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Date: 06 Feb 2011 02:13:00
Title: An unexpected anchorage

18:06.997N 062:59.348W, Ile Tintamarre, Saturday Night

We're rolling around in an open bay just south of a tiny uninhabited island just North of St Martin. We intended to go to St Barths this afternoon but things didn't go quite as planned.

After we left the Eco Lodge yesterday afternoon, we met up with our taxi driver as arranged and he took us to the church in Zion, behind which was a lace emporium. He'd phoned a woman earlier so she was there ready to show us her handiwork. I assume she was family as they were both from Saba and, as there are only 2000 inhabitants, they must all be fairly closely related. She was really friendly and showed us some lovely work. It's a special kind of lace called "drawn thread work" which a Saban woman was taught in a convent in South America and brought back home with her. It became an island speciality and it's very attractive. Andrea wanted to get some as she's always fascinated by lace. Once we'd made our choice, we wished her farewell and went to retrieve our driver who was sitting in a nearby shed with his mates having a beer.

He took us straight down to the airport so we sorted our bags out and checked them in leaving us with all the video gear and Andrea dressed as Janeway. With that, we walked from the tiny terminal down to the nearby lava flows and did some filming with the waves crashing in the background - I hope the video comes out well as the place was just like another world, as indeed was the whole of Saba. We got back to the airport in time to watch the plane land, the passengers stagger off and then it was our turn to get in. We were particularly impressed with the way the ground crew tucked-in the string which held the steps as he closed the door. The plane then taxied to the West end of the runway and turned with the wheels about 2 meters away from a sheer drop into the sea. Once lined up, the pilot locked the brakes and revved the nuts off the engines. The whole plane was shaking with the force until he released the brakes and we shot off towards the ocean 400 meters ahead. The wheels left the tarmac with about 50 meters to spare and then the ground dropped out from beneath us and we were airborne over the waves. It was about as exciting as I'm happy for air travel to be.

The rest of the plane ride was pretty uneventful and we were soon back in Marigot using the internet in the cafe by the marina while Kali made her way back from a day out in the hills. She took us back to Saxon Blue and went off for a meal with Dominic, the owner of an amazing aluminium boat that we'd been admiring in the marina. Andrea and I ate far too much of the curry which Kali had prepared for us and went to bed.

After breakfast onboard this morning, it was time to go ashore in Marigot one last time. We met up with Jimmy and the crew of Starbound, his Spray replica and had a look around their lovely wooden vessel where we discussed marine toilets and other important matters. Then we went to look around Dominic's aluminium masterpiece. He had once owned an 80 foot boat and suffered all the attendant problems before designing this 35 foot work of art. He's a professional designer of all sorts of stuff like custom motorcycles and the boat shows off his skills to the max. She looks much bigger inside than she does out, thanks to having just one open space with all the bunks, kitchen and nav gear fitted around. She's like a full-on race boat but designed for cruising and he's done 70 000 miles in her. Another lesson of our trip: "don't buy a boat bigger than you need". It seems to me that bigger boats bring bigger problems and less enjoyment. Saxon Blue seems just about right.

By now, it was time to leave so we hauled our anchor up and headed out into a fairly rough sea. The wind was blowing around 25 knots with occasional squalls coming through. We headed North up the coast of St Martin and then turned East into a bit more swell. We were motoring into it with the mainsail up giving us some stability when an alarm sounded from the console. I looked down, expecting it to be the "water in fuel" warning which goes off occasionally but it was the "engine coolant temperature" light glowing. Not good.

I immediately put the engine into tickover as I didn't want to make the problem worse by cutting off all the cooling and we got the jib up so we could sail. We couldn't make our course to St Barths and there were rocky shoals to either side so it wasn't the ideal place to start tacking to windward. I'd seen some yachts anchored off an island to the North of us on our way past so I turned Saxon Blue and headed over there with the thought that we could anchor up and sort out the problem in safety. The engine coolant temperature was now returning to normal but I turned it off just in case. As we neared the other boats, I could see that they were on mooring buoys so we'd need to try and pick one of those up. We dropped the jib and sailed in with just the main but the wind got really flukey and, just to compound things, it started heaving it down with rain so I could hardly see. We got almost to a buoy but I wasn't confident of picking it up first go with just the sails so I popped the engine on, Kali picked up the line and I switched the engine off again.

Now safe, we rigged a bridle to the pick-up line, put the mainsail away and took a deep breath. Kali and I discussed our problem-solving sequence while Andrea made a cup of tea. As we drank it, we noticed two catamarans steaming in towards us. One passed each side of Saxon Blue, each doing about 6 knots. I remarked to Andrea that they must be having a race and then we realised with horror that they were each trying to beat the other to the mooring buoy in front of us. They all started shouting at each other and the leading one sheered off, allowing the other to claim the prize. The thing is, there were another dozen unused moorings to either side of us. This insane jousting for moorings seems to be part of the Caribbean scene.

It all gave us a good laugh anyway. We flushed our toilets thus convincing ourselves that we had water in our intake manifold, then Kali snorkelled around to check that it was coming out of our raw water outlet. It was so that meant that our impeller must be OK and that we had cooling water flow. Also, our exhaust temperature alarm hadn't sounded so I was sure we had raw water. I wondered whether there was a lack of engine cooling water but it looked OK. Could it be the engine coolant pump? Didn't seem likely so we ran the engine again with some revs on it for a while to see what happened to the temperature. It all seemed fine. As things stand, I'm none the wiser as to what the problem was. We'll motor over towards St Barths again tomorrow and see if it recurs when we've got some load on the engine. With the gauge and the alarm showing too hot, something must have happened but perhaps it'll never happen again. Let's hope so.

By then, it was too late to move so I went snorkelling while Kali made dinner and we've just eaten a delicious spinach and tofu pie. The anchorage is a bit too exposed to be comfortable as there is a fair old swell rolling through but we'll just have to put up with that until the morning. At least we're not on the Amel next door - she's nearly rolling her gunwales under. That'll teach them not to buy a French boat!

Harvey

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