Moonlight Adventure

The story of our travels on board Moonlight, our Vancouver 36.


Sunday 16th January 2011

Posted by yachtmoonlight on February 17, 2011 at 9:51 AM

After arriving in Simpson Bay, St Maarten, early on Monday 10th January, we had a snooze to recover from the overnight sail and then watched the bridge open that leads into an enclosed lagoon and planned to go through into the lagoon at the next bridge opening at 11.30am.

There are several marinas in the lagoon as well as space to anchor, and the lagoon, like the island, is split in two halves, one side French and the other side Dutch.

As the engine would need to be taken apart to fix the water leak, we had emailed in advance to book a berth in one of the marinas on the Dutch side and we tried to call them up on the VHF radio so they could allocate a berth for us but we couldn’t get a reply. Eventually, we had to use a mobile phone to call the Marina office (at huge cost as we only have UK mobile phones), who transferred us to the Dockmaster, whose phone was diverted to an answer phone! We called back and asked (very quickly) if we could talk to the Dockmaster on the VHF radio and eventually we managed to get through and he agreed to come out and meet us as the bridge opened so we could follow him to the marina berth.

Just before 11.30, we upped the anchor and the marina chap came over in his whizzy little boat to lead us in. He also spoke to a few of the other boats and somehow it was agreed that as the bridge opened, we would be the first boat to go through and all the other boats wanting to enter the lagoon would queue up behind us.

We haven’t got the most manoeuvrable boat (due to a long keel and no bow thrusters!) and the channel that leads to the bridge wasn’t that wide, so we were keen to time it right so we could motor straight through the bridge.

We followed the marina chap in just as the bridge was starting to rise and were only about a hundred yards from the bridge when all of a sudden we heard sirens and lights started flashing and the bridge began to close again! We span the boat round (in just about enough space to do so) and were faced with a long queue of boats behind us all frantically spinning around and backing up as the marina chap whizzed along the queue shouting at everyone to go back.

It turns out an ambulance had approached the road bridge and (quite rightly) this gets priority over the boats and hence the bridge was closed to allow it across.

It caused chaos for a short time and must have been most entertaining for the people watching from the yacht club on one side of the channel and the hotel balconies on the other but was a little scary and we were glad when the bridge re-opened and we made it safely through into the lagoon.

The marina chap led us past lots of huge super-yachts to the marina and our berth, which was about 6 inches wider than the boat (or so it seemed!) and in a very tight space in a corner.

(Some of the super-yachts in the  marina)

We were glad when we were in the berth and tied up so we could relax, although we were next to the ugliest boat in the marina and possibly the world.

(Moonlight berthed next to a big yellow monstrosity)

After checking in at Customs and Immigration, we had a quick walk down the main street, which was a wide dusty road lined with American-style restaurants (lots of steaks and ribs) and a few touristy shops.

The only vaguely Dutch influence we could find was some pottery windmills and clogs in one of the souvenir shops and it was much more like a scruffy Florida street than anywhere Dutch or Caribbean for that matter. The American influence also meant that everyone spoke English and the main currency was US Dollars, although the cash points would also give out Dutch Gilders (not Euros, which was odd) and the shops were required by law to accept them, although most shops priced everyone in US$ and we only saw people using these.

We grabbed some things for dinner from the supermarket on the way back to the boat and then enjoyed our first beer for a few days, which was very welcome!

On Tuesday morning, John had a look at the engine while I went to explore the shops, stopping on the way to watch some boats come in as the bridge opened.

I couldn’t believe how many cars there were for such a small island. Everyone seemed to drive everywhere and there often long tailbacks when the traffic was stopped for the bridge to open (which happens several times a day). The drivers are all loonies and have no regard for the few pedestrians, who have to shuffle along the dusty verges (there are no paths) at the side of the road with their wits about them and crossing a road can take quite a while!

John managed to get the part he needed to fix the engine at the large chandlers nearby, along with lots of other spares so he could replace all the hoses and hose clips and hopefully prevent another leak in the future and I spent the afternoon helping him fix the engine, which consisted of me passing screwdrivers and holding bits of engine. At one point, John asked me to hold a hose clip in place while he tightened it up and the only way I could do this was to stick me hand up through the engine from the opposite side where I could just reach it with my fingertips. I couldn’t get a good enough grip on the clip though and every time John tried to tighten it, it span round, so to remedy this, I cut up a piece of spongy non-slip material and selotaped a bit to each finger.

