Showing posts with label Saint Martin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saint Martin. Show all posts

16 February 2020

More Boat Projects in Paradise

After an indulgent extended weekend in Saba, attention was quickly re-focused on Argon. We had a few more days tied to a dock at Simpson Bay Marina on the dutch side of St. Martin thus a perfect time to tackle our latest nautical to do list.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Back to Cruising Life - More Boat Projects in Paradise

Just few weeks ago we were feeling accomplished when numerous projects and chores where completed while docked at Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbor. But alas, the new list started to form even before we left Antigua.

Topping Lift

The topping lift runs from the top of the mast to the aft end of the boom. Most of the time it hangs a bit slack and does nothing. Sometimes, such as when motoring in sloshing seas, the topping lift is important for holding the boom up off the bimini and dodger. Recently (ever since bending the new main sail in Grenada) the topping lift has caused us trouble periodically by fouling in the leech cleat, batten pockets or reefing rings causing angst and mild terror when struggling to drop the sail including once when approaching dangerous reefs in Barbuda. The assessment, options and solution will be a topic of a separate blog coming soon.

The topping lift has been causing problems - getting caught in the leech cleat, Antal rings (for reefing) and the batten pockets. This has been quite frustrating and a bit scary when it interferes with getting the sail down. Bob has been thinking a lot about options. A detailed sailing geek blog dedicated to the topping lift is forthcoming.

Getting ready to be hoisted up the mast to check out the topping lift and re-run the lazy jacks.

View from just above the first set of spreaders to re-run the lazy jacks. Also removed the connection of the topping lift at the top of the mast

Boom Pad Eye and Backing Plate

It's just a little pad eye... what's the big deal?

We were awoken suddenly in the early morning dark while anchored near St. George, Grenada, back in November to a crash and loud rhythmic squeaking as the boom thrashed back and forth violently, its inertia accentuating the sounds in the swell. The dock line that runs from under the boom, normally attached snugly to a midships cleat to keep the boom stable and quiet while at anchor, lay slack. Quickly we found the culprit - a busted pad eye. This pad eye also attaches the boom brake (which made the crashing sound when falling on to the deck). @#$%! We re-fasten the boom temporarily and commited to making a more complete assessment at day light.

Argon's boom is a carbon fiber pocket style. Inside the V of the boom is a flat base allowing for a long hollow chamber for the out haul and reefing lines to run through in addition to the backing plates for the head of the vang and several pad eyes with backing plates to attach various blocks and run lines. After considering options, we decided to move an existing extra pad eye to the recently opened hole. That extra pad eye is normally the attachment for the Wichard Boom Brake. We knew we had mostly upwind sailing in the near future until at least Antigua so this wasn't that urgent as the boom brake is more instrumental when sailing down wind. We planned to fully address the busted pad eye situation in Antigua a few weeks ago, but our time at dock there was during an especially windy spell which prevented us from doing anything that required removing the boom from the mast. But now that we are in St. Martin at a dock with low winds, with more down wind sailing for the next few months, it is time to get this fixed appropriately.

Back in November (Grenada) a pad eye under the boom busted (strangely, while we were at anchor). Now that we are in the cruiser's shopping mall of the Caribbean and on a dock, it is time to get this fixed properly.

Main sail taken off on a low wind morning in preparation to try to get the busted backing plate out of the boom. Good time to also inspect the sail track cars and replace any missing ball bearings. We wanted to use the broken backing plate as a template to get a new one fabricated and remove it to prevent it from perhaps fouling something someday.

First, let's retrieve the broken backing plate from the boom by tilting the boom up...

Ok, tilt it more; shake it around. Nothing. No sign of the backing plate.

Let's try removing the boom completely and hanging it vertical. (What can go wrong?) Ugh - still no backing plate! Bob said it must have gone in to another dimension.

Ok, now dinghy across the lagoon over to FKG Rigging to get a new pad eye and backing plate fabricated (and a spare). $200 and a couple days later - voila!

New pad eye and backing plate; and a spare.

Messenger line attached for the patience-testing activity of getting the new pad eye through the boom, pulled in to the slot in the carbon, and re-fastened.

