These are islands of contrast: the first one is a rock lost in the Caribbean sea – on one side a natural reserve, on the other, a huge oil terminal! The second island is 1 piece of land split between 2 countries, 3 currencies, 4 languages…
More pictures of Statia and a few of Saint Martin on our page "Pictures".
The day has come to leave our beloved Whitehouse Bay and set the sails again. Our destination for the day is Saint Eustatius, better known as “Statia”, a tiny volcano of an island which is also a part of the Netherlands! A couple of years ago they have opted for a status similar to a Dutch commune. We head to this strange territory with a gentle breeze pushing us at 15kts. The genoa alone is up, we enjoy the moment and remember the glorious days of the crossing in the trade winds… Saltimbanque is running well, stable on a flat sea: we bake some bread, we listen to an audiobook, while contemplating the beautiful landscape of the northern part of Saint Kitts. There’s a round green volcano to be seen, then the Unesco-registered fort on Brimstone Hill…
Leaving Saint-Kitts !
As usual the swell increases in the channel between the islands, where the swell created by the SE wind meets the longer northern swell from the ocean. The addition of two regular swells is by no means regular! The result looks more like the chaotic waves we had grown used to in the middle of the ocean. That doesn’t prevent us from enjoying the sun when…
« Laure, tell me, is there a wreck around here ?
_Eerr, that’s unlikely, the chart says it’s more than 200 m deep here!
_Then you should come and see this …»
« This » looks like a rusty mast sticking straight out of the water, 1m high, just about 10 m on our portside... and it DOES NOT float! For the next 10 seconds we’re holding our breath and expecting to crash into something, but no, we’re clear… what was it? Could it be a wreck, or something very big and drifting very slowly under the surface? Once in Statia we’ll tell the Marine Park and they’ll transmit the position to the cost guards – but we shall never know the end of that story.
Approaching Statia !
The swell is still shaking us when the wind drops. That is a clear signal that Nestor must help out passing the waves. Thus motor-sailing we enter into the Dutch territory. It really does not look like the flat country we’ve left behind 11 months ago: here is sunny, hot, high and dry… one detail yet brings us back to the North Sea: a dozen of tankers are anchored off the island! We are very surprised to discover a huge oil terminal hidden on the top of the hill, attracting all those super-tankers and numerous tug boats to this tiny land of 20km by 10!
We sail into this Little Rotterdam and drop the anchor between the moorings, by 4m of water on a good sand ground. The tug boats quay is enough really wide enough to shelter against the swell. Coming from the SE, the waves have a clear entry to the anchorage and we can count on rolling as much tonight as if we were at sea (hey, the Sea, you could stop it now, we’ve learnt our lesson, no more nostalgia from the crossing, promise!). Closer to the inner harbor we can see our friend Richard’s little blue SYA, anchored at the only quieter place as it seems.
Rotterdam ? Nope, Statia, the "historical gem" if you believe their car plates!
Once on shore we pay a first visit to the Customs of course. Their office is set in a container, but with airco (and mosquitoes…). We meet there a friendly English couple sailing on their yacht “Rocking Horse” – for once, the lady is the captain onboard :o) ! We fill two forms, we go and pay 15 US$ at the Port Authority next door, and that’s it. Next stop is the Marine Park office: the whole of the island is protected and every yacht has to pay an additional 10 US$/night to anchor or take a mooring.
Fort Oranje, very well preserved !
Once cleared in this part of the Netherlands, we walk towards town. On the way we are welcomed by our Dutch friend Richard, proud to invite us to a Heineken! The town is split between two quarters. The lower part used to be a prosperous harbor, where trade ships at the anchor would discharge their precious cargoes into the numerous warehouses standing on the beach. Now the sea level is a bit higher maybe, anyways only ruins remain, most of them partially submerged. A steep slope leads to the upper part of the town, where most of the life concentrates nowadays. Many historical buildings have been preserved, and altogether the little city offers a clean and lovely image. We walk through the few highlights: Fort Oranje, the Reformed Church, the first Synagogue, passing by numerous old rainwater tanks in stone. At the supermarket Laure chats in Dutch with the cashier lady… who comes from Capelle aan den Ijssel – the exact little suburb town where she has been working for the past two years! Such a tiny world!
You would see the same shutters on this old house in Amsterdam ...
What's left of the first Reformed Church of the island
Back onboard our last move of the day is to give up our anchorage for a mooring. As they’re the same price, we might as well enjoy the security of a buoy. The swell gently rocks us into a good night’s sleep!
