Our Caribbean Adventure, Part 8: Dominica, Our Favorite Island.

Our Caribbean Adventure, Part 8:  Dominica, Our Favorite Island.

We enjoyed our stay in Les Saintes a great deal but after 5 days it was time to leave.

Dominica chartI made a  trip ashore and a visit to the marina office (owners of the moorings in the harbor) for immigration check out.  The French system requires that you fill out the exact same form for check in and check out but it is computerized so it goes quickly.  However, since the French use a keyboard that is different from U.S. keyboards you have to be careful with the typing and with proof reading your form.  Other than that, it pretty quick and easy, once you get the hang of the slightly obscure nature of the form and its organization.

We left in the morning, with forecasts of 15 knot winds from the E NE.  On this trip, we got our weather information from a “wind prediction” website, Windfinder Pro and from Weatherbug.  We supplemented that information by listening to the Chris Parker weather broadcast (Marine Weather Center) on our SSB radio.

Again, we were surprised by the significantly higher winds and bigger seas than were forecast.  The winds focused significantly Portsmouth Harborbetween Guadeloupe and Dominica (pronounced, “Dom-in-eee-ka”.  Our crossing featured 20-25 knots, with gusts up to 35 knots.  Waves and swell were 8-10 feet with a few larger interspersed.  It was some exciting sailing.

Our arrival in Dominica took place in the afternoon and it was still blowing, making things interesting in the mooring field in Portsmouth harbor.  But we had competent help getting tied to a Alexis arriving to helpmooring from one of the young PAYS entrepreneurs.  (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security).

There are several reasons why Dominica is our favorite Caribbean island nation.  First, the government has made arriving and leaving inexpensive Portsmouth town dockand efficient.  You can check in and check out in one stop at the government office.  This is a real convenience.  Second, the so called “boat boys” are an organized association of young men who help you with arrival and departure, set you up with service and assistance if you need work done on your boat, and provide taxi tours of the island and row-boat tours of the river that empties into the bay.river tour  Third, crime against yachts is virtually non-existent because the PAYS organization makes it their mission to protect cruisers.  Fourth, the little town is clean and neat and the people are friendly.  There is none of the “give us your money and leave” attitude that we found in other areas such as the BVI and St. Vincent.  Fifth, we did not experience the discrimination based upon our Portsmouth downtownlight, white skin river cabin built for Pirates of the Caribbean moviecolor, that prevails on many of the other islands.  Sixth, Dominica is a beautiful country and the people are proud of their island and it shows.

Some of the activities we enjoyed were a 5+ mile hike on a jungle trail with beautiful views of the surrounding ocean, a guided tour by taxi/van of the entire island, swimming off the lovely white sand tropical land crabbeach, walking through the nice little town of Portsmouth, and shopping for fruits and vegetables at the open air market next to the town dock.

We needed our hull cleaned to remove a healthy growth of barnacles (due to a really bad bottom paint job at Nanny Cay boatyard on Tortola in the BVI) and Alexis set us up with a friend of his who did an excellent job at a very fair price.  We also needed our freezer compressor re-charged with AC coolant and again Alexis took care of us and the job was done correctly at the right price.  This turned out to be an exception from work we had done in St. Vincent at Rodney Bay Marina and at Jolly Harbor on Antigua, where we found out that cruisers are often regarded as “rich white people” who should pay more and get less.

P.A.Y.S. event houseWe stayed three night at Portsmouth (and returned a year later on our return north) and then headed south.  Our next destination was Fort De France on Martinique, a rather long distance for one day so we planned to stop first for one night at Roseau, the capital of Dominica.  It was not a restful stop.  The anchorage is very marginal.  Its deep, and exposed to winds and swell that wrap around the islandRoseau anchorage from the south.  But we got help from a very friendly man who collected our mooring fee after helping us tie up to the buoy.

Some readers (experienced cruisers and sailors) may wonder why help is nice for getting a mooring.  The reason is that many of them are poorly maintained, and the lines with a loop for tying are kept afloat by milk jugs or other small floats.  In the wind and waves, it can be difficult to grab the line with a boat hook, and they are often water logged and encrusted and difficult to lift out of the water.  In calm conditions its ok but in 2′-3′ foot chop and gusty winds its not easy at all.

We spent the night at Roseau rolling about in the 3′-4′ swells and left early the next morning.  The sailing to Martinique was very nice, with 12-15 knots off the beam and relatively smooth seas.  We arrived at Fort De France in the afternoon, but found the anchorage (in the lee of the Fort) to be crowded and challenging.  We wanted to stay there so we could check in through immigration and see the town.  Luckily, we were able to shoe-horn our way into a decent spot in about 30′ of depth, with adequate swinging room.  We were close to the channel buoy when the wind stretched our anchor chain but never in any danger.

view of Fort De FranceWe went ashore, found the store with the immigration computer, and took care of the government formalities.  Being back in France meant that we had to use our heavy 12′ SS cable and combination lock to secure our dinghy to the landing wharf but there were lots of people around and it seemed safe and secure.  This is another thing we learned about Caribbean cruising.  On some islands, like Nevis and Dominica, petty theft is fairly rare, but on the French islands like St. Martin it is prevalent, and in other countries like St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada, it is rampant.  You must have a long, heavy cable, or a good chain, and a heavy duty lock to secure your unattended dingy, even for just a short walk.  Also, you must be sure to lock your engine to the transom.  At night, it is highly advisable to lift your dingy onto the deck of your boat or out of the water and locked to your dinghy davits on the stern.  Thieves will come aboard at night and steel an unlocked outboard engine right off your deck or transom, or stern pulpit.  A dinghy floating astern is an easy target, even if locked with a cable or chain.  Even a small bolt cutter will lop through a cable or chain easily and quietly in the dark of the night.

Another caution is to always lock your boat when you leave.  In many places, like Rodney Bay on St. Lucia, thieves will watch with binoculars from ashore and make note of unoccupied yachts and the owners destination at a local restaurant for dinner.  Then, they will make their way out to your yacht, enter through an unlocked hatch or companionway, or even break in, and steal whatever is available.

We visited Fort De France and the Marina at Marin, and stayed one night in the beautiful St Anne anchorage, which seems very exposed but is actually surprisingly calm and nice.  Marin was very crowded, filled with hundreds of boats anchored and on moorings, and the huge marina.  But the marina has nice shops and there is a large grocery store within an easy walk.  One thing about the French islands is that the grocery stores are well stocked and the prices are good.Village at Grande Anse

On our departure, we spent one night in the bay of Grand Anse on the west side of Martinique and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the little village and calm bay.  It was well sheltered from the wind and only a little exposed to the low swell.

Next Installment:  Our adventures on St. Lucia and St Vincent, and on to the Grenadines.

