Easter break, Barbados visit, lionfish and water maker developments

Good Company
Richard and Janet
Mon 27 Apr 2015 19:39
The water maker manufacturer came to see us on Monday 30 March. If you read the previous post you will have seen that we were eagerly awaiting his arrival after calling him, and to our surprise being told that he was coming to St Maarten in a few days to see another client. After much meaningless bluster about his personal circumstances he finally looked at our setup, commenting that Richard had fitted it very well…. I knew that! He told us he would send us new membranes and membrane housing as soon as he got back to Canada. He would also send a Serpentine pulley kit worth $900…. as compensation for ‘all the inconvenience’. This increases the output of the alternator when charging your batteries, without straining the engine. We were very happy until he emailed and asked if the package could be sent to their dealer in Puerto Rico as his contact here (who he was hoping would be a local dealer for him) wasn’t answering his calls… I wonder why!  We refused to collect it there as we don’t want to call into Puerto Rico and the package is now on its way to St Maarten to an address of our choosing and should arrive tomorrow. This time the membranes are being sent in a solution to prevent them freezing in the hold of the plane, something we believe wasn’t done when they sent the first two to England and which they certainly didn’t do with two they sent to us in Gran Canaria. So the saga drags on… we will let you know if we are making water in our next post.

We took a break from Simpson Bay over Easter and sailed around the island. The first leg was a real beat into the wind but was a good test for the boat and the new equipment and all went well. We spent the first two nights at Grand Case on the French side of the island. It is a very attractive spot and we had beautiful sunsets without land blocking the view, as happens in Simpson Bay. We also saw our first dolphin since the trip from Madeira to the Canaries! We snorkeled at Rocher Creole, supposedly a good spot, but didn’t see very much besides hundreds of little sergeant majors. We took a walk around the village and had a look at the menus posted outside the restaurants. Grand Case is the gastronomic capital of the island but all the restaurants are ridiculously overpriced so we had tasty meals at home and saved our cents.

On Sunday morning we were up early and motored for an hour to Tintamarre, a flat island about a mile long with a lovely anchorage when the weather is good… and that day it was perfect. It is a destination for day trippers from the mainland and over Easter was probably busier than usual. People arrived in small power boats, on large day charter yachts, on private charter yachts and on their own yachts, like us. This didn’t spoil it however… we snorkeled after breakfast and saw quite a few fish, rays and turtles. We then spent the rest of the day in the cockpit watching boats arrive and depart, snorkelers galore (we counted 45 at one time) and people having fun on the beach. We were anchored only 100 metres from the shore. There was such a great atmosphere… skippers were all responsible and came in carefully with full regard for swimmers, no one played their music too loudly and it was truly a lovely day and a half. An ice-cream lady arrived by boat in the afternoon and went around to all the boats doing good business. We pulled up anchor on Monday afternoon and motor sailed down the east coast of the island back ‘home’ to Simpson Bay, refreshed by the change of scenery.

We then had another task on our hands, this time of a bureaucratic nature. Having spoken to other cruisers and done in-depth research on the Internet we knew we had to get visas to take our boat into the USA. You can’t use the ESTA visa waiver and if we had known this, we could have got visas in London before we left. Our closest US Embassy is in Barbados and so we submitted the application forms and made an appointment for 16 April. We had to fly there - it is a long hard sail to windward and we were not attempting that! We decided to go for three nights and see a little of the island. 

Through the travel agent we found a homely B&B with a lady called Janice who included airport transfers and a taxi to and from the embassy in her excellent price of $290. We flew on Wednesday night (is only an hour by air), got our appointment out the way at 8.30 in the morning (all went fine) and then went off to explore Bridgetown using the local bus service. There is a good system there, with three bus services: the blue government buses, the smaller yellow private buses (which still have conductors) and the ZR mini-buses, which evidently fly along at break-neck speeds - we didn’t use any so cannot vouch for them. All of them charge $2 a trip – that is local ‘Bajan’ dollars which are 2 to 1 US$. Our first trip was on a yellow bus and we got off in the middle of the town. We walked around and saw all the main sights, but as is the case with most Caribbean islands, the capital was not the most beautiful place. We had a flashback when we found ‘Woolworth’ with much the same type of goods you used to get in the UK stores before they closed down. After asking the very friendly locals for directions we eventually found the bus terminal and caught a blue bus back ‘home’ and relaxed for the rest of the day watching some television and using the Wi-Fi.

