5 December to 31 January - Antigua and St. Maarten
We arrived in Jolly Harbour, Antigua on the 5th of December, St Nicolas’ day for the Dutch. Paul stayed with us a few more days. Together we hired a car to tour the island, and had some nice meals ashore. We also visited the super yacht show in English Harbour. The yachts on display here were available for charter. Some were almost the size of a cruise liner. To rent one of these for a week would cost as much as what we paid for Alegria. When Paul left, the boat felt strangely empty without him.
All together we stayed in Jolly harbour for two weeks. The past six months we had had a strong sense of purpose. We had covered some 6,000 nautical miles (about 11,000 km) and a lot of time was spent either sailing or preparing the boat for the crossing. Now we had reached our goal and we couldn’t make up our mind whether to go north or south along the island chain. All we know is that we have to make sure that we are south of Grenada or north of Florida by the start of the hurricane season (1st of July according to our insurance policy).
The weather during these two weeks was nothing like we had ever experienced during our previous holidays in the Caribbean. We had lots of rain showers with heavy gusts of wind. One night, gusts of 55 knots (10 Beaufort) were measured. Tania had picked up a cold during the crossing and now I was infected as well. It proved to be a cold that took a long time to get rid off, but this did not stop us from going to Jolly harbour beach during the sunny spells. Most of you have seen Tania’s watercolour painting of this beach on our Christmas card. We met a Dutch lady, Nancy, in a restaurant at the marina. Tania and Nancy quickly became good friends. Nancy also likes to paint, and Tania painted her watercolour at Nancy’s home.
Ernst-Jan and Marlies, who had crossed the Atlantic on board Blackwatch, were now our neighbours onboard Anja-K. When they left Holland half a year ago, their plan was to hitchhike around the world, by crewing on board various sailing yachts. So far this plan had been very successful. They had joined Blackwatch in Spain, and stayed on board all the way to Antigua. Here they were offered a new opportunity. Anja-K is a New Zealand yacht. After three years of cruising her owner had to go back to work. He was looking for someone to sail her to Polynesia for him, where he would pick her up next season. It seemed too good to be true to be offered a 42 feet sailboat for eight months at no charge. Of course a lot depended on the condition and safety of the boat. Ernst-Jan and Marlies took up the challenge. We wander how they are getting on. They have their own website: www.cgx.nl/sailing
On the 19th of December we sailed from Jolly Harbour to English Harbour, also in Antigua. This is only a few hours sail to windward. English Harbour is a beautiful natural harbour with a lot of history. Nelson had a naval base here. English Harbour is also the home of Antigua race week, one of the most important sailing events in the Caribbean. English harbour is much more lively than Jolly Harbour, and this was the right place to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Christmas day in Antigua is nothing like it is back home. We did not go to church, we did not listen to fine classical music by the fireplace, and we did not watch the snow fall outside the window. Instead, there was a steel band playing very loud music, people were dancing in fancy dress, and cheap champagne was flowing everywhere. In the afternoon on Christmas day, there was a "pot luck" on the beach, organised by some of our fellow cruisers. Everyone brought some food and drinks, which was put on the table to share. This was a great opportunity to talk to other cruisers, and find out which places are worth visiting. On Christmas Eve Tania and I had a fine meal in a French restaurant, with candlelight on the table, and a glass of red wine. At least this reminded us somewhat of Christmas at home.
Between Christmas and New Year we went to Nonsuch Bay, also in Antigua. We were anchored behind a coral reef. This is a strange sensation. The coral reef provides protection from the waves that roll in from the Atlantic Ocean, but offers no protection from the wind. When you look to windward, you see nothing but water. We had lunch at Harmony Hall. This is a beautiful hotel, restaurant, art gallery and resort overlooking the bay. The place had a very special atmosphere.
New year’s eve we dined in the same French restaurant where we celebrated Christmas Eve. We came back to our boat shortly before midnight. We just had enough time to hoist the dinghy out of the water before the fireworks started. I swung the spinnaker halyard because it was caught behind a fitting on the mast. The heavy shackle on the end of halyard broke a piece off one of my front teeth. Naturally I wasn’t in much of a mood to admire the fireworks. However, two days later I visited a very good dentist from Argentina, who was recommended to me by Nancy. An hour later, I walked out the door my front tooth looking like new! I had never received such excellent service anywhere in the world.
The third of January we sailed back to Jolly Harbour, expecting that our mail would have arrived by then. All our mail is sent to my parents address. Once in a while my father puts it all together in an envelope and sends it to us. This time he had mailed it on the 10th of December. Unfortunately we had to conclude that the mail service in Antigua is about as efficient as it was in Venezuela. We left Antigua on the 5th of January, heading for St. Maarten via Nevis and St. Kitts. A few days later we called Jolly Harbour, and yes, our mail had finally arrived. We asked them to forward our mail to St. Maarten, this time by FedEx. This is where we finally picked it up.
