How can one not love an island with two harmonious countries, three languages, cheese, wine, baguettes, and a racing fleet of misses: Miss Tyknight, Miss Issippi, Miss Spent, and my personal favorite, Miss Tandfog? We had visited St. Maarten/St. Martin in 2011, staying four weeks instead of the planned two because of her charms, and we opted to visit St. Maarten once again before sailing to the Azores because we knew the island also offered excellent marine services, a population of experienced Atlantic voyagers, and good stores for provisioning. While we don’t like to participate in rallies, I did want to meet and chat with others who were setting out in roughly the same direction at roughly the same time.
We arrived in Philipsburg on April 23 to haul out at Bobby’s Marina for the expected one week that lasted ten days. Haul outs are like that. While we did have a few surprise projects, the delay was due more to our timing as we hauled out during the celebrations for both Carnival Day and King’s Day. Our real work began once we were at anchor in Simpson Bay, where we concentrated on crossing things off the numerous lists: Boat projects, spare parts, provisioning, stowage, and the inevitable (and often worse) Unexpected Projects. Things stored for short hops and life at anchor had to be repositioned in a better location or to make room for things that would be more important. We had to make a comfortable sea bunk for a long passage, instead of a make-do sea bunk previously used for four and five day cruises. Tools were moved to make room for canned goods, and toiletries were moved to make room for tools. As EW said, “We will not be cruising, we will be voyaging. There’s a difference.”
While we have hauled out twice before in the Caribbean and tackled boat projects on a weekly basis, this round of projects took on a new urgency. We wanted to leave St. Maarten in May and easily had enough work to fill our days. That meant we would not be enjoying all the charms of the island; this time I could only watch with envy while others swam, kayaked, snorkeled, and hiked. At Bobby’s Marina cruise ship passengers trouped by on their way to the beach and shops, and each day one of the men would engage EW as he worked on the prop or hull. The passenger would invariably express interest in our plans and envy of our lifestyle, but the wife would watch me clamber up a 14ft ladder with a bucket of water or groceries, and tug her spouse back to a cruise ship with all the amenities. Twice, while we were at anchor, EW chatted with Gary Seivert, a tourist from Buffalo who kayaked each day while his wife relaxed on the beach. I envied both of them as I poured through cruising cookbooks, vacuum packed coffee and oatmeal, cleaned, reorganized, sewed, and shopped.
We had drinks with other cruisers and a few wonderful evenings with cruising friends from S/V Kookaburra who sailed over from St. Thomas for a last goodbye before they headed west to the San Blas Islands. Otherwise, we focused time and energy on preparing for the crossing. A number of boats left before we were ready, and then we and others waited for favorable weather while we crossed still more things off the lists. Finally, on May 26th we hauled anchor and left Simpson Bay, heading north for a circle route to the Azores. Forty-two days later, on July 7, we arrived in Horta.
Yes, that would have been an extremely long crossing if we’d spent all of it going in the right direction, but the sticky harbor of Sint Maarten wasn’t done with us. Three days after our departure, our auto-pilot died. After a brief meeting in the cockpit, EW and I agreed that we’d turn back to St. Maarten with fingers crossed that we’d be able to start out again within a week.
We anchored in Simpson Bay on June 2nd and immediately began to dismantle the master stateroom so EW could access the auto
pilot. With help from Brad, a sailing mechanic from S/V Quartette, and Rusty, the hydraulic wizard from FKG Rigging, many hours of labor, a few cuss words, and money—always money, EW took care of the repairs whilst I replenished the provisions and made a few corrections on my projects. After all, one learns more about how things work at sea by going to sea. I bought a foam cover for the sea bunk and more firmly attached the lee cloth to the bulkhead; I mended the jib; I fixed the netting in the galley cupboards; I kept busy.
The repairs were completed on June 15. On June 16th we raised the anchor again and set out for the Azores. The real trip took 21 days, during which the auto pilot worked perfectly, as did all other things. We had light winds and drifted for the better part of two days, but we saw dolphins, whales, and a few cargo ships. We had plenty to eat, we slept well, we read, played guitar, wrote, laughed, talked, and took care of normal maintenance and cleaning. It was the nearly perfect crossing, from the sticky, nearly perfect, provisioning/preparation headquarters that is the island of Sint Maarten.