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Our Caribbean Adventure, Part 7: Plans Change Again. Going South From Nevis to Les Saintes.

les saintes picture map

The government moorings at Nevis are in a nice location, about 2 miles from the town dock, off a beautiful beach, and a short walk to a high-end resort.  We enjoyed a two night stay at Nevis, comfortable in the lee of the friendly island and its mountain.

The second day we had some entertainment.   The wind came up to about 15 knots, with low chop in the mooring field.  Another Amel ketch motored in at full throttle (6-7 knots) to try and get a mooring.  We were sitting in our cockpit enjoying the sun and conversation and I watched the Super Maramu try several times without success.  The skipper would motor full bore at the mooring buoy off our port side, yell at his crew to get a line on it, as he tried to slow down while they ran aft trying to get the buoy.  It was entertaining, and confusing.  I looked at our friends and said, “They are going to get the boat hook on the float, then there will be too much tension because of the speed and someone will either have to drop the boat hook in the water or hang on and be dragged overboard.”

Sure enough, that happened on the 4th try and the boat hook sunk to the bottom.

That’s when I stood up and told my crew to begin paying attention, as it was apparent to me that the skipper would next lose his dinghy (which was trailing aft by about 30′) or run into one of the other yachts nearby, possibly us.

I tried yelling at the skipper to slow down but that didn’t work because of the engine noise.  His wife was in tears on the bow and she heard me but he waved her off when she tried to convince him to slow down.

After another miss (with the backup boat hook) he started turning a high speed loop to try again.  This time, the wind abeam drove them down on the boat moored behind the buoy they were after.  He managed to pass close off the bow, bouncing off their mooring but forgetting about the dinghy trailing behind.  The wind blew it between the other boat and its mooring buoy, and the dinghy engine caught the mooring line.  They started to drag the other boat, and the mooring, behind them  The extra weight slowed him down, which was fortunate since it gave his wife time to run aft with a knife and cut the dinghy painter.  As he sped past our stern (less than 20′ away) I yelled as loud as I could, “SLOW THE —- DOWN”.  He heard me this time.

The dinghy broke loose from the other boat and headed off with the wind.  I jumped in our dinghy and sped off to get it.  By the time I caught it several hundred yards away, they had managed to get tied to the vacant mooring.  I returned their dinghy and I admonished the skipper to do it slowly next time.  He disagreed and said everyone knows you power up to the mooring and the crew is supposed to get it tied.  He told me he was a delivery captain taking the boat to Antigua and had tens of thousands of miles of sailing experience.  Go figure.

We left Nevis the next morning thinking we might try Antigua again but when we cleared the lee of the island we were again faced with 15-20 knots of wind and 8′ -10′ seas, on the nose.  We decided to motor sail on a beam reach to Montserrat, about 35 nm.

        montserrat harbor   At Montserrat we anchored in Little Bay among a crowd of other yachts.  It was choppy but secure.  We did not go ashore since I did not want to deal with customs and immigration for a one night stay.  That night, we got our second experience with the Caribbean affinity for VERY LOUD reggae rap music.  It was nearly impossible to sleep, even wearing ear plugs with all the hatches closed.  The music continued unabated until just before sunrise and quit at about 5:30am.  We left Montserrat at daybreak, never to return.

We poked our nose around the north tip of the island and gave up any hope of reaching Antigua.  We turned and had a very nice sail south east, headed for Guadeloupe, about 44 nm away.  The sailing in the lee of Montserrat was great, in nearly flat seas with 12-15 knots of breeze.  We had a good view of the active volcano (and a good whiff of sulfur) as we passed south.  The wind picked up and it got a little bumpy in the gap between the islands so we motor sailed to point directly to the town of Deshaies.  We were now getting used to the fact that the wind focuses and intensifies in the gaps between the islands.  Sometimes if changes direction rather dramatically also.

We arrived mid afternoon to find the harbor crowded and breezy,  just in time to enjoy an afternoon visit by 3 dolphins.  Our friends dove in the water and enjoyed swimming with the dolphins for 30-40 minutes.  We learned later it was a regular event but the animals did not return again before we left after three nights.deshaies harbor 1

Deshaies is a delightful French village, with friendly people, decent shopping, a beach, good restaurants, and no obnoxious music at night.  (We returned here on our trip back north.)  We met some fellow cruisers who were also headed south to Grenada and enjoyed happy hour aboard our boat and theirs’.  It was a lot of fun, with mild winds at night to keep us cool.  Customs and immigration was quick and simple, using the French method of computerized documentation in a local shop.  The French islands are by far the most “government friendly” in the Caribbean.

After our third night we got up early, took our friends John and Kathleen to shore and they got a taxi ride to the airport to fly pigeon islandhome.  That was a bit of an adventure, since the day of their departure was a holiday and getting a taxi driver to come to Deshaies was a bit sketchy.   But he showed up (only a little bit late) and off they went.  Mary and I left the anchorage that morning.

We gave up on Antigua, even though it would have been possible to work our way back north, because we now wanted to catch up with our new friends who had left for Les Saintes, another French island.  After a short sail we stopped and anchored east of Pigeon Island (still on Guadeloupe), which was touted as great snorkeling.  But it was far to0 windy and rough to ride the dinghy to the little island so we spent a bumpy night on 200′ of rode, hoping for calmer weather the next day.  It was a very scenic spot but again quite crowded with boats hiding from the strong E winds.  The next day we wanted to do a short hop andchart of les saintes stop at Anse La Barque but found it very small, crowded, and uninviting.  So we kept moving and headed for Les Saintes.  Since it is also French we did not need to check out of Guadeloupe or check in to Les Saintes when we arrived.

The last stretch, from the south tip of Guadeloupe to the Terre De-Haut anchorage is open water and it got a bit rough, withafternoon squall some squall activity as well.  But we made good time, motor sailing to stay on a straight course.  The harbor is huge, with many, many well maintained moorings and good shelter.  The town is delightful.  Very tidy and clean, friendly, easy walking to and fro, and good swimming around the boat.  A popular activity is to rent motor scooters and roar around the small streets and avenues so pedestrians must be watchful.  The tourists are not known for their picture of les saintes village from hillcareful driving skills.

Many cruisers will tell you thatles saintes street La Saintes is their favorite Caribbean destination.  Some will spend weeks in the same harbor.  We did not feel quite that enamored but it is a nice spot, safe, with little crime, no vagrants, and great shops.  We stayed 5 nights and liked it a lot.

 

Next Stop:  Our favorite Caribbean island, Dominica.

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1987, 46′ Amel Maramu for Sale or Trade

Amel Maramu ketch offered for sale or trade.  1987, blue water cruiser.  For more information, contact curt@boativated.com.