Antigua to Nevis was a fast sail in 15 to 20 knots of wind from the stern. Nevis and St. Kitts are two different islands, but one country. Tourism in these islands is much less developed then in Antigua, and there are hardly any facilities for yachts. The atmosphere is very relaxed. We explored the islands by local bus. This is much cheaper than a hire car, and you get a much better taste of the couleur locale. On both islands there are some lovely old sugar plantations that were converted to hotels. Surrounded by tropical rain forests and sugar cane fields, they breathe the rich atmosphere from colonial times. The Golden Rock Estate on Nevis brought back good memories. On new years eve 1995 Tania and I had dinner here. The two of us had chartered a yacht from St. Maarten and it was during this trip that we fell very much in love.
On St. Kitts we visited Caribelle, a batik workshop in a very beautiful tropical garden setting, Tania bought two new outfits one in red and one in blue. Both suit her very nicely. We had lunch at Rawlins plantation, another sugar cane plantation, which was converted to a very exclusive hotel, catering to only a few guests.
From St. Kitts to St. Maarten is about 50 miles, so we started early. Initially we sailed slowly, however as soon as we got out of the lee of St. Kitts it was a very fast beam reach all the way to St. Maarten. We arrived well before dusk. St. Maarten is the smallest island in the world that is owned by two nations. The southern half is Dutch. The northern half is French, and is called St. Martin. We arrived in the Dutch part of the island.
St. Maarten is a duty free island. It is sometimes called the shopping mall of the Caribbean. Free enterprise is flourishing everywhere. There are big supermarkets, which stock both American and Dutch products. There are two big and well-stocked chandleries as well as many companies that specialise in maintenance and repair of marine electronics, diesel engines, rigging, sail making, haul out facilities etc. This is just what we needed. Antigua had been so expensive, that we bought the absolute minimum of supplies. We lived mostly on the stock left over from the Atlantic crossing. Now we had the opportunity to replenish our stock. Also after more than 6000 miles, Alegria was due for maintenance. Many jobs needed to be done. Service the main engine and the outboard motor for the dinghy. Disassemble, clean and grease the winches. Repair the anchor windlass. Haul out and apply new antifouling paint. Replace the propeller shaft seal, replace the anodes and so on and so on. All together we had more than 30 items on our list. We also ordered fitted cushions for in our cockpit. As of today (1st of February), we have cleared many of items on the list, but there is still a lot to be done. New items keep coming up as well. I am starting to understand why boat ownership and a full time job is not a good combination. I like to keep Alegria as good as new, both technically and in the way she looks. There is a risk however that boat maintenance becomes a goal in itself. Tania keeps reminding me that we are here to enjoy ourselves and that there has to be a balance. But I quite enjoy doing boat maintenance and the result is often quite satisfying. We will do some sightseeing and beach trips in between the maintenance work.
We are anchored in Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Maarten. This water is surrounded by land on all sides. You enter through a very Dutch looking drawbridge. So far, it has been good to be here. The past three weeks we have had very strong winds and lots of rain showers. The seas outside the lagoon were quite high. Being in the lagoon means that we are hardly rolling at all. There is a large community of cruising boats here. Some have been here for years, and have set up businesses. On the north shore of the lagoon, only a 10-minute dinghy ride away is Marigot, which is part of the French side of the island (St. Martin). Here you can enjoy life the French way, with fresh croissants, nice boutiques and gourmet restaurants. The disadvantage of being in the lagoon is that the water is much more polluted than outside. We don’t swim in the lagoon, and we don’t run the water maker. Another disadvantage is the proximity to the airport. We sometimes feel as if the 747’s are about to touch our mast. The noise is incredible.
In the lagoon we met Shirley and Gustaaf on board Jahazi, a 40 foot J-boat. We had met them before in Rotterdam on a first aid course, which we all attended in preparation for our trip, and again in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. They are planning to sail their boat to the USA, sell it there and fly back to Holland to start working again. They feel that they have seen enough of the Caribbean and of the cruising lifestyle, and are ready for new challenges. It made us think for a while. When will we decide that enough is enough, and what kind of work would we fancy doing after we stop cruising? We expect the answers will come to us in due time.
We also met Aya and Lee, a nice couple from Israel on board Girafa. Girafa is also a Hallberg Rassy 42. Their serial number is 157, ours is 156. Our boats must have been side by side in the yard. It is a small world. We exchanged stories of what worked well and what had failed on board our boats. They equipped their boat even more extensively than we did ours, including a generator, air conditioning and a washing machine. It does mean that there are more things to break down.
In the next week or two we will continue the maintenance effort, whilst also enjoying the island. Then we will continue on. Anguilla looks attractive, but so does Saba and Guadeloupe. We are still looking for the answer to one question. Do we spend hurricane season in the north or in the south?
Beste Nederlanders. Ik heb bedacht dat het schrijven van een Nederlands-talige versie van onze nieuwsbrief wellicht overbodige moeite is. Al onze Nederlandse lezers spreken immers ook Engels. Laat ons even weten als een Nederlands-talige versie een volgende keer toch op prijs gesteld wordt.