After several tries and permutations with messenger lines and a metal hook...

Almost... now to get those fasteners in.

FKG did a very nice job fabricating the new backing plates without one to use as a template, but the threaded holes were just a tiny bit off center of the clearance holes in the carbon.  We opened two of them up just a bit.

Ta-da!!! Phew, that was quite the project. Now time to get the main sail back on.

Dinghy Scrubbing

Algae and barnacle growth on the bottom of Argon as well as the dinghy requires regular attention. Argon has ablative anti-fouling bottom paint which helps control the growth but still requires us (and occasionally a professional diver) to scrub and scrape. The growth on the aluminum dinghy bottom and hypalon inflated pontoons is particularly stubborn. I have been unable to get the dinghy bottom clean with a scrub brush while she has been in the water. This is going to require a more concerted effort and chemicals.

Dinghy bottom before: The stubborn algae was impossible to scrub off with a stiff brush in the water. Time for more concerted effort (and chemicals).

The outboard, bench, and all contents removed; dinghy hauled up on to the dock, Calbert and I attack the dinghy with diluted On-Off, Simple Green, Magic Eraser, regular boat soap and elbow grease.

After:  Much better! We are now going to be more disciplined about hoisting the dinghy on the davits more often when not in use to keep the growth at bay.

Hull & Deck Waxing, Stainless Polishing, Teak Cleaning

The salt and sun wage constant assault on a boat. I set my sights on polishing the stainless steel, waxing the gel coat decks, and cleaning the teach cockpit. Help is employed to clean and wax Argon's hull.

I splurge and hire Calbert and Pete to clean and wax Argon's hull while I work on the waxing, polishing and other cleaning.

Some of the products used to help keep Argon shiny:  Scotch Guard and 3M for waxing the hull and gel coat. And some Awlgrip wax (not pictured) for a finishing touch on the hull. Flitz for polishing the stainless steel along with OsPho and Spotless Stainless for the more stubborn rust spots.

Cockpit teak scrubbing.

Deck waxing started in St. Martin and finished while at anchor in Anguilla. Well, is it ever finished?

Water Treatment, Tank Filling, Strainer Cleaning and Laundry

Argon carries 135 gallons of water between two tanks. We have no water maker nor a sophisticated water treatment system. To keep the tank water potable, we flush the tanks periodically (difficult with scarcity and expense of good water in the Caribbean) and the add chlorine. When there is enough fresh water to spare, I can do some laundry by hand. Raw water filters for the refrigerator, diesel and air conditioner are checked and cleaned regularly.

Water tanks were low so we decided to give them a good shock with some extra bleach while we were away in Saba. Then inspect to ensure all looked fairly clean and clear, followed by a good flushing. Having access to good potable water at the marina (at 20 cents / gallon!) allowed us to have full water tanks upon departure. We can last up to 3 weeks with very careful usage.

Good time to check the refrigerator and diesel raw water strainers. In addition to needing a cleaning, this one is getting corroded and will soon be replaced.
Several loads of laundry were done at a nearby laundromat but some items were best hand washed on board.

Jib Furling Drum Repair

The Harken furling systems are mostly very well designed. The weak spot is the top and bottom platters inside the drum. They consist of semi-circles of plastic held together by two fasteners. The problem is that the attachment for these fasteners breaks over time. More than a year ago in Bermuda, Bob did a "hack" to hold the platters together after this breakage. The problem if they separate is that they can no longer spin freely inside the drum. And spinning freely is the main thing a furling system is supposed to do.

While sailing from the dutch to the french side of St. Martin, we noticed that the jib was getting difficult to furl (again) and upon inspection, the Bermuda hack had failed and the bottom platter had separated. It was time to re-hack it. Always the engineer, Bob was saying something about a re-design and buying a 3D printer when we get home.

After departing Simpson Bay Marina en route to Marigot on the french side of St. Martin, we realized that the jib furler had an issue. Luckily Bob was able to fix it at anchor without taking down the jib as the winds were up.