46′ length on deck and about 48′ LOA.  The deck was repainted white with epoxy by the previous owner.  A nice upgrade for the original brown faux teak fiberglass deck.   The Maramu model is the pre-curser to the 46′ Santorin and the 53′ Super Maramu, and shares the same interior layout, but smaller.  Between the Maramu and the Super Maramu, Amel built the 46′ Santorin.  We prefer the Maramu because it has a more functional dinette table and a conventional transmission and shaft drive, rather than the complex and high maintenance “C” drive offered on subsequent Amel models.

The boat is easy to sail by two persons, or even one.  Mainsail controls are in the deep, roomy, safe center cockpit and unfurling, reefing, and furling is done with powerful electric motors, with all controls at the helm.  The cockpit is covered by a large hard dodger, with an expansive windshield.  The helm is dry, comfortable, and extremely safe, even in the worst weather conditions.

Amel sailboats are built to sail comfortably anywhere, anytime.  Languedoc is fully equipped for blue water cruising.  Tankage and storage are excellent.  The water tank holds 275 gallons.  The diesel tank holds 125 gallons.

Languedoc has many upgrades. Extensive re-fit in 2012. 60 hp Cummins diesel, Hurth Transmission, 5 KW Northern Lights genset, Victron Inverter/charger and Victron 240V-120V transformer, Air Breeze wind gen. AC electrical system new in 2012, standing rigging new in 2012.  2015 Rocna 73# anchor,  2015 Highfield aluminum RIB.   2015 KATO dinghy davits. 15hp 2 cycle Yamaha, (2012) and 3.5 hp 2 cycle Mercury outboard (2015).   Languedoc’s hull and ballast are expoxied and painted with Micron 66. The topsides are painted with Awlgrip, polished, and in excellent condition.

New in 2017:
Jackstay for hank on storm jib and staysail. New headstay and Harken Roller furling. New Genoa. New Raymarine chartplotter. New Balmar alternator. New holding tank and toilet in forward head. Refinished cabin sole in main salon. New Victron battery monitor.  Bottom painted, Oct. 2016.

Languedoc is now in Fl. for repairs and upgrades after 4 years in the Caribbean. Will be moving up the East Coast to Chesapeake Bay beginning April 15, 2017.

The asking price is $165000.

In 2017 we have added a new headstay with Harken roller furling, a new Genoa, and a new jackstay for the new Staysail and storm Jib.  The addition of the Staysail gives Languedoc better upwind performance and greater versatility.  The boat is in very good condition.  The most recent survey (2013) revealed no major issues.

Languedoc is currently in Florida, leaving in April to go north on the U.S. east coast.

The asking price is $165,000.  Languedoc is ready to go cruising anywhere.

We will consider trades or partial trades for another blue water cruiser on the U.S. west coast.  No “project boats” or “fixers“. 

A review of the Amel Maramu can be found here: http://www.jordanyachts.com/archives/2948.

The Amel Maramu sales brochure can be found here:  http://www.jordanyachts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/brochure.pdf.

A forum discussion of Amel Sailboats can be found here:  http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f47/difference-between-amel-models-137037-3.html.

Here is the Amel Yachts Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/AmelYachts/

More information many photos are available.  Please direct inquiries to curt@boativated.com.

2016 Spec sheet.          Languedoc – Condition Survey – Amel Maramu

aft photo shows davits raymarine autopilot Racor filters new water lines mainsail furling motor main salon looking forward Languedoc at anchor land storage at Puerto del Rey Highfield dinghy and 15 hp yamaha haulout in Grenada galley forward head engine instr panel and bow thruster up down aft cabin double berth engine compartment cummins engine cockpit, steering wheel on the left aft photo shows davits Sum Bay Marina 2015 shore power and genset 240V panel

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Our Caribbean Adventure, Part 6: Sailing From Sint. Maarten to Antiqua, the Long Way Around

Sint. Maarten to Antiqua, The Long Way Around.

For logistical reasons, we chose to leave the Island of St. Martin from the Dutch Port of Phillipsburg.  That was a mistake for a number of reasons (customs and immigration and the cost of the marina mainly) but we did enjoy our brief stay in the tourist port and we were outside the logistical hassles of the drawbridge at Simpson Bay, and that crowded and exposed anchorage so there were some positive aspects.  We left in the mid morning, intending to stop again at St. Barts.  Anse Colombier anchorage on the north west corner of that island was highly recommended so we thought of anchoring there.  But after an uneventful sail into moderate winds and seas we arrived to find it crowded and uninviting.  Since there is no customs and immigration office there we would not be able to go ashore so after a few moments consideration we decided to proceed.

We arrived at Gustavia in the early afternoon and found it windy, lumpy, and extremely crowded.  Anchored yachts big and small were packed together, but swinging in an orderly fashion.  We called the harbor master to check on mooring availability and were advised to anchor, then come by dinghy to inspect the only vacant mooring.  We decided to combine that with a visit to the customs and immigration office.  We found the vacant mooring, a bow and stern combination of two buoys, packed tightly with very little room to maneuver port or starboard.  I thought we could probably get the bow tied but leaving, with the blustery cross wind would be difficult to impossible without the high risk of crashing into the other boats.  So we went to the port office and completed the entry on the computer.  They allow one visit for entry and exit the next day so that fit our schedule nicely.

I was unimpressed with Gustavia but my wife and our friends found it more acceptable.  I am not one to “browse” in overpriced shops at trinkets and items with high fashion labels with prices in the thousands of dollars but everyone else liked the window shopping and the little town was clean and neat.  That night at anchor was bumpy and noisy but tolerable.  It was our first introduction to the Caribbean cultural aspect of very loud music until the wee hours of the morning.  We planned to leave at first light the next day.

Three of us woke early, before sun-up, and decided to get started so as to have plenty of time to make it to Antigua.  Our goal was the marina at Jolly Harbour.  Distance, about 75 nm.  We figured a 12 hour trip, with arrival in the late afternoon, before sunset.  Unfortunately, that was not the result.

Our exit from Gustavia harbour was safe, although very dark.  The sky began to lighten at about 5;30 am.  I and my wife Mary and our friend Kathleen snacked for breakfast and we motored out of the harbor and began motor sailing into a stiff headwind.  Kathleen’s husband John stayed in the v-berth for some extra sleep.  He found it easier to sleep to the big diesel boom than to the reggae rap “music”.  But by the time he got up, we were in rough seas and he was becoming sea-sick.  Despite thousands of hours as a commercial airline pilot, the rough, confused seas, did not suit him at all.

