Antigua to St Maarten... relaxation and some hard work

Good Company
Richard and Janet
Wed 25 Mar 2015 17:50
When we got to Antigua George left us to stay in a hotel to get his ‘land legs’ for two days before he flew home to chilly Tennessee. Derek stayed with us for a week and once we had organized air tickets for him to make his connection in Tobago to fly home to Cape Town we started to relax and have some fun. We rented a car and toured the island. Sadly the roads are in great disrepair and although the island is only 281 square kilometres (108 square miles) it takes forever to get anywhere. We first went up to Shirley Heights and looked down on our boat from the hill. She looked so tiny at anchor down in English Harbour… did she really carry us 2800 miles across the ocean?

We went to Half Moon Bay, a beautiful beach, shaped just like a half moon. We saw the Viv Richards Cricket Stadium, named after one of the island’s famous sons. There is a small section of rain forest on Antigua and we enjoyed the drive along Fig Tree Drive through guava, mango, orange and coconut trees. We also braved the most terrible track I have ever seen to Devil’s Bridge, a rock with blow holes and spouting waves. Legend says that if you throw two eggs in the water to boil, the devil (who is said to be down there) will keep one and throw the other back to you!

We took the dinghy over to the small reef in English Harbour and the three of us snorkeled in wonderfully clear, warm water at 27 deg. C (81 F). We saw pretty reef fish, rays, barracuda and a turtle. There is a wreck there and it is amazing to see how it has become a home to many. We found a pleasant café, Temo’s in Falmouth Harbour, a short walk away, and for the cost of a cold drink or beer we could sit in the garden and use their Wi-Fi for as long as we liked. We also had delicious hamburgers and chips there, something we didn’t have all those weeks at sea.

On the Wednesday after we arrived we had a mechanic come to the boat to look at the engine. To our pleasant surprise he found that it was not seriously damaged. The crank case pulley had come loose and needed tightening. At sea Richard had tightened the fan belt by moving the alternator but hadn’t realised that this pulley could also loosen. So we had a fully functional engine again, but still no wind and depth instruments or auto helm. Although Antigua is a major destination for mega-yachts the services for cruising yachts are not good and we decided not to buy new instruments there.

Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour has been beautifully restored to the way it was when Nelson used it as an English naval base. Derek and I visited the museum there and learnt some interesting facts. One I remember is that the term, scuttlebutt, meaning gossip or rumour originated from sailors standing around the ‘butt’ which had been ‘scuttled’ to allow the water to be removed to get drinking water… the equivalent of the modern day office water cooler. Needless to say we would not have enjoyed the quality of that water. How even some of them survived is a wonder!

After five nights we moved around the corner to Falmouth Harbour where the anchorage has less movement and to be further from the loud ‘music’ emanating from the beach bar! This was a fun half hour trip without any stress. For the next week we watched the most amazing yachts arriving for the RORC 600, a race around nine Caribbean islands. The fastest was Phaedo 3 a trimaran which completed the 600 miles in 1 day, 9 hours and 35 minutes!  We read later that it had crossed the Atlantic from Las Palmas to Antigua in 5 days. That is an average of 521 miles a day or 21 knots, somewhat faster than our 28 days and average of 4 knots. It also raced in St Maarten in the Heineken Regatta.

Derek’s seven weeks with us came to an end on 15 February. After a light breakfast we went for a drive to the north eastern side of the island to see Dickensen Bay. The beach is beautiful but it was a great disappointment as many businesses have closed down and there are only two fancy resorts there now. We drove on to Boons Bay where by chance we found a delightful (and reasonable) Greek roadside restaurant where we had delicious lamb shawarmas (another food item not on the menu during the crossing). Afterwards we dropped Derek at the airport, had a last drink together and said our good-byes.

In the next few days the weather was good to go north to St Maarten and we decided to make the move. We also wanted to get a spot in Simpson Bay before yachts started pouring in for the Heineken Regatta. We duly checked out and planned our departure for 12 pm to sail 97 miles and arrive in daylight. Richard and I did our first significant distance alone on Good Company and all went very well. We shared the helming through the night, had perfect sailing conditions and averaged 5.3 knots on a downwind run. We had a bright moon and it was how sailing is supposed to be! We arrived on the outskirts of Philipsburg at 6.30 am and had to wait for about 45 minutes for seven cruise ships to pass in front of us. We then remembered that Thursday always was the busiest cruise ship day and nothing had changed. We found a good spot to anchor near the sunken dry dock and after a short rest went and checked in with Customs and Immigration.