13th April 2012 : Visiting Satia
Making some friends on the way (they are not dangerous)
Statia is too small to be explored by any other mean but foot – good! We leave early in the morning to avoid the heat and walk towards the summit. That’s a 25 min walk along a small road up the city into the woods, then another 25 min to reach the rim of the volcano. Lots of goats to be seen on the way, lizards, some chicken which lost their way – and our local favorites, the snakes!
At the rim another hiker is sitting with his guide, a “park ranger”. She asks whether we have paid the entry fee to the park (ah, there was an entry fee?), and sells the demanded tag for 6$US/pers :oS From the rim 3 trails are leaving. Why choose? We will take one after the other! First, let’s climb to the top! The path is rather steep and difficult (nice!), rocky, sleeper at times, some climbing is required. Sweating and puffing we reach the summit, ready to enjoy a breathtaking view… and we see clouds! Of course, Murphy’s Law proved right once again: when Camille and Laure stand on the top of a mountain, it rains. We catch a glimpse of what might be the shade of Saint Kitts and head back on slippery rocks. That doesn’t prevent us from playing bowling with our beloved hermit crabs – still huge and ugly.
The crater in the "Quill" (Statia's volcano)
The second path is promisingly dubbed « panoramic view » : after a short but steep hike we reach a big rock where we enjoy a beautiful view on the rest of the island: Oranjestad, the town, the flat land between the two mounts, the oil terminal… and even Saltimbanque! Nice!
View on the north of the island from the top of the volcano
The third path takes us down to the bottom of the crater. This is again a mix of walking and climbing down the big green mossy boulders. Inside the crater the vegetation is totally different from the dry forest prevailing outside: high humidity allowed a wet rainforest to develop, spreading high and thick its big-rooted trees and long lianas. Everything is green and shaded – we enjoy what might be our last walk in a tropical forest before long…
« This Way »
A real tree-hugger !
Walking back to the town we realize how hot the day is. On the way a tamarind tree offers some of its acid and sweet dry fruits – perfect to quench your thirst!
No sooner are we back onboard that we jump in the water. There is supposed to be a good snorkeling spot just off the beach, where the ruins of the former warehouses are now homes to scores of fish. It sounds very good, but we are disappointed by the landscape. No color, no coral, only big big fish (of course they’re big, it’s a natural reserve, no fishing here!). Parrot fish, doctor fish, turtles… ok, life could be worse!
That night the sky breaks loose and pours liters and liters of water on the anchorage for two hours. That’s a tropical shower. Nothing alarming there. But the weather forecast that we manage to get after the rain shows some strong winds coming up for the next couple of days. 30kts and more, 3-4m swell: it does not sound like the ideal weather to explore further Statia, nor its little sister island Saba. Too bad, we wish we could stay a bit longer on this cute little dust of the Netherlands…
This is an early start again today – even earlier than Richard, maybe was it the rum yesterday night? Our destination is Sint Maarten. They announced a gentle 10kts, but in reality there’s hardly any wind… we motor our way through the tankers anchored at the terminal and head north.
Saba, a little volcano in the Caribbean Sea
A few hours later we hear on the VHF a “Special Marine Forecast” transmitted by Saint Martin Coast Guards, warning against winds up to 7bft coming up next night. We translate this to Richard who’s sailing a couple of miles behind. Indeed, French Coast Guards weather forecasts are good and reliable – but in French! In an area where most sailing yachts are non-French speaking, that’s a bit of a shame. Even worse though: the “mayday” messages (= extreme distress, life-or-death matters) are broadcasted in French only! From which Richard concludes that French sailors want to be saved only by other French… must say he’s got a point :oS
Back to our sailing: we must arrive before the night… on portside we see a cute little white cloud crowning the tiny Saba island – on starboard there’s Saint Barth’, home of the rich and famous, and right now disappearing behind thick pillars of rain. We must admit: we are cheating. The engine is on, to help the sails in this feeble breeze. 4 kts. That’s enough to bring us safe to Groot Baai, where the main town Philipsburg is, in the early afternoon. First to be seen in the bay: the huge cruising dock. Three ships are moored and there seems to be room for more! Behind this on the east of the bay the anchorage area seems well protected, between the beach and the marinas. We take our time and choose carefully a good spot. 3m on sand grounds, 30 m of chain, that should be enough…
Arriving to Sint Maarten
La pluie ne se calme pas et on prend notre courage à deux mains et un parapluie dans l’autre pour descendre à terre. Le bureau des douanes est fermé et nous n’avons pas trop envie de faire notre entrée dans le côté hollandais, car ensuite il faudrait faire la sortie etc... on fait donc la grève des formalités pour l’instant ! (On se rattrapera à Marigot, à la marina la Royale, 5 eur par clearance – les moins chers de l’île, disent-ils).
