I’m sitting in the forward cockpit of the boat tonight, in front of Lagoonies restaurant and bar in St. Maarten, listening to the clinking of forks on plates and ice in glasses, while a local on the dock delivers a fiery (and foul-mouthed) diatribe against Americans to some audience I cannot see. Ah, the Caribbean. We are tied to the dock at the Lagoon Marina, facing the restaurant. It’s a lovely view, and we have a front-row seat here on Gratitude for the live music on Thursday and Saturday nights. But tonight the music is done and I am left only with the drunken rambling of an impassioned stranger.
I’ve been quiet on the blog for the last few weeks, so let’s catch up! I think when I last wrote we were leaving Antigua for St. Maarten, via Nevis and St. Bart’s. We briefly considered going to Barbuda instead of Nevis, but the winds were more favorable to head straight west than north, so Nevis won the weather lottery.
Nevis is a fairly typical, if tiny, Caribbean nation. I had never heard of it before we started cruising (and reading cruising guidebooks), but it is famous as the birthplace of ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Yes, the Founding Father – if you’ve heard the musical (who hasn’t at this point?) you know that Hamilton was born in the Caribbean. But did you know it was in Nevis? No, neither did I. So of course we had to visit the museum.
Okay, the museum was underwhelming. Sometimes in these places you get to see the bed someone slept in or the kitchen they ate in. (At Mt. Vernon you can see the key to the Bastille that LaFayette gave Washington as a symbol of friendship. COOL! And, a few years ago I was allowed to play Jane Austen’s pianoforte, at her restored home outside of London. THAT was a museum experience!) Alas, apparently no one in Nevis predicted that Alexander Hamilton would amount to anything. There’s not one stick of furniture or pen he wrote with to be seen in the building. There is a nice mural that was donated by an American museum and tells Hamilton’s story, with photos of some oil paintings of him and the significant people in his life. And it was pretty cool to walk around the building you know he grew up in. So there was that.
The other thing that was striking in Nevis was walking around in 85+ degree heat, in shorts and a tank top, down a street festooned with Christmas swag while speakers blare, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful!” No, a fire is not on my mind here in Nevis. It felt hard to get into the Christmas spirit, away from the familiar cultural trappings. But the rest of the Caribbean manages it, so maybe I was just a Scrooge.
After a couple of days in Nevis, we were ready to move on. I was eager to visit St. Bart’s, because it’s supposed to be like the French Riviera. Like several other islands out here, it’s a part of France, so you spend Euros and eat baguettes. It also has some very chi-chi retail, so I thought it might be a good place to do some Christmas shopping.
St. Bart’s deserves its good reputation in many respects. It is clean, orderly, and prosperous. People watching is fun in the cafes and bars. And while I’m not likely to need any Louis Vuitton or Prada on the boat, I did find some smaller boutiques with unique gifts and souvenirs. I’d been looking, for example, for a big basket with a lid for us to store our shoes in the aft cockpit. I found a beautiful one in a tiny little home-accessory store, with a lovely proprietress who threw in a cute sachet with scented soap. It’s the little things!
However, the interesting shopping and the yummy food came at a cost: the anchorage outside Gustavia, St. Bart’s, is one of the ROLLIEST you will find in the entire Caribbean. Something about the underwater geography causes a constant surge, even in otherwise calm seas. After two nights, the constant pitch and roll had Andy hating life (Andy’s note: and checking the anchor’s holding multiple times each night). So although I was enjoying our sojourns ashore, I agreed that it might be worthwhile moving to another part of the island. On our third night we moved up to Anse du Columbier, where the wind was sort of fierce but the surge was quiet, and we could get a night’s sleep without rolling over onto each other. Andy was happier, and we were a few miles closer to our eventual destination of St. Maarten.
We docked the boat in late December at the aforementioned Lagoon Marina in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten. One nice surprise was catching up here with our friends Shane and M.V. aboard Gem, whom we met in Grenada. It was nice to have friends available to help keep an eye on our boat while we were gone.
In late December we flew home for Christmas, where I promptly caught a terrible cold and spent most of my visit hacking and coughing in the privacy of my home, not spreading it around to the friends I would have loved to have seen. (I do love you, friends.) But I did get to see most of my family, and it did my mother’s heart a lot of good to be around my kids. They’ve thrived in our absence, but I miss them terribly.