WiFi Router - Failed Attempt to Resuscitate

Our beloved ArgonAfloat network is served by a Ubiquity Bullet Titanium router mounted up on the radar mast. The router has been getting flaky over the last few months sometimes working great, other times not so much. Normally cleaning connections and chanting incantations has solved the issue, but now it seems, the Bullet itself is really dead. Bob unmounted it from the mast and did some testing down below and declared "He's dead, Jim". It's been baking in the sun and freezing in the winter for five years, so we don't feel too badly about it. Fortunately, we are at a point in the cruise where we can primarily rely on mobile data from here on out anyway. We're shopping for replacement solutions (maybe another Bullet), but won't buy anything until we are stateside again.

Resuscitation of the WiFi router failed.

Vented Loop and Engine Check

The sump has been periodically kicking in even when no water is being flushed down its drains. If no water is flowing in to the sump, the only other source is that the discharge is siphoning back. A couple years ago, we added a vented loop to the sump discharge which solved the issue until recently. While in St. Martin we purchased a new vented loop and a spare. Time to crawl in to the aft bowls of Argon and replace. And, while back there, we also opened up the access panels to the starboard side of the diesel for an inspection revealing a broken air intake filter laying on the floor of the engine room. The foam was pretty much disintegrated. Another item to write on the shopping list (and we'll get a spare of course). In the meantime, we fabricate a new temporary one.

After clearing out the aft cabin (that functions as our storage closet for all sorts of stuff) Bob crawls back behind the cabin to replace the vented loop for the sump.

Upon peering in to the engine compartment I see the air filter has broken off.

We decide to sacrifice a linen top of mine to make a new air filter.

Jerry-rigged air filter. And one less white top.

Fishing and Sailing

Although maintenance and repairs are continual, and demands of our day jobs are constant, we feel pretty caught up and will be able to spend more time sailing and exploring for the next week or so.

Experimentation with different fishing lures continue as we troll between islands with recent activity. And we eagerly await the arrival of dear friends as we round out our stay in Anguilla.

Switching up lures off the coast of St. Martin.

Landed and carefully released modest sized barracuda.

First time using a simple cedar plug en route to Anguilla catches this marlin but only after his hind third was chomped by a shark or some other big fish. I was able to fillet a fair amount of delicious meat off the remaining part.

My office while at anchor in Road Bay, Anguilla.

Bob's office for a bit at Sunshine Shack, Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla.

Johno's, Road Bay Anguilla.

Our neighborhood for a little more than a week - Road Bay, Anguilla.

Even time for some music making now.

21 January 2017

Sailing the French Caribbean

Argon visite de superbes isles francaises... Argon visits beautiful French islands (I think that's what I said)...

Captain Linda Perry Riera

We have explored most of the French Caribbean islands over the past couple of months.
Listed in order of most French to least French (according to me):
  • Les Saintes (29 Nov - 4 Dec)
  • Guadeloupe (4 Dec - 14 Dec)
  • St. Barthelemy aka St. Barts (6 Jan - 9 Jan)
  • St. Martin aka Sint Maarten in the Dutch south (9 Jan - 22 Jan)

Martinique is another French Caribbean island but we did not venture this far south.
Disclaimer: I am kind of cheating by grouping Saint Martin with our French Island experience... the northern part of this island is French and the southern is Dutch. We anchored and moored in the Dutch section but there is clearly a seeping of cultures across the border and we enjoyed exploring the entire island a bit by car. 

Impressions - Positive and Not So Positive

Beautiful Water, Beaches, Anchorages, Hiking, and Sunsets

The sailing to these islands was sometimes calm and other times rigorous. Often we did short hops from one harbor to another as well as plenty of exploring on land. Each of these islands is abundant with gorgeous water and beaches. Some of the anchorages are well-protected, while others are more open to the elements.

A hilly, rigorous walk one morning to the northeast portion of Les Saintes is rewarded by an expanse of protected beach loaded with coconut trees: Baie de Pompierre. Later in the day the crowds from the day ferries from Guadeloupe arrive. 
View after a long climb up to Fort Nepoleon on Terre-de-Haut Island, Les Saintes. This fort was never used in battle and instead became a prison. It is now a museum of the history of Les Saintes and is surrounded by a botanical garden.