Did we mention it had been raining for a couple of hours? Well it was, and not likely to stop… we brace ourselves and our umbrella, and get ashore. The customs office is located at the end of the harbor, further than the cruising dock, between containers. It’s supposed to be open at some point on this Saturday afternoon, but it’s not. A sign explains to check by the marina. Walking back, at the marina we find nothing open. Well, too bad, we won’t check in then! (At the end we will check in only after passing the bridge into the lagoon, on the French side, at the Marina la Royale – 5 eur/ clearance, they’re the cheapest of the island).
The city itself is not pretty. On the 100% plastic beachfront thousands of cruising ships passengers are thrown every day, fat and white and sunburnt red. The Front Street is dedicated to them only – or rather, their wallets. Only duty free shops. The next street, called Back Street, is supposed to be more typical: there is actually a difference, the shoppers there are black. Otherwise, it’s only shops again. That Philipsburg doesn’t have anything in common with the little village in Alsace bearing the same name, where Laure’s father comes from! One good thing at the end of the day: a glass of cold fruit punch on a terrace facing the anchorage. There’s a weird atmosphere tonight: not a breeze, yet we know that the wind will blow like mad in a few hours only…
Those Antilles are really Dutch !
15th – 16th April : visiting Philipsburg
The local Cost Guards weather forecast on the VHF is very poetic. It seems aimed at the general public more than at sailors: wind speed is quoted in km/h and numerous metaphors are used to name a “cloud”. Briefly at the end they speak about sea conditions and wind for the coming days… but they are right: the wind is blowing very hard. We drop another anchor on the side of the boat in the middle of the night – just to be sure. If we get to drag the main anchor, the second one should at least slow the drift. In the morning there is no chance to get to shore and leave the boat. The time is spent between small repairs and writing the next article. Our solar panel seems to be providing too low a charge to the batteries. After a few tests we conclude that the batteries must be a bit old and need replacement before the crossing back. Towards the end of the afternoon the wind calms down a bit and we get to shore to have a beer and internet at the “12 meters” bar, a friendly yacht-club-like bar on the marina.
Kites are forbidden here – that guy out there doesn’t know it yet.
The next night is windy again, enough to hope for a good kite-surfing day on Monday. Galion Bay looks like the perfect kite spot : some wind, a half moon sand beach protected by a coral reef… other kiters are there already and lend us a better pump, to help inflate the kite. Laure is already standing in the water ready to fly: one, two… three guys walk on the beach and sign to stop. They have a “Park rangers” shirt on, a camera and a block to write fines. What do you say, that beach is forbidden to kite-surfing? But isn’t it a surfing school just there? Windsurf and regular surf are ok – kite is not. 500 $US fine. Alright, that’s it, I quit. Some greater power has decided that I shall not kite on this side of the ocean… back to the bus stop then…
One good thing about that trip though: the bus to and from French Quarter is a real cultural experience. The driver speaks French to us, listens a religious emission in English on the radio, answers in Dutch to another lady, then starts chatting away real quick in Spanish with an older woman who comes from Dominican Republic (many immigrants to Saint Martin do). The further north we go in the Antilles, the closer to the American lifestyle and the latino’s immigration…
Tonight we console ourselves with a good steak and fries at the “12 meters”: beef for Camille, tuna for Laure –yummy!
17th – 20th April : Philipsburg – Marigot and technical stop (7M)
The wind is finally down and we can go back to sea – away from the cruising ships paradise. 4 miles to the west of Philipsburg lies Simpson Bay and the bridge opening three times a day (9.30, 11.30 and 17.30) into the lagoon. The lagoon is a huge pond, spreading from the Dutch to the French side, and a sailor’s world.
The trip to the bridge is short and nice, pushed by the genoa alone. We anchor half an hour to wait for the bridge, just enough time to take a couple of pictures of the nice yellow boat next to us: Taoz, another friend we’d not seen since Tenerife! At 9.30 sharp the bridge opens and we rush in with a queue of other yachts. There are boats everywhere! On the right hand side after the bridge a couple of high-key marinas are home to big shiny things. Further to the north, as far as the eye can see, it’s only boats anchored and masts and other boats! How many boats can fit in this lagoon? Maybe 2000? One of them is Sya, who anchored just under the route of the planes landing on the airport nearby :o(
Saltimbanque is about to sail under a bridge and into inland waters… told you, that’s DUTCH Antilles !