After that we spent a good while just relaxing and catching up with friends from 11 years ago who are still on the island. We enjoyed the regatta from 5 – 8 March watching the starts and finishes in the bay and going ashore to have a look at the party venue on Kim-Sha Beach. We could hear the music in the bay and most of it was pleasant. We also went shopping and stocked up on food at more reasonable prices than in Antigua. There is a really good mini-bus service here and for a dollar or two you can get to wherever you need to go. You just stand on the side of the road where the bus can pull over and stick your arm out. And when you get on the bus it is good form to greet the driver (and everyone in general) with a cheery ‘Good day’!

While having fun and relaxing Richard was looking into what new equipment we should put on the boat to replace the auto helm and wind/depth/speed instruments. We also noticed that the growth on the hull was increasing exponentially in the lovely warm tropical water and decided it would be a good time to haul the boat and change the anti-foul paint (different formulas are used for cold and warm water). And so we made a booking to haul the boat after the regatta had ended.

We duly went onto the hard at Bobby’s Megayard on 11 March and embarked on a week of very hard work. The yard is full of mosquitoes and we got our share of bites. When the wind blows the dust blows everywhere… more fun! Richard did most of the work himself (with Janet as his able assistant). We fitted all the instruments and their cables (I hauled Richard up the mast three times in one day to put up the wind instrument) but had to get an ‘electronics man’ to connect the wires to the special box to enable everything to ‘talk’ to each another.  There were numerous frustrating hiccups along the way, mostly involving chasing up people, but we got it done in the end. The screens for the wind, depth and speed are in colour and much clearer. The auto pilot is now hydraulic and works from the ram (not the wheel) and the great improvement is that it is MUCH quieter. However, we did have to get hydraulics experts in to make the new tubing . We trust the upgrades will be good for another 10 years!

We didn’t scrape, sand or paint the hull ourselves, thank goodness. This was done very professionally (and reasonably) by the yard staff over two days.  We also engaged the services of a friendly, professional sign maker, Tim so now we have the name on both sides of the yacht, on the dinghy and our registration number on the back of the boat.

The most difficult job we did was replacing the gaiter on the stern drive of the engine. I am sure we are the only ones to have done this job with only two people (one a woman, not that strong) and some cleverly worked out ropes to suspend the engine. The biggest difficulty is that once the gaiter has been fitted you have to reattach the leg with a spline fitted, back into the main part and get it to line up. This means lifting the awkward, heavy leg and maneuvering it into the precise position. This was also a day the wind chose to blow so we were trying to keep dust off the spline and there was also oil and grease everywhere. The whole job, removing the old oil and the old gaiter to completion took 3 hours. What a relief when it was over. Once again kudos to my husband for refusing to give up… ever!

We strengthened our bed by adding fibre glass all around the edges of the base and down the middle and we also added some to the saloon couches. This was an easy job in comparison and we managed not to spill any resin this time.

We did take some evenings off to relax. One night we went to Lagoonies Bar for supper and listened to a really good band with an excellent guitarist and singer. We also took the bus one evening to Sunset Beach Bar where the airport runway begins virtually on the beach and it is a great place for plane spotting.

We went back in the water last Thursday and have been reveling at being afloat and in the blue water out in the bay again. Richard is back fishing for anything and everything… his therapy… he had fun catching a big barracuda and releasing it – we can’t eat them here because of Ciguatera. He snorkels to the sunken dry dock and to the beach, good exercise. I get him to drop me at the beach in the dinghy and go for a long walk and swim before he collects me. I would swim to the beach myself but could get run over by a jet-ski.

We sorted all the tools and spares yesterday, a very satisfying undertaking. We will be here for a while longer as the owner of the water maker company will be coming to the island on Friday and is coming to visit us… we will keep you posted.