On Friday morning we had a lovely long chat with Janice, a most interesting lady with lots of stories to tell. She did a degree in the UK many years ago, was later involved in an organization for women in Barbados and through this won a scholarship to do further study in the USA. She started opening her home to students at the university when her children were studying and now uses the rooms for visitors.

Around midday we set off to get two buses, one into Bridgetown and another along the south coast to Oistins, a fishing village. In the late afternoon we met up with Sherry, a friend from Imperial College who by coincidence arrived on the island that day for her annual holiday. We had been in touch because I contacted her about the island as I knew she visited there often. It was great to see her again and to meet her husband, Gary. They took us to the famous Friday night fish fry at Oistins where we had deliciously fresh red snapper and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. It was quite something to see about 1000 people seated at outdoor tables being served from the many tiny kitchens, each with a barbeque outside. There was up-beat Caribbean music and a family vibe with children and their parents dancing on the stage together. Stalls line the area with people selling local crafts. We walked back to Sherry and Gary’s cottage and called a taxi to take us home as buses were too risky after dark. We didn’t stay late as they were tired from their flight and we had to be up at 5.30 the next day to catch our plane back to St Maarten.

As we had to use our passports to fly back here we didn't actually have the visas in them yet – this isn’t done on the day you have the interview like in the old days. On Monday we were at the local DHL office early to send them to the US embassy in Barbados with the pink slip we had been given and hope to get them back tomorrow.

Last week we got the sewing machine out again and have made mosquito nets for all the hatches and the door. We bought the netting from Ace hardware store for $15, cut it to size and sewed Velcro (still have rolls we bought in the UK on eBay) onto the edges. We can use the Velcro directly onto the carpeted ceiling for the hatches and have stuck a strip of it onto the wood around the door – we have been assured we will need them when we reach the intra-coastal waterways!

We have snorkeled regularly along the reef in Simpson Bay. There is not a lot to see but we do enjoy the exercise. Richard has helped the local environment by spearing three lionfish. This is an invasive species from the Pacific which has become a menace in Caribbean waters and in some places they pay you to kill them. Rumour has it that they arrived here when somebody in Florida emptied the fish from their aquarium into the sea. They are pretty fish but their beauty is misleading as their spikes are dangerously venomous. Those interested can google 'lionfish research program'. 

On a lighter note, when we got back to the boat from a swim a few days ago we found six perfectly good dinner plates lying in the ocean grass in 14 feet of water. We think they may have come from a charter boat, but goodness only knows why and how they landed up overboard!

We have bought a new navigation tool so we have an additional chart plotter. The ‘Nimble Navstick’ was developed by a cruiser who is based here. It gives you worldwide charts on a USB stick with a built in GPS which can be plugged into any Windows computer and is very reasonable. Anyone interested, see www.nimblenavigator.com Mike has also shown us how to set up our Iridium phone to get weather forecasts using ViewFax… better late than never!

For weeks the wind blew from the east or north east and last week it changed to a south easterly. This has made the anchorage so rolly that yesterday we decided to go into the lagoon where we are sheltered from the swell. It has also brought in tons of Sargasso and the beach is full of it, up to a foot deep in places. It is wonderfully nutritious for sea life but is going to cause quite a smell when it starts rotting on the shore. It will be interesting to see how they will deal with it here.

We are really ready to move on now… this coming Thursday will have been here for ten weeks! We have got a lot done which is satisfying and if the water maker works we will be VERY happy. We will still be leaving even if it doesn’t work and will continue the ‘fight’ when we get to Florida. Our next stop will be Virgin Gorda, an overnight sail of 90 miles and the plan is to be there on Friday!

Can you see the man in the clouds? Richard took this photo in Simpson Bay

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