Hiking along a trail in the rain forest of Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe.

A short steep hike up to Fort Oscar yielded this view of Gustavia Harbor, St. Barts. St Barts was probably our least favorite island on our trip thus far. Although the water surrounding is beautiful, the anchoring is difficult (see below) and the overall feel of the island is that of a playground for the wealthy with endless high end shops and mega yachts.

Port of Dehaise - French for "Wind Tunnel Anchorage" apparently

One of our stops along the north western shore of Guadeloupe was Dehaise. This is a very popular anchorage and has a vibrant and busy downtown and restaurant scene.  On our second night here just about dinner time, the wind picked up into the low 20s. No problem - probably a passing squall.  An hour later, it was clear this was no quick squall as we were now sustained in the 30s.  This was going to be a long night. We experienced several gusts into the high 30s with one hitting 39 for a few nervous moments. It was not until about 0500 the next day after a sleepless night on high alert that winds fell back to the low 20s (a relative relief but normally what we would consider a pretty windy anchorage). The forecast was for mid to high teens.

Our anchor slowly dragged "only" about 25 feet overnight. Other boats struggled much more with holding having to re-set many times with one catamaran eventually giving up in the middle of the night and taking off southward in search of more protection.

Our most uncomfortable and tiring anchorage was in Dehaise on northwestern Guadeloupe. Although absolutely gorgeous, the cliffs and hills surrounding are known to act as a wind tunnel accelerating the easterly trade winds.

During one of our days here, the wind was low enough that we felt comfortable leaving the boat and renting a car for the day. We got a 5 speed Ford Festiva and Bob had way too much fun driving around the steep and windy mountainous roads of Guadeloupe. It was Bob's first time driving in months and his first time handling a manual transmission car in decades.

St. Barts presented another beautiful but difficult anchorage. The water was spectacularly clear and inviting but there was scare room among hundreds of mooring balls and fairly deep water requiring a lot of scope.

Deceiving picture of our anchorage outside of Gustavia Harbor in St. Barts... Although the water was spectacularly clear (with many sea turtles all around) and the scenery beautiful, the conditions were very exposed (rockin' and rollin'). It was difficult to find a good place to anchor given the hundreds of private moorings that fill the anchoring area and less than ideal depths (mostly around 30 feet) requiring generous scope. One may notice a bit of a pattern with beauty sometimes going hand in hand with challenging.

Anchorage in Les Saintes.

We have been blessed with so many beautiful sunsets. This never gets old.

Most of the waters in the French Islands have been clear and inviting. Water temperatures continue to be welcoming at 80-81F. Our best snorkeling to date was in Guadeloupe at Pigeon Beach and Jacques Cousteau Marine Preservation. The video below starts off with us snorkeling with several docile sea turtles next to where Argon was anchored, then out by Pigeon Island where we ventured on the dinghy for a really impressive underwater show.

Note: An exception to the pristine waters in the french territories is definitely in marinas and other waters that are somewhat landlocked. Unfortunately there is rudimentary water and sewage treatment on these islands with some harbors being literal dumping grounds. Upon some google searching, there seem to be some efforts underway in Saint Martin to upgrade water treatment. Let's hope this happens before the conditions in harbors progress from just gross to toxic.


Delicious Food

The French sure know how to do food well. Whether it is a restaurant for a sit down meal, a cafe for a coffee and pastry, or provisioning at a grocery store, it is a pleasure to eat and shop for food on these islands. The prices seem to be strangely reasonable too. I have enjoyed getting all sorts of pate (Bob calls this cat food), bechamel sauce, creme francaise, different cheeses, delicate packaged crackers of different sorts, etc.
A fantastic French bakery in Saint Martin became a quick favorite. Awesome breaks and croissants!

Charming streets in Les Saintes lined with dozens of small restaurants where the food is always deliberately prepared.

Deedo at Rum and Peas in Saint Martin mixing up a Rosemary Ginger Martini and a Mint Rum Fizz.