To make headway toward our goal we needed to motor sail with the main and genoa partially rolled up.  8′-10′ St. Barts, Antigua, and Nevisseas kept us pitching forward, but the boat did not pound, primarily due to our low speed, about 4 knots over the bottom.  By lunch time, everyone was becoming edgy and impatient.  I knew our Antiqua destination was doubtful.  After about nine hours of rough going I offered the crew a choice.  Another 7-10 hours of slop and arrival in Antigua well after dark, or a course change to Charlestown, Nevis and some nice late afternoon sailing in the lee of the island.  That decision, needless to say, was not difficult.

So we fell off in the winds and seas and got a more comfortable ride.  John perked up as the boat settled down and everyone got cheerful at the prospect of a much nicer 3 -4 hour finish to the passage.

We arrived at Charlestown, fully in the lee of the Island and its mountain, with 8-10 empty moorings off a beautiful beach.  We had a very nice evening, dinner, and all slept well for over 10 hours.  Another confirmation of the old adage.  “Never sail to a schedule”.

Nevis is a beautiful island, with friendly people, accommodating and helpful government officials, clean streets, nice shops, and far less of the racist attitude toward white tourists that is so often present in the Caribbean islands.  (Be careful at informal restaurants though.  Be sure to ask prices before you order.  We learned this the hard way.)  We stayed two nights and spent a nice few hours taking a taxi tour of the small island.  It was beautiful and fun.  From the moorings, there is a nice beach with easy landing, a resort with an excellent bar and restaurant friendly to cruisers, and free wi-fi.  Nevis is part of the same country as St. Kitts, but much more laid back.  We felt very safe and secure tied to one of the government moorings.  Of all the islands in the Caribbean we have visited over the last three years, Nevis is the only Charlestown waterfront one I would chNevis, near Charlestownoose to live on.

From Nevis, we proceeded to Montserrat and then further south to Guadeloupe.  Due to the stiff trade winds and high seas we did not visit Antigua until the next year.

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Updated Cruising Guides and Nautical Books list.

We have completed our update of the list of our favorite Cruising Guides and Nautical Books.

Complete with links to purchase the latest editions of the books that we have used to find the best spots and the most fun the the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands, the Broughton Islands, the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the best guides to marinas and anchorages.

We have also included books about sailing, seamanship, and maintenance.

Check out the whole list.  Buy direct from Amazon.

Boativated book list.

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Our Caribbean Adventure, Part 5: St. Martin and Anguilla

St. Martin and Anguilla.  After our bit of difficulty getting to St. Martin, and barely making it through the drawbridge at Simpson Bay on the last opening of the day, we were tired and ready to relax a bit.  We decided to go through the second bridge (a swing bridge that allowed transit past the causeway to the airport) and drop anchor in the Lagoon on the French side.  Despite comments from the guide books about the higher incidence of crime on the French side, we wanted to avoid the much more expensive fees (customs, immigration and anchoring fees) imposed by the Dutch authorities.  So we passed through the swing bridge and anchored north of the bridge and just across the border.  It was crowded and windy in the Lagoon, but crowded and windy is normal in Caribbean anchorages, so it was time for us to get used to it.  We dropped the hook in 15′ of water, watched our swing, ate dinner and then went to bed.The Island of St. Martin

We learned the next day about the major drawback to our location.  We were directly under the flight path of commercial jets leaving the international airport.  The noise is near deafening but thankfully, flights are not too frequent and mostly in the morning, starting after 7:00 am.  We got used to it.

St. Martin is a cruising Mecca in the Caribbean islands and filled with permanent, semi-permanent, long term temporary, temporary, and transient visitors.  We decided to spend a couple weeks, i.e. we were temporary.  Each morning there is a VHF cruisers net that gives new arrivals a chance to introduce themselves and get into the swing of life at St. Martin.  We listened every morning.  Its a great resource of knowledge and information.

Our spot in the Lagoon was close to the Dutch side we could easily take advantage of the big stores and buy supplies we boats anchored in the Lagoonneeded.  Island Water World, Budget Marine, NAPA, and other stores are convenient to the waterfront and the free dinghy docks.  BE SURE TO BRING A HEAVY CABLE OR CHAIN AND A HEAVY LOCK.  Plus, there are numerous restaurants and bars.  We ended up spending a fair amount of money and saving some money on purchases because all of St. Martin is duty free, with no sales tax.  Plus, its possible to buy new 2-cycle outboard engines.  We purchased a simple, lightweight,  little 3.5 HP Mercury that I can carry with one hand.  Its one of the best items we ever purchased.  We can putt-putt short distances to shore, easily lift the dinghy onto the beach and lock it to a tree, and easily lift the engine off the transom and store in a lazerette.  Plus, the tiny engine is far less appealing to thieves.  We use the little Mercury far more often than the powerful 15hp Yamaha, which is a thief magnet.

The Dutch side is the place to shop the big stores and socialize and the French side is the place to go for the outdoor public market and excellent bakery items.  Like most Caribbean destinations, the town is somewhat dirty and blemished by litter, broken sidewalks, bad drivers, and noise.  Walking is the best way to get around, but you do so at your own risk.  Crosswalks are ignored by drivers and the best way to cross a street is to wait for an opening and run for it.

Within a few days we found the best places to shop, where to land the dinghy, how best to lock it even when there are no cleats, and how to ignore the tour boats and PWC rentals that haul ass through the anchorage, just 20-50 feet off the beam.  (“No Wake” zones are not observed.)  It was not unusual for us to have a PWC or other small craft pass by at 30-40 knots, 20 feet away, in the darkness, without any lights whatsoever.  Therefore, it’s important to have a bright light illuminating your anchored boat all night.  This also helps deter thieves.  There are other ways to do that as well.  I laughed aloud one morning listening to the cruisers net and the discussion of ongoing dinghy thefts.   Dinghys are sometimes stolen while locked with a cable to a dock in full view during the day.  One woman spoke on the radio and said the solution was to swamp your dinghy with water and then secure it to the dock.  She was not kidding.

Marigot BayWe adjusted our behavior to fit the circumstances and enjoyed St. Martin a great deal.  We were not able to visit the east side of the island due to rough seas and high winds but we anchored in the Lagoon, Marigot Bay, and Grand Case.  We attempted to find a place to anchor in Anse Marcel but it was impossible.  A local charter company was sponsoring a race among its fleet of 40′ Jeanneau cruisers, in the anchorage, around the mooring buoys.  The fleet of inexperienced skippers insisted on their “under sail right of way”, as they worked their way around the course in 20 knot winds.  We witnessed several near collisions with moored and anchored boats, and ourselves, before we turned tail and went back to Marigot.

 

We also visited the island of Anguilla and anchored for three nights in the bay at Sandy Ground.  Anguilla is a British Island, beautiful, and relatively un-crowded.  Its clean, friendly, and relaxing.  Anchoring is restricted, and prohibited in most bays on the island, and expensive cruising fees are charged to anyone who desires to do so.  AnguillaTherefore, nearly all cruising boats stay put at Sandy Ground and explore the island by car.  The beach is pretty, the anchorage reasonably protected from the trade winds and there are beach bars and restaurants for evening entertainment.  We rented a vehicle for a full day and enjoyed the tour.  We also visited a large, grocery super market and stocked up on many items.