This worked a treat and the friction was just enough to stop the clip spinning and also just enough to stop my hand slipping back out of the engine. After a little bit of panicking, a lot of wiggling and a few concerns about having to call the fire brigade out (which in hindsight may not have been so bad….) I finally managed to get my hand back out in one piece.

We celebrated the engine being fixed with a night out at one of the restaurants in the marina, which I chose only because it was called Jimbo’s and my dad’s name is Jim, so I figured it must be OK.

It was a good choice and we had a fabulous dinner with cocktails and it turned out to be one of the best nights out we have had on this trip.

The following morning we went out shopping together and I agreed to walk round to the chandlers with John to get a few more bits and bobs and John said he would then go round to the Levi’s shop with me to help me chose a couple of pairs of jeans (for when we get back to colder climes as they were half the UK price!) and then we would get some shopping from the supermarket on the way back to the boat. Well, that was the plan.

John spent rather a long time choosing bits of pipe and metal at the chandlers while I wandered round trying in vain to find something vaguely interesting to look at and every time a shop assistant asked me if I needed any help, I tried really hard not to collapse at their feet screaming, “Yes, please, get me out of here, I’m teetering over the chasm of eternal boredom and I’m about to fall in, SAAAAAAAVVVVE MEEEEEE!”

After one of the assistants took approximately four years to measure and cut half a dozen pieces of pipe to the 1ft lengths John asked for (and which turned out to be anything from 10 to 18 inches), we finally made it to the checkout and John bought me a fantastic fish identification book to cheer me up.

When we got back to the main street, John wussed out of the trip to the Levi’s shop and so we skipped that and went straight to the supermarket to stock up on fresh groceries.

After lunch back on the boat, I ventured out to the Levi’s shop and bought two pairs of jeans for less than one paid would cost in the UK and stopped at a dive shop to buy an underwater writing slate and an underwater torch (which later turned out to be a bit of a swizz as you could indeed take it underwater, in the same way you can take anything underwater if you so desire, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work again afterwards and it did in fact last for only three dives before water leaked inside it and killed it).

I showed off my new purchases to John, who suddenly decided that maybe he should have gone to the Levi’s shop after all and asked if we could go the next day so he could get some bargain jeans too!

Sam from Ibis V had got in touch the previous day to let us know she was anchored in the French side of the lagoon and she dinghied in with her French boyfriend to join us for sundowners and dinner that evening.

John dragged me back to the Levi’s shop the next morning so he could buy some bargain jeans and on the way, I counter-dragged him into a new but unexciting-looking shopping centre.

Most of the shop units where either empty or the type of designer stores that have snotty shop assistants with their hair tied back far too tightly that stops them from smiling, but not from looking down their noses at the likes of me, so we walked past those and stopped only at a small friendly-looking boutique, with the door wide open (always more inviting) and the magic red ‘Sale’ sign in the window.

The sale turned out to be 50% off the normal price, the normal price being an American ‘normal’ price, so considerably cheaper than the UK, so to cut a long story short, I was in heaven.

While John sat on something that was either a couch or a dead zebra, I tried on most of the clothes in the shop and was very restrained in buying just a few bargains, which were packed away for when we get back home, along with John’s new Levi jeans.

We stopped at the supermarket on the way back to the boat to get something for dinner and somehow lots of biscuits and chocolate fell into my basket on the way round.

We considered the alligator meat for tea but decided not to go for the box of Tossers (some things really do get lost in translation across the Atlantic).

After lunch back on Moonlight, we had a walk up and down the pontoons, looking at the other boats in the marina.

It wasn’t the friendliest marina we had been in, which was probably due to the large number of very large, very posh super-yachts.

(Super-yacht alley!)

Each super-yacht has their young, blonde and terminally miserable crew on board who are obviously contracted not to smile or speak to anyone other than other young blonde crew and the occasional short, fat, bald super-yacht owner with a plastic dolly bird in tow, neither of whom would make eye contact with lowly boat bums like us.

