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MARCH-Ponce, Puerto Rico to Fort de France, Martinique (450 nautical miles)

Left Ponce, Puerto Rico headed for Salinas early in the morning before daylight traveling when the wind and seas are "down". A beautiful morning with clear skies--no showers or mild squalls with extra wind to kick up the seas. Made contact with Mark on DOWN ISLAND on the VHF Radio--had not heard from him since he left Luperon around the 21st of February. Pleased to hear Mark was doing fine and traveling with another boat--I was worried about him because he is a single handler and cruising the Mona Passage and the southern coast of Puerto Rico takes a lot out of you.

In Salinas we met up with Kris and Tony on TICKETOO. Met them originally in January 2006 while anchored in Waderick Wells--The Bahamas. Tony and Kris cruised the islands in the Caribbean for two seasons. When we met them in Salinas, they were headed back to "The States" to build a home in North Carolina and sell the boat. Below is a picture of Kris, Tony and I taken at the local cruiser hangout in Salinas. Kris and Tony spent about 3 hours over several beers (Heinekens) telling us about their favorite places, things to do and what to watch out for. (0252)

Rented a car for two days while we were in Salinas. Drove to San Juan which is a beautiful drive across the mountains. Stopped at West Marine for boat supplies and then at a variety of stores for provisions. Did laundry and waited for a good time to continue our travels east. On Sunday, March 9, the winds were around 10 knots so we took off for Vieques Island (Puerto Rico). It didn't take long for the first squall to kick the winds up to 23 knots and with it the seas. Oh well---getting used to banging into tall, steep seas. As we approached the anchorage at Green Beach, the mainsail track let loose on the port side--sounded like a shotgun went off. Carl tied the mainsail down so we could get into the harbor. Once we were anchored, Carl found the nuts on both bolts that hold the port side track in place had come off. Replaced the nuts and checked out the starboard side of the sail track to make sure the nuts were tight. As a precaution, Carl double bolted the nuts on both starboard and port.  As an extra precautionary measure, we check the nuts every couple of days.

The following picture was taken at Green Beach on the western end of Vieques Island (Puerto Rico). In the not too recent past, US and NATO navies used the east end of Vieques for land, air and sea based war games. The island is now available for development and the anchorages can be used by cruisers (0260).

Left Green Beach at first light heading to St. Johns Island (US Virgin Islands). Winds were east at 20 to 22 knots early in the morning. By noon the winds dropped to around 15 knots--pretty good conditions for heading east. Arrived in Cruz Bay hoping to anchor, clear Customs & Immigration, eat and go to bed. Could not find any place to anchor within Cruz Bay so we headed over to the next bay to the south where one other boat was anchored. It looked like a great place to drop the hook which we did. When the anchor was set we took the dinghy into Cruz Bay and headed to Customs. Waited in line. When we were finally called, the Customs guy asked us if we were a US registered vessel  and where we came from. The answer was "Yes we are US documented and we came from Vieques". They told us to get out of there--no need clear into the US VI. I stammered that we were leaving in the morning so we needed a despacho for the next port. That was the right thing to say. We were given paperwork to complete for departing--this allowed us to leave St. Johns before Customs and Immigration opened the next morning. Returned to the boat and had to reanchor because we dropped the anchor in a cable crossing area. No wonder there were no boats in that little bay! We could have accidentally taken out all the power to the island.

The next morning, we started our journey to St. Martin. Passed through the British Virgin Islands. The BVIs looked familiar since we chartered a sailboat there twice (once with Pam and Brian and a second time with Gary and Jean). Sailed past Necker Island around 2:15 PM. We were told by several cruisers that the passage from the British Virgin Islands to St. Martin can be very rough--wait for a calm day and then go like a bat out of hell. Completing this crossing was a big milestone for us! By the way, our definition for a "calm day" has changed since we left the Bahamas. Anything less than 12 knots with 3 foot seas qualifies as calm. Anyway, as we passed Virgin Gorda (last island in the British Virgin Islands)--it looked like the ideal crossing. Around 1 AM (my watch), the first squall came through to kick up the seas. During the night we had lots of cruise ship and cargo ship traffic in the area. I don't mind the traffic.. With AIS (Automated Identification System) we know the course and speed of most of the boats near us. Around 3 AM we had to slow the boat down to less than 3 knots so we would arrive at the harbor in daylight. Carl woke me up around 5:45 AM to help identify the harbor and lower the sail. Circling with us outside the harbor were three huge cruise ships--they were heading to Phillipsburg  just 5 miles around the corner. Dropped our anchor in the outer harbor to wait for the bridge to open for us around 9:30 AM.

Sunrise Sint Maarten outer harbor. It was so good to see the island and drop our anchor in the outer harbor. We MADE IT!!!(0269)

St. Martin is the first island in the Leeward Chain. The island is divided across the middle into two countries. The northern part of the island is French--St. Martin; the southern part of the island is Dutch--Sint Maarten.  St. Martin uses the Euro as the official currency; Sint Maarten uses the guilder although you can buy anything with US dollars as well. The famous Heineken Regatta is held of the first full weekend in March. We did not get to the island in time for the Regatta.