We left the Lagoon anchorage in the morning.  We exited the Causeway Bridge early, to leave time to buy fuel at one of the big Marinas.  Then we caught the drawbridge opening out of the Lagoon to Simpson Bay and headed south.  On the way south, we stopped for two nights at Phillipsburg, to see the “big city” on the Dutch side.  It’s a cruise ship town, with a beautiful beach, numerous bars, lots of loud music, and a huge cruise ship dock.  At night, there were 4-5 ships in port, Phillipsburg cruise shipsenough to create protection from the easterly trade winds and waves.  We stayed there because we were waiting to pick up some friends flying in from Washington State and as a jumping off point for our trip further south to St. Barts and then Antigua.  But that was not such a great idea.  We needed to check in with the Dutch, since we had left “France” in the morning.  The customs and immigration process was cumbersome, expensive, and rude.  Its a long walk from the marina, and not at all set up to service individual cruising boats.  If you want to visit Phillipsburg its a far better plan to rent a car, or take the cheap local bus, and visit from your anchorage in the Lagoon.  You can travel overland anywhere on the island without the hassle and expense of visiting customs and immigration offices.  You only need to do that if you move your boat from one “country” to another.

Its not necessary to rent a car to get around, unless you want to go to one of the east island towns.  The local “buses” on St. Martin cover a lot of territory and are not bad.  They consist mostly of small passenger vans that seat 10-12 passengers, with an occasional larger vehicle on some routes.  They can be very crowded and ramshackle, but not as much so as on some of the islands further south.  The good news is that they are very cheap and it can be a fun ride if you relax and enjoy the show.  We liked riding the bus, even though the staff at the Visitor Center strongly discouraged it, urged us to take an expensive taxi, and told us the “bus” was for “locals only”.  We figured her husband probably owned a taxi.

After 2 weeks on St. Martin, and our two nights at Phillipsburg, we were ready to move on.  So after breakfast and coffee on a bright, sunny day, we left for St. Barts, and then Antigua, with our new crew members, ready for adventure.  On the way south from St. Barts, we got a good dose of adventure.

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Our Caribbean Adventure: Part 4. We Get to St. Martin.

Part 4 of our Caribbean Adventure.  Staying flexible, we got from the Virgin Islands to St Martin.

Sailing is a weather dependent activity.  Always.

In 2015, world-wide ocean weather was greatly influenced by El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean.  In the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, this meant a dearth of hurricanes and tropical storms, drought, and stronger than normal winds, predominantly from the East.  As a result, we spent a month enjoying the sheltered anchorages and Parks in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.  Tough duty, but someone had to do it.  We took on the challenge.

We spent 2 weeks in the U.S. Virgin Islands, waiting for a good weather window for passage to St. Martin.  We needed anchorages with shelter from Easterly winds and the occasional northerly swells.  Some of our favorite spots were Christmas Cove, Caneel Bay, Francis Bay, Leinster Bay, Sopers Cove, and Virgin Gorda Sound.  All of these offer good shelter from N.E., East, and S.E. wind and waves, ideal for the conditions in March 2015.

Virgin Islands Christmas Cove is located at the east end of St. Thomas, on the west side of Great St. James island.  There are numerous, well maintained moorings in the bay, leaving little room for anchoring.  The snorkeling is excellent but there is some wake from passing boats going to St. John island or to Tortola.  Still, its a beautiful spot, well sheltered from east winds and waves.  There is not much beach and very little walking on the small island.  A highlight of the Cove is the “Pizza Pi” boat anchored nearby.  A young couple refurbished their boat into a Pizza kitchen and he roams the Cove taking orders, while she prepares the pizzas.  We ordered one.  Delicious, and a lot of fun.

From there we went north to Caneel Bay, on the west side of St. John Island.  St. John is mostly U.S. National Park but Caneel Bay has a beautiful resort and many National Park moorings.  It’s a bit exposed to wind, wake and swells but a nice spot nevertheless.  If you moor as close as possible to Cruz Bay, its a good way to visit that location by dinghy.  Cruz Bay has VERY limited anchoring space so going by dinghy is a good way to do it.Francis Bay Beach

North and east of Caneel Bay are Francis Bay and Maho Bay.  They lie close together, with beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, and many,  many moorings.  There is plenty of room to walk ashore, on the beaches or on the trails.  Ok, it can get crowded in these bays but that’s true everywhere in the Virgin Islands.  You can spend days hanging out here, and we did.

An even better spot than Francis Bay lies just east, again on St. John island.  Its called Waterlemon Cay, in Leinster Bay.  There are Park moorings and some of the best snorkeling in the Virgin Islands.
East winds blew continuously at 15 to 25 knots but we were tucked in close to the beautiful beach and very comfortable.  The beach is not accessible by car so watermellon caysaint johnit is uncrowded.  A nice trail along the shore goes to the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation and it is well worth the walk.  You can also climb the hill above the beach on the remnants of a steep road, and cross the island all the way to Coral Harbor.  Start early in the morning before it’s too hot and return after lunch.  I was glad we made the trek on foot because Coral Harbor would not have been a good place to visit by boat given the steady and strong winds and its exposure to the east.  So we got to see the little town without bashing our way against winds and waves and rocking and rolling at anchor.

From Watermelon Cay we went to Sopers Hole on Tortola and checked into the British Virgin Islands.  Sopers Hole is a picturesque marina town, crowded, buy nice.  There are lots of moorings, but it fills up every day.  Its a nice, easy place to clear customs and immigration, fully set up to service yachts and cruisers.  We stayed two nights, then moved to Penns Landing in Fat Hog Bay, east of Road Town on Tortola.  We have been to Road Town, and it’s basically a tourist zoo.  But if you need provisions, Road Town is a better choice than Penns Landing.  If you want some peace and quiet, Penns Landing is the better option.  But it’s a bit shallow in places and tricky.  Check your charts and follow the buoys and channel markers into the bay.  The marina is small and very friendly.  The moorings are well maintained but be sure to check the depth before tying up.  The first night of our stay we bumped the sandy bottom while riding up and down on the wind waves in the 20 knot breeze.  We moved to another mooring, with another 2′ of depth.  Protection from swells is good but the wind comes in from the east over the low peninsula.the low barrier isthmus at Fat Hog Bay

