Bob has been here in St. Martin for a week now and things couldn’t have been nicer. I visited St. Martin on Bob in the winter of 2008/2009 and was generally underwhelmed by it but I’m liking it much more this time around. Christmas was a refreshing change from the usual affair of the consumerist world that we live in, where the shops become more and more lavish year by year in their tacky displays of lights wasting power for the sake of faux-aesthetics, plastic motorised models of Father Christmas wobbling from side to side while blurting out a recorded ‘Ho ho ho!’ through cheap tinny speakers and a plethora of useless things advertised in shop windows that people still buy because, let’s face it, it only happens once a year so why not? Here Christmas has been beautifully well-spirited while skipping over all that peripheral gumpf for the most part. People that have never met shouting ‘Merry Christmas!’ to one another across a busy mooring field, and generally-good cheer expressed and felt by all.
I had the very good fortune to meet a gentleman and his family who are cruising on their 50ish-foot aluminium ketch. I made contact with him because I heard over the daily VHF radio net (channel 10 at 0730, hosted by the one and only ‘Shrimpy’, a wonderful Austrian gentleman who washed up here 15 years ago and never left) that he was selling a hydrovane wind vane. I’m still not entirely sure whether I will actually purchase his vane but in the meantime I’ve enjoyed many pleasant hours aboard his yacht being social, and he and his family were even kind enough to take pity on a lonely sailor and invite me to Christmas dinner with them which was superb.
It turns out that the timing of my arrival here couldn’t have been better and certainly should have been no later. The ‘Christmas winds’ are still strong. Officially they are blowing 20 to 25 knots, but there have been gusts up into the mid-30s inside the lagoon, which is very sheltered, and I spoke with the crew of a yacht yesterday who have just arrived from the Cape Verde Islands. They set out for St. Barts yesterday but turned back when they encountered winds exceeding 45 knots according to their anemometer. Bob is very happy in the lagoon. Having initially struggled to get a good set with the anchor I moved to a different spot and the anchor is now well-buried about a foot beneath the surface of the mud, which makes me very happy indeed 🙂
The lagoon itself has changed a great deal since my last visit. The Dutch side is even more developed with more superyacht marinas. A huge, modern causeway bridge now bisects the lagoon. The French side on the other hand has gone a little the other way. The French bridge is often out of service and the entry from there into the lagoon area is tricky. The last time I was here there was a well-marked channel that one could carry 8-feet through without too much trouble. Now the channel is no longer dredged so I just about made it with Bob’s 5 1/2-foot draught, and there are only two sad-looking markers very far apart that make it very difficult to stay in what’s left of the channel. Hurricane Gonzalo hit here hard last year, to the demise of (according to Shrimpy) about 100 boats on the French side in the lagoon. Their carcasses are dotted around the lagoon, and many many boats at anchor or on moorings appear to be derelict, as though the owners simply gave up and left when the mast came down in the hurricane, or they suffered some other catastrophic damage which left them floating but otherwise unserviceable. It’s a great shame, but I’m sure they will recover in time. Those businesses that were damaged or destroyed by the hurricane have been re-built and life is continuing as it always has in its lovely laid-back Franco-Caribbean way.
Work on Bob is coming along nicely. The wind vane situation, which is my biggest concern, is nearly resolved I think, and I’ve taken the time to install several new systems and improve upon others. The roller-furling system has been upgraded through the addition of some blocks to hopefully eliminate chafe on the line. It turns out that setting the storm jib that night at sea during the passage here was a very good idea, as the roller-furling line was indeed chafed through quite badly and would certainly have let go during the night in 35 knots of wind had I not struck the sail completely. I’ve also installed a cockpit shower, a new blower for the engine compartment, removed the old wind vane, taken the new anchor line on board and done a multitude of other little jobs that needed to be done. Tomorrow I will go to Phillipsburg and pick up the shipment of stuff from Florida, including a water maker (a miniature desalination plant), a new 110% working jib (a headsail), the satellite telephone that will enable me to get weather forecasts at sea and a folding propeller that should greatly improve Bob’s performance under sail. I have heard it said that having a fixed-blade propeller generates the equivalent drag of towing a bucket behind the boat. I believe it too! I’m hoping for an increase in speed of between half a knot and one knot, which is quite considerable for a boat that normally sails at between 3 and 5.5 knots. More importantly than the speed increase, this propeller should allow me to sail in winds that are lighter than those I can currently carry sail in, which will cut down on motoring time, fuel consumption and improve my sanity correspondingly.
Right, I’d best get on and do something constructive with my day! Merry Christmas to all, and a happy new year!
View of the mooring field
The new causeway bridge