itself apart in the wind.

The town of Basse Terre was pleasant enough, one of the nicest main towns we have seen in the Antilles. They have a modern cruise ship dock and some pretty, old buildings in town. We would definitely have had an evening meal here but the trip back to the boat in the dark would have been way too dangerous.

We decided to get a taxi to take us to a welding shop and then on up to the Brimstone Hill Fort, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The fort was fantastic. It has been restored quite a bit but in a sympathetic way. A real citadel on top of an impressive hill with lots of cannons and great views. Allan would have stayed all day but we were limited to an hour by the taxi.

Saint Kitts Fort

We had hoped to see the wild monkeys, which outnumber people on the island but we were not lucky on our trip. We also considered going on the sight seeing railway, which is also used to transport sugar cane around the island, but we baulked at the cost of nearly $100 US a head.

We were pleased to see some friends show up in the same bay, Pascal and Pascale on Imagine. We popped over for tea. They were keen to get up St Maarten to meet some visitors, so left before we did.

Monday 8th

We felt we had spent enough time in St Kitts, stuck on the boat, by the time the weather finally broke and allowed us to move on.

We had a pleasant sail up to Gustavia, the main port in St Barts (St Barthelemy) and arrived late afternoon.

Tuesday 9th

St Barts is a French island and very, very chic. A real upmarket tourist destination. The Gustavia area might have been built by Disney, lots of pretty little shops and restuarants. When I say shops I mean top designer shops. If you were interested in expensive watches this place would appeal. The harbour area was packed with big expensive motor yachts, but we anchored outside in some beautiful crystal clear blue water.

Another surprise is that they seemed to have a round the clock traffic jam in town - in an island hardly big enough to swing a cat. We also noticed they had some fabulous villas for rent, no wonder its said to be a favourite destination for Hollywood stars.

Provisioning was fantastic - you could get anything you wanted - but at a price.

As we were leaving St Barts we were amazed to see another Fountaine Pajot Belize catamaran called Summer Wind.  We called them up on the radio for a chat. We had last met them - Bob and Kelly - two years before in Bequia when we had chartered a Venezia catamaran to see if we liked catamarans vs monohulls. We had a good talk back then and they gave us some ideas we have incorporated on our own boat. It turns out they are on their way to Martinique to sell their boat so they can spend some more time ashore.

Saint Barts

We sailed up to Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of St Maarten. On the way we thought we were sailing quite well until we saw two sailing boats absolutely flying towards us from astern. They were two of a group of former Americas cup boats that they sail and race from St Maarten. Anyone, even without sailing experience, can sign up for a day sail. A fantastic sight...

Initially we anchored outside the Simpson Bay Lagoon. There is a bridge over the entrance which has to be negotiated and our Guadeloupe bridge experience still figured large in our minds...

When we scouted out the lagoon though it was just too good to miss so we pushed through with the late afternoon bridge opening queue of boats. The bridge turned out to be embarrassingly wide :)

Wednesday 10th - Tuesday 20th  

Simpson Bay lagoon is a huge landlocked area of water, in fact its about 12 square miles, but in places its not all that deep, and because of its size its not that sheltered from the wind either.

The Island of St Maarten is divided in two. The north side is French and the south side is Dutch. The whole of the island is duty free and they get about 2 million visitors a year, despite its small size. The Dutch side is very American, big cars, US style buildings and some very cool bars and places to eat. You can get just about anything you need for a boat in and around the lagoon, and all accessible by Dinghy.

Allan, of course, went wild in the Chandleries and bought lots of stuff we "needed" for the boat, including a new handheld radio, 5 new fuel cans and 100m of mooring rope for those occasions when you need to tie up to a palm tree ashore. All of our post had also arrived before us, for a change, including some items we had ordered from the UK and US to enable us to tidy up our communications systems wiring - a job that had been outstanding since we left France.