After Penns Landing, we bypassed the balance of the BVI and sailed to Gorda Sound in Virgin Gorda Island.  We cruised the BVI for 5 weeks in 2014 so we did not stop in other places.  Gorda Sound is a great staging spot for the passage to St. Martin.  It’s protected, with many, many marina moorings and plenty of room to anchor.  We did both.  We anchored for several nights while listening to the weather reports and predictions.  We relied upon the Marine Weather Center and its operator, Chris Parker.  This is an amazingly valuable service and resource.  We listened to the SSB weather broadcast every morning, featuring calls in from other yachts seeking specific weather alerts and advice.  On March 16, we heard a skipper ask about passage from Virgin Gorda to St. Martin and the advice was to use a short weather window on the 17th and leave before dawn.  Perfect for us.  We took the dinghy across Gorda Sound to Gun Bay and checked out through the Customs and Immigration office there.  Later that day, we raised anchor and tied to a nearby buoy, to avoid the anchor hoisting in the dark of night the next morning.  At 3:00 am we began our first ever night passage.  Using our chart plotter and radar we found our way out of Gorda Sound and headed east between the reefs.  Luckily, there were two other sailboats leaving just ahead of us so we were not alone.

The early dawn passage was exciting but uneventful.  We motor-sailed into about 20 knots of headwind, with moderate seas and swells.  We were making good time for our arrival at St. Martin before 5:00 pm, the time of the last bridge opening for access to the Lagoon and safe anchorage.  But about 8:30 our bilge pump alarm shrieked.  I rocketed from the cockpit and turned on the pump.  I checked under the floorboards and found no water.  But the bilge was full.  I turned off the engine and immediately started looking for a leak.  I found none.  The alarm ceased and the pump finished its work and I checked the time on my watch.  I closed the engine compartment (its under the cockpit floor) and we sailed without the engine for a bit, then started the Cummins again to point better to St. Martin.  Mary and I discussed what might have happened and decided it must have been our grey water (draining to the bilge) for a few days combined with a drip from the prop shaft.  Nothing to worry about I thought.

90 minutes later, the alarm went off again.  Oops.  I shut off the engine and again opened the cockpit floor hatch.  The bilge was full but I could see no leaks.  I pumped it out.  But this time, I started the engine with the hatch opened.  Yikes.  A steady stream of water blasted from the impeller housing.  Something was either loose or damaged.

Close investigation revealed that the impeller cap gasket must have failed.  Using “Rescue Tape” I jury rigged a fix that slowed the leak significantly and stopped the high pressure spray of salt water in the engine compartment.  Now, we could at least use the engine at low rpms.  With 10 knots of wind, we sailed onward to St. Martin.  But it was a close call.  Because of the time spent  sailing slowly while I did the jury rig, and the inability to motor sail high into the wind, west martin lagoon anchorage just barely made the last causeway bridge from the french sidebridge opening.  We were the final boat through, on the final opening that day.  A stroke of luck.  I did not want to spend the night anchored outside the lagoon in the swell and wind.

St. Martin is a popular spot.  We anchored on the French side of the Causeway Bridge, because the Dutch charge an anchoring fee and cruising fee that is discouraging.  We were warned that crime is rampant on the French side but we had no issues.  The French Gendarmes have limited personnel so when a crime occurs on the water they call the Dutch Coast Guard for response and investigation.  So we anchored as close to the Dutch side as possible.  It all worked out.

I spent a day repairing the leaky cap.  It was very difficult to access.  Not a good thing for an impeller housing and changing that situation is a big job for another cruise.  We stayed two weeks in St. Martin.  It is a major destination for cruisers and we met new friends and spent money on some minor repairs and provisions.  St. Martin was a highlight of our trip.

Stay tuned for our next installment and the story of our St. Martin stay and our unsuccessful effort to reach Antiqua.

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Time Travel on Orcas Island: Olga Village.

Our Annual Visit to Olga Village on Orcas Island.

Orcas Island  We have been going to the tiny village of Olga on Orcas Island for over thirty years.  It has not changed much, and in many ways our annual visit is like taking a trip back in time to a more simple, safer, calmer era.  No crowds, no rushing about, no noise, and no hassle.  Its nice to be reminded what all the San Juan Islands once were like.Olga, Orcas Island, WA

The tiny village is located on Orcas Island, a short distance north of Obstruction Pass and a short distance south of Rosario Resort.  From the hill above the community dock, Spencer Spit Marine Park on Lopez Island is visible in the distance.

Buck Bay is close by, but its far to shallow for anchoring and its also the location of the Buck Bay Shellfish Farm.  There are numerous buoys that have proliferated in the last 10 years and they fill the anchorage area but most are never occupied by boats.

The Olga Community DWelcome to OlgaOlga Community dockock provides dockage for 4-6 boats (depending upon size) at 5o cents per foot per night, three nights maximum.  Few visitors stay overnight and very few ever stay for the maximum time.  That’s because there is very little to do in Olga and that’s what makes it such a perfect place to relax and enjoy the ambiance and serenity.  There is a small beach with public access, there is great crabbing outside of Buck Bay, and if you have a bike, you can ride to the shellfish farm, to Doe Bay Resort and Retreat, to Cascade Lake in Moran State Park, or to Obstruction Pass State Park.  If you don’t have a bicycle, then walking is a nice alternative but allow several hours.

The Orca Island Artworks Cooperative Gallery is a very short walk away and has reopened after a devastating fire a couple years ago.  Beautiful creations by local artists are available and the small restaurant has re-opened for breakfast and lunch.  A two hour free stay at the Community Dock provides ample time to visit the Gallery and enjoy the food.

 

Olga Community Dock rules   The Dock is managed by volunteers and kept in good shape for visiting boats.  Fresh water is available but there is no power.  Payment is by the honor system, with a small payment box and envelopes provided.  To make room for others, its best to tie with the bow to the south (and the occasional wind and waves) extending beyond the end of the float, keeping space between boats as small as is safe.

 

The tiny Village is mostly unchanged from the 1980’s except that homes have been remodeled and upgraded.  The Olga Store is closed again and for sale again.  It has been for sale off and on many times since the 1980’s.  Perhaps we will be able to purchase Olga Store-For Sale againice cream, coffee, post cards and supplies again but unfortunately the Store is gradually slipping into perpetual disrepair and sadness.

Across the street is the Post Olga Post OfficeOffice, again harkening back to a time well past for most American communities.  Step inside for a glimpse of what was once common but is now rare.

The bike ride to Cascade Lake is a moderate ride uphill for about 3 miles but the scenery and ice cream (and swimming if you want) makes it worth the effort.  The downhill ride back is a lot of fun.

Don’t go to Olga if you want to buy trinkets, T-shirts, caps, groceries or supplies or if you are addicted to island hustle and bustle.  Your cell phone won’t get good reception (or any reception most of the time) and you can’t buy fuel or plug in to shore power.  But if you want to relax, kick back, enjoy a good book and a peaceful walk and some excellent food, then this just might be a place to visit.  We think its great.

ice cream at Moran State Park campground

 

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Our Caribbean Adventure: Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D.

