Bonjour e bonne année! After six months in St. Thomas, S/V Delancey has finally broken free from the comfortable bonds of shorelife to continue our journey exploring the Caribbean. We cast off in early December, blasting through the British Virgin Islands in order to position ourselves to take advantage of the next good weather window to make the passage to Saint Martin/Sint Maarten.
We, and everybody else in the eastern Caribbean, were pinned down by the “Christmas Winds”, strong easterly trades that kick up during the holiday season. For what seemed like weeks, our weather routing service had been issuing variations on the same statement: “Westbound sailing possible for salty sailors. No eastbound passages for the foreseeable future.” When we saw the forecast call for 24 hours of moderating conditions, from the typical east winds at 20-25 knots with 7-9 foot seas down to a relatively calm 10-15 knot east winds and 4-6 foot seas, we strapped the dink on deck, hauled anchor, and took off.
We left Virgin Gorda at 4pm to tackle the Anegada Passage, the 80 miles of open water between the BVIs and the Leeward Islands. The forecast held true and the long period between the waves, as well as a glorious full moon, made for a not unpleasant, if boring, overnight motor to St. Martin.
We anchored the following morning in Marigot Bay, St. Martin. Despite a healthy exhaustion, after checking in with customs and immigration, we immediately sought out food. For St. Martin, the northern side of this bifurcated island, is part of France. The local bakers know from croissants and baguettes and the supermarket (“Super U”, or to us, the “U”) was filled to the rafters with cheese, jambon, wine, and everything else you might associate with Gallic gastronomy. (The southern half of the island is Dutch, which is fine.)
We learned through the cruisers’ net that the supermarket was stocked for the Christmas holiday, and that the pickings would be slimmer in the new year. Never ones to pass up any opportunity to provision, we filled Delancey’s nooks with delicacies.
Did I mention that the French government subsidizes imports from home to St. Martin? This happy fact allowed me to set a rule to never spend more than $5 on a bottle of wine.
Of course, this decadence wasn’t sustainable, and pretty soon the crew had to address some boat stuff we’d been avoiding. First, our water heater, which is likely original to this 32-year-old boat, finally gave up the ghost. As anyone who’s spent time on cruising boats can tell you, one of the more annoying sounds one can hear is the domestic water pump turning on for no apparent reason. When you open a tap, the pump kicks in, just as it should. When you’re just sitting there minding your own business and the pump kicks in, it means you’ve a leak somewhere. With two heads and a galley, Delancey has over 50 hose clamps holding her domestic water system together. The leak could be anywhere. Somewhat happily, I’d already noticed the rusty streak running down the side of the water heater. More happily, St. Martin/St. Maarten is a major boating center with large, well-stocked chandleries. We were able to find a direct replacement on the Dutch side and, after draining and wrestling the old one out of the engine room, the new one dropped in relatively easily.
Up next came the head (i.e.: toilet). I’d last rebuilt the head just prior to casting off from Jersey City. All through this little odyssey (or, in French accent, “leetle odysseee”), we’ve been diligently adding white vinegar to the pump and discharge hoses to keep calcium growth at bay. Lately, the head has become infested with fruit flies. After a concerted but fruitless (HA!) effort to eradicate our guests, Deb suggested it was again time to rebuild the head. No big deal. We always carry a rebuild kit and I’ve done it so many times it’s become second nature; vaguely therapeutic in fact. After a couple hours, we had a shiny marine sanitation device with brand new seals, valves, and other fiddly bits and no flies.
Wanna hear a funny story? It turns out that fruit flies are attracted to vinegar! Apparently, in Europe the little blighters are called “vinegar flies”. I shudder to think of what muriatic acid might attract.
In St. Martin, and the bulk of the Leeward and Windward islands, dinghy and outboard theft is more prevalent than what we’ve experienced previously. One step in my multi-pronged effort to combat this is to make our dink as unattractive as possible. A year of cruising has already taken its toll on LES, our 10-foot inflatable. My next step was to customize our old 8hp Tohatsu 2-stroke outboard with Deb’s least-favorite color of nail polish. (More anti-theft prongs to follow.)
As with last year in Florida, I find Christmas in the tropics to be a pleasant exercise in cognitive dissonance. Cars with foam antlers, “Let it Snow”, and imported pine trees sold from refrigerated trucks are all so incongruous in the context of palm trees and balmy island breezes. My favorite moment occurred when walking by the St. Martin government office’s Christmas party, hearing a supremely energetic island version of “Little Drummer Boy” blasted from the balcony. This might become our new standard version.
After being treated to a Christmas Eve rainbow, we went to midnight mass at the local Catholic church. Delivered 90% in French, 8% in English, and 2% in Spanish, it served as a testimony to the power of ritual over even the most lapsed Catholic. The service was preceded by a Children’s Christmas story pageant complete with charmingly stilted line readings and tinsel angel wings that required absolutely no translation.
Oh and we’ve done so much else since arriving! We hiked up to Fort Louis! We took the bus to Grand Case for a beachside fancy French meal! We met up with other cruisers on an island in the lagoon! We took Lucy to the vet!
But the highlight of our stay in St. Martin was the arrival of S/V Nightingale Tune. We first met fellow New Yorkers Lauren and Brian last winter when we both arrived on the same day in George Town, Bahamas. We sailed in company through the Out Islands, finally parting ways in Turks and Caicos (S/V Delancey heading to the Dominican Republic; S/V Nightingale Tune making the longer passage straight for Puerto Rico). While we were working in St. Thomas, these guys were waiting out hurricane season at the bottom of the island chain in Grenada. Now, as both boats restart the cruising season, our paths crossed again in St. Martin just in time for a New Year’s Eve celebration.
The happy foursome picked up right where we left off, albeit with far better dining options. We enjoyed a dockside lunch of steak frites (except for Brian, who opted for that French delicacy Spaghetti Carbonara, which we all agreed did look delicious) before retiring to S/V Delancey for an evening of champagne and fireworks.
Since connecting with Brian and Lauren, we’ve explored more of the island and ticked off a few more boat projects. A couple days ago, after nearly a month in St. Martin, we finally hauled up the anchor for the 10-mile sail to nearby Anguilla. We’re currently tucked into Road Bay, Anguilla, with S/V Nightingale Tune anchored nearby, looking at a sandy crescent peppered with colorful beach bars. We’ll let you know what we find.
We hope you and a safe and happy new year!