Another long running unfinished job was getting the watermaker to work. The watermaker turns sea water into drinking water. We had it installed in France but had never switched it on because we either didn't have the manual for it or were in dirty harbours. Of course when we did finally switch it on it didn't work. With some advice from some local specialists at Nercol we worked out that the problem was that the "booster" pump in our system just wasn't up to the job of feeding the high pressure pump.  A watermakers output is only about 10% of the water that needs to flow through the system, so we needed to pump 600 litres of sea water to make 60 litres of drinking water. Another $100 for a pump, some wiring and plumbing and hey presto, we were in business.

We were pleased to see Matt and Susie from Audax in the bay and also Kevin and Amber from Sailor Vie . Later in the week the Pacsals rolled in on Imagine.

The whole bay is quite glitzy with a raft of mega yachts and also some pretty swank hotels nearby. At the same time they have some great bars like the Peg Leg pub, Soggy Dollar Bar and Lagoonies where you can drink Guiness while watching your laundry.

We ate out with Kevin and Amber at the Peg Leg then caught a great band at Lagoonies. Allan had such a bad hangover he had to spend the whole next day in bed :) . The culinary highlight though was an Indonesian restaurant, just down from the Peg Leg where we indulged in a 19 course banquet. A real taste sensation and well worth the cots of $100 (£60) including the wine.

Also on our shopping list was some polaroid sunglasses, vital to help you see reefs in the Pacific. We were initially sceptical but they really do make a difference. As usual the complication was that Allan needed to see an optician  to get a prescription for his sunglasses...To get Bev's shades we went into the capital Philipsburg, and a very nice town it is too. There are always three or four cruise ships in at the dock and the whole town revolves around cruise ship shoppers. while we were there we caught our first glimpse of the Queen Mary 2, currently the worlds largest cruise ship at nearly 150,000 tons, double the size of ships like the Oriana.

We hired a car and did some major food shopping at all four of the major supermarkets. We probably bought about 4 months worth of food and toiletries, as it will be hard to get things in the Pacific and also very expensive. We found things there that we hadn't seen on other Caribbean islands, like tinned Steak, Chicken breast and tinned butter. All things that will keep for literally years. 

Allan had a ulcer on the back of his throat and a visit to the doctor confirmed the diagnosis we suspected ~ chronic tonsillitis. A course of antibiotics was prescribed which also meant no beers for 10 whole days.....

Another great thing about Simpson Bay was they had a fantastic early morning radio net on VHF, where they welcomed new arrivals and you could find out about anything you needed on the island. People also had items for sale or trade.

Sunday March 21st

Eventually after a very busy but enjoyable time, it was time to move on. As the bridge only opens a couple of time a day, we opted to leave the Lagoon at 11:00 for a short sail over to Anguilla, a British Island, where we anchored for the night.

On the way we heard a "Mayday" call from a boat called Swedish Lion. They were on fire and not too far from us on the French side of the island near Marigot Bay. Fortunately they were able to get the coastguard promptly and they were able to deal with the fire. It was a nervous time for the skipper though and they were all set to abandon ship. We heard later that they were safely back at the Marigot Bay marina for repairs.

The main anchorage at Anguilla is a lovely long sandy beach. We dropped the anchor and unfortunately the windlass broke and dumped all our chain onto the seabed. Fortunately we had tied the end (the bitter end) of the chain on to the boat. Allan suspected the windlass relay had seized on. These things are always in inaccessible places and after much contortions he finally managed to remove it and free the contacts which had welded themselves together.

Some very loud music was emanating from the sea front so we decided not to go ashore but to leave at 05:00 for the 80 mile trip to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

Monday March 22nd

The day started off well. We avoided the reefs and islands off the coast and headed out for the BVI's. Then we heard a "Pan Pan" radio alert from the French coastguard to look out for a catamaran towing a speedboat which was overdue at its destination. Shortly afterwards we saw a US coastguard plane flying low overhead, obviously searching for something. They radioed us to ask that we keep a lookout for a person in the water, who had fallen overboard the day before. We did but saw nothing. The plane flew backwards and forwards all day at low altitude throughout our 80 mile journey. It was a salutary reminder about how dangerous life can be at sea and why you always need to be vigilant. 