OUR CARIBBEAN ADVENTURE: CHANGING PLANS.

Plan A - Fajardo to St. Martin via Vieques and St. CroixEvery sailor knows that when we go cruising, we don’t really have “plans”. Rather, we have “intentions” that we call plans. Boat repairs, weather, medical conditions, mechanical failures, and a host of other uncontrolled circumstances inevitably alter our firmest intentions.  In February 2015 we started our 3 month Caribbean cruise from Puerto Rico to Grenada with that in mind.

We left Sun Bay Marina in Fajardo in the morning on Feb. 22, 2015 with partly sunny weather and light winds. Our destinations, over the next week, were Vieques, St. Croix, and St. Martin.  Our yacht was ready and we were ready.  We embarked on “Plan A”.

The short term weather forecast was promising but the longer term forecast (out to 7 days) was challenging.  We left on the tail of 2 weeks of heavy rain and squalls, with unsettled weather forecast for the foreseeable future.  (For weather forecasts, the “foreseeable future” is about 12 hours.)  On the day we left Fajardo the northeast winds built to 10 – 15 knots, normally no problem for our 46′ Amel ketch.  Our course south put our beam to the weather until we reached the west end of Vieques.  I hoped for flatter seas as we entered the lee of that island but instead we found stronger winds and bigger waves on our nose as we bent our course due east.  The wind waves and ocean swells from the east built to an unpleasant steep chop in the shallow waters. We remarked how much it was like the Strait of Georgia in Washington State on a bad day with wind against the current, except that instead of short steep 4′ seas we had short steep 6′ seas and occasionally larger swells.

Several squalls brought heavy rain and a few exciting moments.  However, the Esperanza and Sun Bay anchoragesoverall distance along Vieques was not great.  We considered anchoring in a small bay close in to the west shore but decided to press on to our destination, Esperanza.  So we motor sailed into the slop with partly rolled genoa and mainsail and and we arrived at Esperanza at about 4:30 pm. We anchored in 15′ and put out 150′ of chain to hold us in place in the gusty 15 knot winds. Secure for the night with 1′ wind waves and low swells we went to bed early and rolled around among several other boats. We felt lucky that the wind had a northerly component and that the swell was tolerable. If the wind changed to E – SE we would  need either a stern anchor or another location.

Sun Bay beachWe woke early to clearer skies and sun. We took the opportunity to move the short distance to nearby Sun Bay and anchor on the east side of the harbor, the most protected area. It was a very nice day in a beautiful spot, with just two other boats in the big bay and a huge white sand beach backed by low trees, with a short walk to the town and shops. This was a great opportunity to try out our new Highfield aluminum RIB inflatable with the 15hp Yamaha outboard. Wheeee!! We sped over the waves faster than ever before. Mary and our friend Kathleen (our crew for 10 days and the prospective overnight passage to St. Martin) went to town to spend some cash while I slept on the beach. A good start for our 3 month cruise.

My new Motorola smartphone and the VHF brought us updated weather and wind Esperanza shopanalysis but the news was not good. Continued E-NE winds (15 – 20 knots), changing to East in the afternoons, with waves and swells 8′ or more.  Plan A was to sail to St. Croix, spend two nights there, and then make the overnight trip with a full moon to St. Martin, from which Kathleen would fly home.  This meant a 45 nautical mile beat to St. Croix and then an unpleasant longer passage (90+ nautical miles) beating again into the wind to reach St. Martin.  We might even get stuck in St. Croix waiting for a weather window of more moderate winds and seas.  We did not want to be stuck in St. Croix for days on end so we had to make a decision.

Plan A was untenable. Strong winds and high seas from the east would reduce our normal 6.5 knot speed to about 5 knots and the 8′ swells would make it a punishing passage. (One thing I should pass along here. In the tropics, dawn is about 5:40 am and it’s dark by 7:00 pm.  A slow 90 nautical mile passage entails sailing before daybreak or after dusk.)

Here’s a photo of how our plan changed. Instead of going southeast from Plan B - Fajardo to Saint ThomasVieques to St. Croix, we decided to head northeast to St. Thomas, hoping for an easier course slightly off the wind to get to St. Martin.

We switched to Plan B and after two comfortable nights we left Sun Bay at 7:00 am and bounced and bumped along the south shore of Vieques. When we turned N.E. the wind turned also, veering from due East to N.E. and staying directly on our nose. The 8′ + swells broke over the bow and green water flowed across the foredeck until it met our hard dodger and the windshield protecting the center cockpit. We quickly came to love the protected, dry, safe center cockpit. But it was not a pleasant passage. We pushed our way toward St. Thomas, using the engine and partly rolled genoa and mainsail to point as high as we could, making between 4.5 – 5.5 knots over the bottom.  At one point we considered falling off and heading to Culebra (a large island further east) but we decided the 15+ nautical miles remaining to reach St. Thomas was feasible.  By lunch, we were nearly to the island.

We caught the west end of St. Thomas, right at the end of the runway for the international airport.  That put us under the protection of the island and we were able to relax a bit and sail east with just a couple tacks.  We arrived at Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas at about 1:30 pm, dropped anchor in the spacious bay, and all of us napped until 4:00 pm. It was a nice anchorage, a bit windy but free of swell and roll. We all got a good night’s rest and enjoyed seeing the lights of the city and the many other cruising sailboats anchored around us. The big 73 lb. Rocna anchor held like a champ in the hard sand bottom.

The next morning, we listened to the NOAA weather reports and predictions. Some sailors say NOAA stands for “Not Often Accurate Analysis” and 30+ years of Pacific N.W.Plan C - Charlotte Amelie to Christmas Cove cruising has taught us to take weather prognostications with a healthy skepticism.  But all the various weather sources agreed on one thing. Winds were going to shift to E. S.E. and maintain the velocity of  15 – 20 knots. So, instead of a sail off the wind to St. Martin, we would still  be beating our way against the weather. Oops.

Time for Plan C.

I calmly told my skeptical crew that I had an alternative (Plan C) in mind, previously devised, pondered, and researched. Mary and Kathleen listened dubiously, but perked up quite nicely when I announced that Plan C would entail a short passage to a nice place called “Christmas Cove” with good protection, free mooring buoys, and excellent snorkeling in the 80+ degree water. “Bring out the bikinis”, I said. “IMG_3201It’s time for some R & R.”