We came back to St. Maarten on New Year’s Eve and had a quiet evening on the boat watching fireworks over the lagoon and sipping Prosecco. And since then we’ve been Solving Boat Problems. There is never a shortage of things to do aboard a sailboat, and of course normally you don’t let a few needed repairs keep you on the dock. You just address the most pressing ones and figure out how to keep sailing.
But our decision to upgrade our mainsail track-and-car system is keeping us here a bit longer than we anticipated. We’ve had difficulty raising and lowering the main on our last couple of sails, and while we’ve made do with the jib and the engines, we bought a sailboat because we wanted to sail! And St. Maarten is a kind of Mecca for sailboat repairs and upgrades– there are so many reputable workplaces that specialize in all things sailing, whether it’s rigging or engines or generators or dinghies. So we decided to prolong our stay here and see if we could get the mainsail the way we wanted it.
And this has taken time. Time for vendors to come and give estimates… time for them to try and source parts. Then time to come back and take measurements to determine what the new system would cost… and so forth. (I’m leaving out lots of steps here.) We’ve been back for over a week, and only yesterday did we get the final estimate. It’ll take another two weeks for the parts to get here, and then work can commence.
Meanwhile, we are trying to make the most of our down time. I’ve started a new exercise regimen, with the coaches from my gym back home (hi Shane and Lauren!). They’ve launched an app that gives me a daily workout I can do without a bunch of gym equipment, and a way to connect with them and other users to high-five each other, ask questions, watch videos, and get support. So far I am thrilled with this. Figuring out how to get my daily exercise was trial and error last year, which was discouraging. I am happy to have a way to stay accountable to coaches I trust and also make some new workout buddies through the app. Plus I don’t have to figure out the workouts on my own anymore. (If you are looking for something like this, check out III Nation!)
Andy’s been in handyman heaven this last week. In addition to driving the process forward for our mainsail track upgrade, he’s gotten the mixing elbow on the generator replaced, fixed the battery switch for the dinghy engine, taken apart the anchor windlass to clean it and replace the chain-counting sensor, and changed various filters and strainers that need regular attention. I’ve often observed that he accomplishes more in an hour than I do in a day, and that remains true on a boat. The man knows how to get stuff done!
We also managed to see the final Star Wars installment (loved it!) and Underwater (yawn – don’t bother). Seeing blockbuster movies in a foreign country always requires a little patience and forbearance for me. There are always cultural differences that drive me crazy unless I remember that I am a guest in someone else’s country. In St. Maarten, for example, it’s apparently no big deal to carry on a conversation at full volume while key scenes are played out onscreen. Maybe it relieves the tension they are feeling? Anyway, I discovered that leaning forward and cupping my hands around my ears at those moments helped me to focus and kept me from general rudeness. We do what we must.
We have also done more cooking and less eating out, which has been fun. St. Maarten has huge, fantastic grocery stores, so it is fun to find new recipes I want to try and know I’ll be able to get all the ingredients! I’ve cleaned out the fridge and freezer and pantry, and restocked them. I’ve also figured out that the cushions in both outdoor cockpits have removable covers! So I took them to be washed, and wow, what a difference. We’ve tried various ways of cleaning them over the last year with mixed success, so this was a big find.
The final new pursuit during this time has been delving into MasterClass. I’ve been seeing the ads on Facebook, but didn’t bite – until my wonderful brother and his wife got us an all-access pass for Christmas. I am LOVING this. It’s been a little frustrating accessing it, since the internet here is not great, but I finally figured out how to download the videos so I can watch them offline, and that has made it possible to dive in. I’ve started with a class on fiction writing by Neil Gaiman (who wrote Coraline and American Gods and (my favorite) The Ocean At The End of the Lane). I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to try writing fiction (it has stymied me for decades), but it is definitely fun to dream about. Hearing a master describe his process is always inspiring.
In a couple of weeks Andy and I will celebrate the one-year mark of leaving home and moving on board a sailboat, so our next entry will be a “cruising anniversary” post. Let us know if you have burning questions for us to reflect on now that we’re one year in!