The whole lagoon is very shallow, 2 to 3 m max, it’s better to stick to the channel! Thus we cross the Dutch/French border. We love this island where Netherlands is 10min dinghy ride away from France – no Thalys breaking down in Belgium every week!! We sail further until Marigot itself and drop the anchor just after the French bridge, before the marina. It’s really shallow here! At one point the sounder shows 1.30m… our draught is 1.50m… that’s right into the safety margin – and we slightly touch the soft mud before turning back in panic. In the end we find a little space in this crowded place and drop the anchor on a soft mud ground by 2.50m. Richard comes by in his dinghy (that’s the favorite mean of transportation here on the lagoon – you can leave in the Netherlands and go grocery-shopping in France with your dinghy). Little chat. Turning around to check where we are… wasn’t there a catamaran right next to us? The big thing is dragging its anchor, drifting very fast onto the little German boat behind it! Nobody onboard of course, we call the marina and check if the owners are around, hop in the dinghy and try and prevent it from damaging too many things on its way, along with our neighbor from Quebec. It doesn’t want to stop, drifting along two boats… we’re about to call the coast guards when the owner returns, full speed. That’s a rental catamaran. And that confirms the key principle of any anchorage in the Caribbeans: Never ever anchor behind a rental catamaran!
Saint Martin lagoon : never seen so many boats in one place !
Saint-Martin is for us a technical stop more than anything, we have to get absolutely ready for the crossing back, because there will not be help in the Virgin Islands where we’re stopping next. So we repair and check: the solar panel is ok, the batteries are to be replaced. The outboard engine needs some cleaning (sparkling plug and carburetor). Then comes Nestor’s turn. The fuel/water separator hasn’t been changed since the Portugal! It’s high time to clean it. But… the screw is blocked by rust. Impossible to open the filter. Luckily we have a whole spare part onboard: if we can’t change the filter, we can change the whole separator! Easy. We try the engine on… it works… until the airvan screw starts leaking! Not the same screw as in Pointe-a-Pitre, the other one! That time the screw is not broken – it’s the thread that’s dead – in the filter block itself! Well well, if we break one piece every time we change another one, that doesn’t bring us closer to the end of our todo list does it :o(
On the next morning we take a bus to the Dutch side of the lagoon, where all the biggest chandleries are located. ”Budget Marine” have their headquarters here in a huge building impossible to find from the road, but very visible from everywhere on the lagoon – their dinghy dock is bigger than their parking lot :o) The shop is very big and the staff friendly and helpful. We find a brand new bucket, some silicone seal that’s not already dry in the tude, a spare joint exactly like the old leaking joint on our front hatch… just to be sure we ask some advice about our broken filter block… and they have the whole part in stock, for our specific kind of engine! It’s not even that expensive because of the prices in $US and duty free…
Next on the list are the batteries. Auto parts shops are plentiful in the area. Some sell the same brand as in the chandleries (Exide) but much cheaper. To our surprise finding a 50Ah battery proves difficult actually: here they use some American measurement, called “cranking amp”, corresponding somehow to the amount of energy available for a very brief moment to start a car. After some research in catalog and on internet the salesman finds the equivalence though and selects the two batteries we need. Thus well equipped we can come back onboard, then spend the afternoon on Sya to test our SSB receiver with the radio expert Richard. Then we install our new joint on the hatch… without breaking anything new! That’s a good step forward!
A good overview of today's chores
The next day is laundry day: last stop in a laundry was one month ago! Thriving for efficiency, we choose the launderette facing the supermarket and next to the gas station – that’s three stops in one! In the sun and the wind the laundry is dry before noon and we can work on installing our new batteries.