Attitude and Service

The food may be terrific but sometimes getting and/or paying for it can be challenging. I am trying to be culturally open minded and not overly American; however, the service, particularly in French restaurants, continues to puzzle. It is often as if we are an imposition. It feels like once your food has been brought to you, they are done with you. One experience (of which we have experienced several permutations) was at a restaurant in Guadeloupe near Bas du Fort where we sat with empty glasses and clear plates for an enormous amount of time while our waitress sat in a corner gazing up in the air puffing cigarette after cigarette. (Smoking is still a thing on these islands.) Am I supposed to approach her and ask for more water or the check? Do I try to get someone else's attention? I wish I could say this was a one-off experience. I will be sure to seek guidance and understanding from my French friends when back home. Oh, and, we normally enjoy hopping between restaurants... getting a quick app and drink at one place and moving on to the next to perhaps share an entree, etc. That does not work in these territories. Once you enter a restaurant, you have entered a long term commitment for your evening. There is no hopping!


Other Stuff


Crime / Dinghy Theft

Although we have not had a problem ourselves, we have heard from more than one source (mostly French people) that one should always lock their dinghy up (even in daylight and even when at your own boat) when in any French territories in the Caribbean. Maybe our lowly A/B dinghy with its scrawny 6hp outboard is less desirable than a french Zodiac with more manly power (which is fine by me). Many people lock their dinghies up with serious chains probably bigger than their anchor chain; we use wimpy steel cables hopefully a deterrent for the unmotivated thief. We are not used to locking up our dinghy and find it pretty sad that we should need to. If we come to a dock and all other dinghies are locked, we lock ours too. We don't want to be the "easy one".

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the large marine supply stores on St Martin hire people to steel dinghies. We attended a seminar to help our fishing skills and I could not help but notice all the lovely new dinghies on display ready for purchase.


Well-Stocked Chandleries

We made a concerted effort to stock up on spare parts of all sorts prior to leaving Boston having heard that it can be challenging to get needed parts on many islands. Unfortunately, we somehow missed securing spare zincs.

We were like kids in a candy store when finally discovering a real chandlery in Guadeloupe after searching across several islands. We noticed back in Antigua that our prop zinc was in dire need of replacing. After searching in vain for a new anode in Antigua, Dominica and Les Saintes, we were in heaven to finally find a well stocked chandlery near Marina Bas Du Fort in Guadeloupe.
We would eventually learn that Saint Martin, which was visited many weeks later, is the super island for marine supplies in the Caribbean. We paid several visits (cha-ching) to Island Water Works in Simpson Bay during our stay there.


Puzzling Business Hours

Hours of business operations were challenging to adjust to on Les Saintes and Guadeloupe. Many businesses close around noon to three and most restaurants close around three to seven. It was sometimes maddening. It's not okay to be hungry at 4 or 5 pm or to need something from the hardware store at 2 pm. We eventually learned to plan our trips ashore better.

On this day we had skipped lunch and were starving for dinner by 5pm. But no, no, no... dis is not allowed to have dinner or even an appetizer so early. We found a market open, which of course all sell very good yet inexpensive wine, and parked ourselves on a bench drinking wine out of the bottle and munching on peanuts at 6pm. Gawdy, eh?


Not completely unexpected, given well known French pride, it was sometimes difficult to explain a needed boat part or secure directions being a typical American fluent in only our native tongue. Of course we tried using common phrases such as s'il vous plait, merci beaucoup, bonsoir. And unsuccessfully attempted to get a bit more complicated by asking puis-je parler anglais (but my pronunciation was so poor the dockhand at Marina Bas Du Fort did not understand me so I resorted to the more standard parlez-vous anglais). Most menus, especially in Les Saintes and Guadeloupe, were only in French; I could decipher if something was duck or fish or with cheese and eventually if it had mushrooms or eggplant, but not much more. It was sometimes a "surprise meal". Saint Martin was an exception as it is quite American compared to the others.

Uh, yes, sure. Completely clear.

This we can understand.