Entered Simpson Bay Lagoon from the Dutch side---motoring over to the French side to drop anchor. After the anchor was set, we put the dinghy in the water and headed to Marigot to clear St. Martin's Custom and Immigration. Arrived at the office at 11:32--the office is closed from 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM for lunch. Walked around until we found a quaint sidewalk cafe/bakery where we had lunch. I ordered a Heineken--surprised to see how small the bottle was. In Luperon, the bottles of  beers are 650 ml--in Marigot the beer is a measly little 250 ml bottle. After lunch we cleared Customs & Immigration then returned to the boat for a snooze.

Lunch in Marigot, St. Martin while we waited for Customs and Immigration. (0276) .Carl using Skype to call "home" (0277). One of many Mega sailing yachts in Simpson Bay Lagoon (0279)

We were anchored next to TRANQUILITY--Lee and Cindy Smith who we also met in January 2006 at Waderick Wells! Lee and Cindy were away from the boat when we arrived so we caught up with them around 5 PM. They gave us a good overall view of both St. Martin and St. Maarten. In general, St. Martin is very European with great restaurants and shops to buy duty free jewelry (not on my list),.clothing from France and great bread, wine and cheese. Sint Maarten, on the other hand is where you get all the stuff for your boat. Lee and Cindy asked us to join them the next night at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club for Happy Hour. The Yacht Club has Happy Hour from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM which is when the bridge opens in the evening to let boats in and out of the lagoon. The pictures below show the entertainment during Happy Hour.

Nightly entertainment at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club is to watch the boats come in and out of the lagoon. The bridge opening is quite narrow for the Mega Yachts so it is fun to watch them squeeze through. The crowd lines up on the upper and lower deck; the bridge opening is pretty narrow; one Mega yacht starting to come through; the widest part of the yacht with fenders to protect it should the boat get too close; when the boat clears the bridge the crowd cheers and begs the Captain to blow the horn. The last picture is not a mega yacht but a sailboat from Macatawa, MI that came through the bridge one night. (0336, 0338, 0331, 0339, 0340, 0342 and 0286)

One of our favorite hangouts in Simpson Bay Lagoon is Shrimpy's Dockside Bar. Shrimpy's is run by Mike and Sally who are former cruisers from South Africa. Mike runs the local cruisers net each morning. The bar specialty is tapas plus they have free WiFi if you order something (I was always willing to drink a beer so Carl could use the internet). Besides food and drink, Shrimpy's provides free trash disposal, laundry services, book exchange, outboard and diesel repair, dinghy pressure wash, general information and a nautical flea market on Sunday. To bring in the cruisers for the flea market--Shrimpy's offers one keg of free beer. You should see the Cruisers line up for free beer! Many of the cruisers then stay to eat lunch and buy more beer.

The following pictures were taken at Shrimpy's. You can see from the first picture that quite a crowd gathers on Sunday. The second picture is of the Sunday Nautical Flea Market. The third and fourth picture show that "not all visitors to Shrimpy's are human!(0311, 0314, 0305, 0310, )


The following pictures where taken at the Sunset Beach Bar. The Bar offers several different kinds of entertainment--I will focus on the musical entertainment and the airplanes. It is a tourist thing to go to the Sunset Beach Bar Sunday afternoon. The bar is on the end of the runway. Planes come screaming over your head as you sit at the bar or on the beach.  The last picture was taken when a 747 jet was powering up at the end of the runway. The thrust generated from the jet engines created a sandstorm--we saw people's beach towels, bags and small children blown from the beach into the water!. (0320, 0322, 0317, 0324)

One day, the girls took the bus to Phillipsburg to shop and have lunch. The cruise ships stop in Phillipsburg so the town has many, many duty free liquor stores. The following picture is of Marcia (NON-LINEAR), Carol (MAGIC MOMENTS) and Maribel (PAPER MOON) tasting samples at the Duty Free Liquor Store (0350)

In Sint Maarten, we caught up with cruising friends on LUCILLE (Sandy and Bill) and NOTTUS (Jack and Annie). NOTTUS and LUCILLE are both Saga 43's. At one point in time there were four Saga 43's in the harbor, one Saga 409 and one Sage 35! The following picture was taken at the Sint Maaten Yacht Club before going out for dinner.(0378)

We had a great time in St. Martin/Sint Maarten--time to move on! Left on March 25 headed for Nevis. Perhaps we left too soon because the seas were pretty big due to unexpected squalls. . It was a rocking 62 nautical miles. I went down below to listen to weather but had to get back in the cockpit because of nausea. Thought that once we made it to St. Kitts we would be in the lee of the island for smooth seas. No way. It remained rough until we picked up a mooring at Nevis.