Again, we motor sailed into 20 knot winds and 6′ seas to reach our next destination.  But our arrival at Christmas Cove lowered the stress level a lot and put everyone in a very good mood.  We settled into “Cruising Mode”.  (This being the relaxed state of mind that comes from 80+ degree water for swimming, sun, a white sand beach, a good book, and fun for all.)  We were still in position for the run to St. Martin but with the onset of full scale cruising mode, the time arrived to contemplate “Plan D”.

This entailed a bit more discussion, since Plan D required abandoning the immediate passage to St. Martin, a change in Kathleen’s plane reservations to a flight from St. Thomas (instead of departure from St. Martin) and additional laying around in the tropical sunshine, with swimming, snorkeling, red wine, scrabble, and no pounding or splashing through rough seas. Not surprisingly, my crew signed on to Plan D without argument. Kathleen took care of changing her plane flight.IMG_3252

We stayed two nights nestled comfortably in the lee of the island.  With the  passage to St. Martin now delayed until further notice we headed to  St. John Island and its beautiful Virgin Island National Park bays and anchorages. We all got our fill of extreme relaxation at Francis Bay and then we headed to the village of Red Hook on St. Thomas and the IGY Marina. Kathleen caught her flight from St. Thomas airport and Mary and I proceeded further with Plan D and eventual passage to St. Martin.

We have always followed a simple maxim in our cruising adventures. Stay flexible, never blindly follow a forced schedule, and above all, have fun. Cruising and sailing should not be a struggle session against the forces of nature. Yes, we made it to St. Martin (without any serious trouble or angst) several weeks later but in the meantime we had a couple lovely IMG_3266weeks enjoying our second trip through the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

 

Next installment: Getting to St. Martin.

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Our Caribbean Adventure: Part Two. Finding a Marina

Sun Bay Marina Our Caribbean Adventure: Part 2. Finding a Marina.

Sun Bay Marina, Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

 

Starting in December 2015 we docked our boat at Sun Bay Marina in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, after determining that it is probably the best marina in Puerto Rico and also one of the best in all the Caribbean.   But we had to do our research and find a place right for us and Languedoc before we moved to Sun Bay.DSCN5217

This is a subject that will probably sound unusual to folks from the Unites States and particularly to folks from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. “What”, they will ask, “is so difficult about finding a Marina for your boat? Just go online, find a good location, look at the photos, check on the rates, and call to see what space is available”.

Not so fast and easy in the Caribbean.

First, you must consider security. In the Caribbean, theft is rampant and common. Dinghys and engines routinely disappear in the night. It is important to find a marina with 24 hour guards at the entry and 24 hour patrols of the docks.

Second, you must consider cost. Marina rates vary from around $12.00 per foot per month to over $20.00 per foot per month. Many charge large amounts for power. Fuel and water are also expensive at some places, yet others charge nothing for water and include the power in the monthly rate. The price difference can be hundreds of dollars per month.

Sun Bay Marina and condosThird, you must consider location carefully. Some places look good until you realize that there are no stores nearby or that the surrounding neighborhood is dangerous after dark. Public transportation is usually non-existent and riding a taxi to pick up groceries can be expensive. Repair shops and facilities may be unavailable or unreliable.

Finally, you need to consider the marina management. Many places never answer e-mail inquiries even though their websites say “Contact Us”. Calling on the phone can also be difficult because voice mail and answering machines are not always present and phones may go unanswered for hours or days. Additionally, mistakes on your bill are common. (Interestingly, although we found frequent errors we were never undercharged.)

When we arrived in Fajardo, Puerto Rico we first chose to stay at Puerto Del Rey Marina. It is the largest marina in the Caribbean and it is huge. They offer free golf cart transportation from your slip because the walk may be so far and dock carts are scarce. Puerto Del Rey also has land storage with hurricane ties downs and a reliable and fair boatyard. So we choose to stay there for 9 months in 2014. But in November, 2014 we wanted to be in a slip at someplace smaller and less expensive. Dockage for our boat at Puerto Del Rey was quoted to us at almost $1,000 per month.

We did our research and concluded that Sun Bay Marina in Fajardo was the place to be. They advertise as “One ofsun bay office and staff the Best Marinas” but that may be saying too little. While we were asking around we never heard any negative comments.

Sun Bay Marina is newer than most, and was finished in December 2006. It was designed and built by Engineer Jose O Perez Miranda (deceased in 2014) and his widow Olga is still the Manager and Operator. There are 286 slips and diesel fuel is available at the slips on docks B – E. The price is very reasonable (currently $15.00 per foot) with a discount if you are a member of the Seven Seas Cruising Assoc. (SSCA). Olga is also an SSCA member and an SSCA port captain.

The dockage price includes power and water so you won’t get an unexpected charge added to your bill. Plus, there is 24 channel cable TV at each slip and reliable free Wi-Fi.

sun bay rest roomThe facility is clean and tidy, and very well kept. Maintenance and upkeep is constant. The rest rooms are always exceptionally clean.  The showers are free (but the water is only about 85 degrees).  There is a meeting room with tables and chairs which is also available if you have a sewing project or something else that needs more space than a Salon table in your boat.sum bay meeting room

The entrance is gated with a 24 hour guard and there are guards walking the docks all night. Plus, the U.S. Government has Customs and Border Protection offices at Sun Bay and both the CPB and DEA keep their boats in slips. This means there are also armed U.S. officers on patrol. Olga lives in a penthouse condo above the Marina and keeps watch over everything even after hours. Theft and trespassing are not a problem.

If you send an e-mail to Sun Bay Marina, you will get a quick response. If you call the office, it’s likely Olga will answer the phone, and you will always get very friendly and helpful service. If you need to order parts or supplies, Amazon.com will ship for free to Puerto Rico and Sun Bay will receive your orders or pick them up at the Sun Bay P.O. Box, and securely store your packages for you to receive. This is a very valuable service. Items delivered by Amazon or other online sellers may be far cheaper than offered in the local stores.

A large West Marine store is about 10 minutes away by car and there is a “Skippers” marine supply store within walking distance. There are also good restaurants within safe walking distance. The ferries to Culebra and Vieques are also within walking distance but the walk route passes through a less desirable neighborhood so driving is a better idea. A beautiful public swimming beachbeach with good swimming is about a 10 minute drive. If you need a rental car, Thrifty, Alamo, and Enterprise will deliver a rental car to the marina and drive you back after your return of the car to one of the nearby offices.

You will want a rental car if you are going to be staying for very long because Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, various auto parts stores, a good hardware store, and several large supermarkets are a short drive away. The drive to San Juan is about 40 minutes and along the way there are other big box stores like Home Depot.

Fajardo and Sun Bay MarinaFajardo is a great spot to start a Caribbean cruise and in February, 2015 that is what we will do. Until then, we know our boat is safe and secure and before we leave we will be able to provision our boat with everything we need for several months, at reasonable prices.

Coming Next: Our big Caribbean cruise down the chain of Islands.

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