The wind dropped and to make sure we arrived in the BVI's in daylight we pressed on with boat motors running.

We passed into the BVIs , along the shore of the famous Virgin Gorda baths and anchored outside the Virgin Gorda marina where we completed the inevitable customs and immigration formalities.

Tuesday March 23rd

We had been dreaming of being the BVIs for ages. It is noted for its beautiful clear water, great snorkelling and wonderful beaches and anchorages. It's a calm stretch of water surrounded by lots of small islands a few miles sail from each other. Its also the charter boat capital of the world and we quickly realised this meant that the anchorages had no room to anchor and you had to take a buoy at $25 a night - plus there were more boats out on the water than a bank holiday Monday in the Solent! Being surrounded by charter boats is always scary as people tend to take more risks (as its not their boat), are still learning the subtleties of the boat they have rented and tend on the whole to be less experienced.

We sailed up to the Bitter End Yacht club in Virgin Gorda sound. It was a truely beautiful place to anchor - clear water, lots of reefs, beautiful views, great weather..... But Allan was a bit disappointed. Bitter End is world renowned as a great sailing venue but it turned out to be more like a Marriot resort than the hip and trendy joint that Allan had imagined - Bev loved it but it was very expensive.

Bitter End 

Allan at Bitter End with Branson's Necker Island in the background

Bev gave Allan a drastic hair cut to compensate for his disappointment as he had been getting too hot and his hat could no longer fit on his head. Then followed a welcome swim to cool down. We hadn't been swimming since St Barts so it felt like heaven. 

Wednesday 24th - Monday 29th March

We set sail that afternoon for Trellis Bay, on Beef Island - a 10 mile sail away. We passed by Richard Branson's Necker Island en route - it was only a couple of miles from Virgin Gorda. We had always imagined it being pretty isolated so were surprised to see it so close. We spotted Kevin and Amber's boat Sailor Vie anchored outside the reef. They had had a personal invitation to visit the island by a friend of Richards. All right for some :)

Allan hadn't felt too good before we set off so Bev did most of the sailing and dodging of charter boats. By the time we had tied up to a buoy at the Last Resort he had taken a turn for the worst. He had a very bad urinary infection, high temperature, stomach and gastric upset and a deadly cough which meant he struggled to eat normal food. He ended up spending 5 days in bed before he felt well enough to leave the boat to see a doctor. Bev had ventured into the Capital of the BVI's - Road Town mid way through to get him some drugs and managed to grind the prop of the rib on the rocks in the process ! The drugs helped but Allan still needed to see a doctor. 3 prescriptions later including yet more antibiotics, several more days recovery and a bill for $150 saw him on the mend. Allan said he had never felt so ill in his life. He must of been ill as a beer did not pass his lips for 2 weeks ! 

We ventured ashore on the last day and took a look around. The Bay is a great place to stop as it has a couple of restaurants, a trendy internet cafe, a grocery store and a few craft shops. 2 hours on the internet cost us $40 dollars though - very expensive.

We have seen many interesting boat names, but one really stood out in Trellis Bay....

Begone 

What were they thinking ???

Tuesday 30th- Wednesday 31st March

We set sail for Cooper Island as soon as Allan was well enough to move - it was a short motor sail - only 5 miles away. What a beautiful place. Extremely quiet with amazingly clear water and a beautiful sandy bay. From the bay you got a panoramic view of most of the islands - a great place to watch the sun set. It was the best place we saw in the BVI's. We were in 15 meters of water but could clearly see the star fish on the sandy bottom. Allan spotted a boat hook lying on the bottom as well and a few hours later had managed to recover it using the dingy anchor and lots of rope and patience.

Cooper Island 

We sat watching a few people on a charter boat struggling to manage the ferocious fire they had lit in their barbeque - the only thing to disturb the peace.

 

© Copyright Allan & Bev Dornan 2016