St. Kitts and Nevis are separate islands but one country. St. Kitts is green with a steep central mountain range rising 3750 feet. Much of it is covered in rainforest, which is often shrouded in passing clouds. The island was named by Christopher Columbus after his favorite saint--St. Christopher. The island of Nevis looks like a sombrero--peaked in the center and low on the edges. Clouds usually cap Mt. Nevis (3000 feet high). We did not have the time to visit either island except to anchor at Nevis and sleep on night before heading to Guadeloupe.

Picking up a mooring at Nevis (0380)

Passed Montserrat on our way from Nevis to Guadeloupe.  The northern half of the island is lush and green with beautiful mountains. Attractives houses are perched on the hills just below the mountains.  The southern half of the island is harsh terrain dominated by the Soufriere Hills volcano. This island has recently tangled with Mother Nature!! In 1979, Beatles Producer George Martin build the AIR Studio where Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton recorded their music. Then came Hurricane Hugo which damaged more than 90% of the island's structures forcing AIR Studios on Montserrat to close. Then in 1995, the long-dormant Soufrier Hills Volcano starting spewing hot gas and rock. Ash darkened the skies around the capital of Plymouth forcing evacuation to the north side of the island as the volcanic mud flows buried the capital. In 2003, the huge volcanic dome collapsed. Since then, the volcano has shown signs of settling down to sleep again. As we passed the volcano, the sky was filled with dust and steam and the unpleasant smell of rotten eggs. Perhaps next year, I will take a ferry ride to Montserrat from Nevis for a tour of the actual volcano!

Arrived in Deshaies (pronounced Day-hay), Guadeloupe at 6:00 PM.  It had been a long day--raised the Q flag, made dinner, showered and headed to bed. I hoped we would rest in Deshaies for a couple days. Decided not to stay because of the building north northeasterly swell. Left in the morning with plans to investigate the various anchorages along the coast to see if any of them offered protection from the swell. Stopped at Pigeon Island. There were about 6 sailboats at anchor there. It looked like we would get some protection so we dropped anchor. Customs and Immigration came by in a patrol boat. They saw us at anchor without a Q or courtesy flag so they stopped and came on board. We thought we were in trouble. Nope--they had the paperwork for us to complete to clear into Guadeloupe! After Customs and Immigration left, so did all the boats that were at anchor. The guy that checked us in asked if we had heard the weather. He said the anchorage was dangerous in a southeast swell. I asked about northeast and he just said again to listen to the weather. I wasn't comfortable with the anchorage so we pulled anchor and headed for Iles Des Saintes (The Saintes). Selected an anchorage in The Saintes from the charts that looked like it provided protection from the northeast. When we arrived at that anchorage--neither one of us liked it so we went looking for another spot. Ended up anchoring near the town, Bourg des Saintes in 40 feet of water. Put out 170 feet of chain.

Iles des Saintes--a cluster of 8 islands are part of Guadeloupe.Only two of the islands are inhabited. Numerous ferries carry tourists in from the  mainland. Cruise ships anchor in the harbor---their passengers go ashore for sight-seeing and shopping. During the day, the island is bustling with people and then it gets quiet in the evening.We met up with Alan and April on MOODY BLUE in The Saintes. Originally met Alan and April in Thompson Bay Long Island (Bahamas) about a year ago. They are headed to Grenada so we decided to stay in touch with each other especially for longer passages. Walked around the town, stopped in a few shops, purchased good bread and went out for dinner one night with April and Alan. April speaks a little French so she heldped us with the menu.

The following pictures were taken in The Saints. The first picture is our anchorage, the next picture is one of the village streets and the last picture is a Sailing Cruise Ship (0386, 0392,0398).

Left The Saintes on March 30th headed for Dominica--"The Nature Island of the Caribbean". We were greeted by Martin on PROVIDENCE as we approached Portsmouth. Martin is one of several yacht helpers or boat boys. It was tempting to stay but we decided to keep moving and visit the island next year. So, we put our Q flag up and stayed on board.

The following picture was taken in Portsmouth, Dominica (0399)

Left Dominica at COD (Crack of Dawn) headed for Fort de France, Martinique. The morning didn't start too well for me---I ran over a fish pot in the harbor! Our cutter sliced the line so we were free to go. Very light winds in the morning as we motored along the coast of Dominica. By the time we reached the passage from southern Dominica to northern Martinique, the winds picked up to around 18 knots. What a beautiful sail. DISCOVERY just cut through all the wind chop and swell like a hot knife through butter. Anchored just west of Fort St. Louis in 16 feet of water. Cleared Customs and Immigration at the Sea Services Ship Chandlery. There is a computer set up in the lobby of the Chandlery--fill out the form, print it and have the store employee stamp it to make it official. What a great way to clear! Walked around Rue de la Republique which is a pedestrian street with shops and restaurants.

The last picture was taken in Fort de France, Martinique on Rue de la Republique.(0402).

Staying in Fort de France for a couple days. Traveled 450 nautical miles this month. Have a good overview of the Leeward Islands for next year. Martinique is the first Windward Island and we have a month to get to Trinidad so we are pleased with our progress.

Submitted by:
Marilyn Thoreson
April 3, 2008