Tanking diesel and gasoline was easy, there are stations everywhere. Finding cooking gas is another matter: there’s only one shop at the marina Fort-Louis. Indeed the blue Campingaz bottles filled with butane are European standard, nearly impossible to find anywhere in the Caribbean where the American propane-filled standard prevails. It costs us some time, talking and walking to finally come back with two full bottles. Locals have helped a lot there, like always – we find most people on Saint Martin extremely helpful and friendly. For water it’s easier: at the marina again, using the water connection of Taoz. Talking about water, we’ve had enough of the dirty muddy lagoon. At the opening of the bridge at 17.30, we’re in the queue to join the turquoise anchorage on the sea side, in front of Marigot. A lot of boats there as well, mostly travelling boats about to cross – or to head back to the south before the hurricane season. We find a spot not far of the marina and drop the anchor on the sand, 3m down. The water is beautiful and clear, we’ll have a good bath again tonight (remember we still have no shower or bathtub onboard, other than the sea around us…)
It’ll take two trips like that to refill
The show must go on. No issue with installing the filter luckily, we filled up all the tanks and trunks…maybe we can have some rest today? Mmm why is the light indicating the charge of the solar panel flashing now?? More measures and plugging/unplugging – there’s a faulty contact in the connection to the transformer 12/220V, at the exit of the regulator. That’s annoying but we have a spare part (again! We only break what we have in spare ;o) ). For the moment we will only keep an eye on it and replace if necessary. Good, there goes the afternoon… it’s already diner’s time and we enjoy a good meal on board of Taoz – with our friends Ster Vraz, who just arrived from Saint Barth :o)
21st-22nd April : Marigot – Grand Case (5M)
Anchored in Grand Case
The whole of the lagoon, from Marigot to Simpson Bay, is dedicated to yachts: high-standard marinas and huge chandleries are located on the Dutch side, while the French side is home to some long travel boats who never left again and work in the numerous dockyards. Anchoring costs 20$/week on the Dutch side, nothing in France. The little city of Marigot seems to revolve around the two marinas, everybody is constantly riding everywhere in their dinghies. At the anchorage the atmosphere is full of expectations and preparations. Just like Mindelo on the other, this is the end of the diving board for all those who have to cross back this year. Once we are ready with all our preparations we are happy to leave this busy place. Indeed we have decided to indulge into a couple of weeks more of blue warm waters in the BVI’s, and are not concerned right now with the anxious checking of the weather charts. Leaving Marigot we head to Grand Case, the second French city on the island and a quiet little holiday town. After 4 miles of no significant event, we enter in the bay which is still rather empty (Saturday afternoon, it will fill up very quickly with many local boats and big catamarans). We choose a nice spot on sand/grass ground by 3.5m of water just off the dinghy dock.
No sooner are we on shore than we start walking at a good pace and under the heavy sun towards the supermarket “US Market”, located a few kms out of town. It is said to be one of the biggest and cheapest of the island and we want to finish buying all the food we can keep for the crossing. Lots of choice indeed of imported products, at prices more or less reasonable. After a long walk back under the same hot sun, we appreciate all the more the fresh juice to be had to enjoy the internet connection on the dock. At night, we decide that our work is complete and we are ready for the crossing. To celebrate, we want a pizza! Grand Case developed a “gourmet city” reputation on the row of restaurants along its unique street – but all we want is a pizza…
Room for everything !
On the next day, Sunday, we are not going to shore. Another day without shoes. We will be leaving for the Virgin Islands at the end of the afternoon and we spend the day snorkeling (hunting for the last time in warm waters as it is forbidden in the BVI’s – a little flat fish for lunch, looking very much like its European cousins except for the bright blue rings). We’re working on the site, we ‘re having a nap and a swim, waiting for the time to go. We are looking forward to discovering the famous Virgin Islands, our last present to ourselves before crossing back…
SuDad - 30/04/2012 13:02:24 Les couleurs, les cieux, les fonds sous-marins, les balades sur les volcans, les péripéties d'entretien, les superbes villages, les mouillages variés, les anecdotes, etc. Vous donnez le vertige. Evidemment, tout ça c'est du résumé, mais quand même, y'a pas de temps mort. Vous profitez à plein, pour notre plus grand plaisir. Vous êtes décidément des "bricoleuses" émérites. Que les dernières îles antillaises vous procurent encore bien des enchantements !!! Eric & Sandrine - 29/04/2012 13:37:21 Super escales, les filles ! Attention aux poissons-chirurgiens: ça coupe !
J'adore la photo du cockpit avec le bidon d'essence en premier plan: archétype du bateau de voyage avec le linge qui sèche comme un camp gitan. C'est une de celles qui risque d'être la plus évocatrice de votre vie de vagabonds des îles sous le soleil...
Bonne route pour les BVI,
Biz mum - 28/04/2012 17:16:30 vous arrivez à nous faire rever avec des actes de bricolage! merçi pour le superbe petit film trop fort d'entendre les glous _glous! Sylvia - 27/04/2012 22:49:41 Heel goed voorbereid dames! Goed en veilig. Ik ben trots op jullie HSE prestaties. Beyond Goal Zero :-) la mamou - 27/04/2012 09:02:12 yessss! un nouvel article !! ;-)
toujours aussi beau ... toujours aussi entrainant ... de notre ciel gris et froid , nous avons plongé directement dans l'eau turquoise et chaude ...
merci de nous faire "vivre" tant de belles choses !!