We must have passed twenty people walking the pontoons and not one even looked at us, so we decided to make them all as uncomfortable as possible by looking directly at them, smiling broadly and shouting ‘Hello’ at them at they walked past, which usually resulted in them mumbling incoherently before scuttling away back to safety of their giant plastic cocoons.

We had been told when we arrived in the marina that the berth we had been allocated had been pre-booked from Friday and so in the morning, we played musical boats and were shuffled round into a different berth when it became available in the morning. Although we were planning to leave that day, we wouldn’t be able to get out of the lagoon until the 4.30pm bridge opening, so it made sense for us to stay in the marina and make use of the new berth for the day.

It was quite windy and we had to reverse out very close to the boat-from-the-sick-coloured-lagoon next door, which was to be quite a challenge in a boat that doesn’t really go backwards (due to a long keel and a difficult temperament), so we asked if one of the marina workers could help us with the lines as we pulled out of the berth.

In his infinite wisdom, the marina manager sent the security guard to help us, who it transpired didn’t have a Scooby-Doo what was going on and instead of doing what John asked him to do, he decided that he would just try to pull the (10 ton) boat with one of the lines to get it to go in the right direction.

After a few very scary moments and with two sets of palm prints left on the shiny hull of the ugly boat as we fended ourselves off it, we got out safely and motored round to our new berth, which was thankfully much more spacious and easier to get in and out of!

We got a few final bits and bobs from the supermarket and had a relaxing afternoon before leaving the berth at 4pm and then bobbing around in the bay looking at all the super-yachts waiting for the bridge to open.

The bridge opened on time at 4.30pm and we joined the parade of boats heading out of the lagoon.

(The bridge opening)

(In the queue to go through the bridge!)

Once out to sea, we set sail for the overnight trip to the British Virgin Islands and were thrilled to be given a great send off by a dolphin and a huge green turtle.

After a night of three hour watches (mine spent listening to downloaded episodes of The Archers on my iPod), we arrived in the British Virgin Islands at 9.45am, just under 18 hours after we left the marina in St Maarten.

We anchored in a bay off Virgin Gorda and went ashore in the dinghy to check in at Customs and Immigration.

The trip ashore was a little hairy to say the least. An passage behind a shallow reef leads into a small marina, but the sea swell was washing over the reef and causing waves that were quite large for a very small and not very powerful dinghy and I really thought we were going to be tipped up a couple of times, but we clung on for dear life and made it in safely.

We bought a drink from the small supermarket in the marina and then walked the short distance to the Customs and Immigration offices.

After checking in, we headed to the nearby boatyard to meet up with John’s friends Mike and Bet who he first met when he sailed to the Caribbean in the 1980’s, stopping at a dive shop on the way to enquire about doing a couple of dives. The prices were higher than we had paid before but didn’t seem too bad until we realised that their advertised prices didn’t include equipment hire, which when factored in made it a little too pricey for our wallets so we didn’t book with them.

Mike and Bet had just arrived back to their boat after spending a few months back home in Canada and their boat was still out of the water in the boatyard, due to re-launch in a few days time.

After a quick catch-up with Mike and Bet, we headed back to Moonlight for lunch and a snooze, followed by a snorkel around the boat to wake us up!

The water was very clear but noticeably colder than we had been used to further south.

There wasn’t much to see as there wasn’t any coral near the boat but we saw a beautiful stingray gliding gracefully across the sand and enjoyed the swim nevertheless.

We popped ashore again in the evening (thankfully the sea swell had died down a little so it was a little less scary) and met up with Mike, Bet and some of their friends from other boats in the boatyard for drinks and then dinner at one of the restaurants in the marina.

Exhausted after the long sail from St Maarten and a busy few days, we had a very quiet and sleepy Sunday (just as they should be) and sat in the cockpit watching the world go by and the boats going to and fro from the anchorage and the marina, dodging the few showers that were unfortunately too light to collect any water.

We enjoyed sundowners under a beautiful sunset that evening and were excited to be at the beginning of another stage of our big adventure.

Categories: The Caribbean

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Reply Mum
12:17 PM on February 17, 2011 
Another great and amusing read:-)
11:51 PM on February 19, 2011 
hi folks loved the blog...that moment of backing up when the bridge opened is st maarten sounded scary.....mmm think ill have to fly over to get some jeans and if i had remembered would have given you my cousins no.(.lol just rubbing in the fact of yet another cousin)