Comfortable Nudity

Commonplace was lots of naked cruisers of all sizes and ages comfortably washing themselves off their sterns or just generally hanging out (bah-zing!)
"Bonjour, Argon" we hear from the water behind the boat as a man swam up to us. Upon inviting him aboard, I was relieved to see he had swimming trunks on (usually he did not). We enjoyed a nice chat with Michele from the catamaran anchored next to us before he jumped off and swam back. Michele is a pilot in France and showed us some very interesting weather applications that he uses both while flying and sailing.


First the cool part... There is a really fun beach at the beginning of the runway in Saint Martin. Maho Beach is a popular place to hang out and watch and listen to the roar of the arriving and departing aircraft. Bars flank this section of the beach where one can hang out watch the action from a safe distance.

Maho Beach is a popular place to hang out and watch and listen to the roar of the incoming aircraft approaching the nearby runway. And... people purposely stand in line with the runway (in the danger zone) to get blasted down the beach by the jets as they take off. (Not me! And that's not quite how Bob got hurt.)

Signs warn of the dangerous jet blasts, but many ignore.

Here is a very short video of some of the action at Maho Beach:

The white sand beach and turquoise water is quite inviting. Sometimes, however, the surf really picks up such as when we were there. We decided to play in the water any way which ended up being a big mistake. A big wave picked Bob up, turned him over, and he was pummeled in to the sand landing his shoulder. He said he knew immediately that he was really hurt. After struggling to crawl away from the continued waves in excruciating pain, it was clear he was more than just bruised.

Feeling a bit better post Xrays and with a bit of pain medication. The medical centers on Saint Martin are very modern. Bob was efficiently evaluated, diagnosed with a broken collar bone and treated at a nearby hospital and followed up the next day with an orthopedic surgeon (no surgery needed, just several weeks of no right arm). Bob was still blowing sand out of his nose two days later.

We revisited the site of the accident the following evening when the water was much calmer and enjoyed a glass of wine from the bar deck. We stayed out of the water.
I have also been struggling with a foot injury for weeks. (We are sounding like a couple of old people talking about our aches and pains these days.) Thank you to our brilliant friend, fellow sailor and Physical Therapist, John Murphy of Core Physical Therapy who kindly confirmed the diagnosis (plantar fasciitis) and gave us instruction on how to treat.

Pictured here is split prototype #1 using a knee pad, sail tie and belt which was soon upgraded with a thick velcro strap from our Dan Buoy to attach at the knee per feedback from John. A few days later, when at a pharmacy to fill Bob's pain medication prescription, I was able to purchase a proper night splint.The foot is doing better now, but still mending.

Cruising Friends

We have greatly enjoyed meeting the Wallace Family from Fairfield, Connecticut initially in Bermuda back in early November, then in Antigua where we enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving at Pillars, and now in Saint Martin. We hope to meet up with them again in the Bahamas around April.

The Wallace family is on a 10 month sailing trip aboard their lovely 49 foot Bavaria, Celeris. Pictured are mom Cindy with kids Jack and Emery. Dad Geof is busy working on a boat project.

Preparing to Depart - Bonjour French Islands

We tucked in to a marina earlier in the week to escape some vigorous winds out in the anchorage but extended our stay a couple of nights after Bob's accident. Although Simpson Bay Marina was great, I was very happy to be moving to Simpson Bay anchorage for a few days for Bob to continue his recuperation.  

Bob piloting Argon through Simpson Bay Bridge. We anchored outside the lagoon in Simpson Bay for our remaining days in Saint Martin. Bob now has to be the brains and Linda the brawn for a while.

Some final boat chores were tackled as we prepare to depart for our next destination. We will aim for the petite, steeply mountainous, less traveled island of Saba just 30nm southwest before turning northward on a run to the British Virgin Islands later in the week.

Cleaning and waxing the hull from the dingy. The salt really bakes on in this Caribbean sun so I have had to use a light compounding cleaner wax combination with lots of elbow grease. But at least I can jump in the water and cool off when needed.
After spending almost a week (and too much money) in the lovely Simpson Bay Marina due to both high winds and then Bob's broken shoulder, we moved out to Simpson Bay where we can again enjoy swimming, paddle boarding (well, I can; Bob can't) and sunsets.