Friday, January 27, 2017

1979 (9) - St. Maarten

Anchorage at Philipsburg, St. Maarten

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We left Virgin Gorda October 11th, at 7:00 a.m., and arrived in St. Maarten the next night at 9:00 p.m. - after 38 long hours of sailing.  St. Maarten is 80 miles to the east of Virgin Gorda and, as there's generally a steady wind out of the east, it’s impossible to sail in anything resembling a direct path.  We had strong winds and were able to travel at 5-6 knots the whole way.  But, with all the tacking we did, we actually sailed 200 miles to cover the 80 miles distance between the two islands.  It took far longer than expected, as we had planned on arriving in daylight.  Rather than spend another night at sea, we decided to try entering the harbor in the dark. 

Through the afternoon, as we made our slow progress toward the island, we compared the coastal features with the chart and picked out what appeared to be Philipsburg, the capital, and a port of entry.  I still wasn't overly confident that we'd even found St. Maarten.  I mean, how does one really know?  They don't put up signs or anything.  (Note:  This was way before GPS, and we didn’t have satellite navigation.  Our navigation tools consisted of a sextant, for sun sights, the compass, and the knot meter.)  When darkness fell, we could see a flashing light that verified our position.  Once near land, we dropped the sails and motored into the bay.  We couldn't make out any anchorage, as it was very dark, so when we were past the mouth of the harbor, we just dropped the anchor right there, left our stern light on, and collapsed into bed.  The next morning we raised the anchor and motored over to the other yachts to join the flock.

When we left Road Town for Virgin Gorda, after not sailing for a month, I felt that everything I had learned came together.  I had more confidence in what I was doing.  When we left Virgin Gorda to sail to St. Maarten, rather than staying at the wheel as usual, I went forward to attach halyards and jib sheets.  I raised the sails myself for the first time.  And, although we were alone on this 38-hour sail, I felt things went well, and I held up my end of the watches.  That is, until Friday morning, when we sighted St. Maarten about 25 miles away, dead into the wind.  We were making very little progress in the right direction.  I wanted to start the engine, and motor straight in, rather than face another day, and possibly another night, at sea.  The captain (a sailing purist), refused to discuss the matter.  I was furious, resigning my crew position.  I told the captain he could sail his own f***ing boat, and went below for several hours.  I made up for it later by coming on the wheel at 2:30 in the afternoon, and staying on till 9:00 when we finally anchored the boat.

L'Escargot, a restaurant in Philipsburg

October 20, 1979
St. Maarten, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a country on the southern part of a Caribbean island shared with Saint Martin, a French overseas collectivity. Its natural features span lagoons, beaches and salt pans. The capital, Philipsburg, has cobblestone streets and colorful, colonial-style buildings lining the Front Street shopping area. The port is a popular cruise-ship stop.

Sunnie (our friend from Ann Arbor, who had visited us in Grenada), worked for International Supply on St. Maarten.  Our mail was being sent to International Supply, and we were anxious to collect it.  On Monday, we tried to call IS from the phone company, but couldn’t get through.  Learning that IS was only a mile away, we walked over, where we found that Sunnie was on Antigua.  We were told she’d be back on Wednesday.  Since the phones still weren’t working, we walked over a second time.  We learned that when Sunnie flew in that morning, she hadn’t had picture ID with her landing papers.  She got kicked off the island!  She had to get on another plane, and fly back to Antigua.  While we were in the office, the phone rang.  We heard Bob say, “Hi, Sunnie, just a minute.”  Bob handed the phone to me, and I gave Sunnie quite a surprise.  (International calls were going through, but not local ones.  Go figure.)  Sunnie finally made it back to St. Maarten on Friday.

The Hustler, Arawak Motors, Antigua

After Sunnie straightened things out with immigration, she planned to go back to Antigua for another month.  Bob, who owned International Supply, had several companies on St. Maarten and Antigua, including Arawak, on Antigua.  Arawak is an automobile manufacturing company that makes the Hustler, a car with a fiberglass body.  Sunnie was managing the car company.  Arawak was turning out two cars a week, and wanted to increase production to six-ten cars per week.  Sunnie told us there was a big market for the Hustler in the Caribbean.  The car was good at climbing mountains and crossing rough terrain.  The car rental agencies in the islands liked to buy them. 

St. Maarten is a duty free port, with lots of nice shops.  We spent most of a day wandering through the stores.  My favorite was Thimbles & Things, which had imported needlepoint canvases from all over the world.  We were surprised to learn that Thimbles & Things is one of the companies Bob owns.

Thimbles & Things, Philipsburg, St. Maarten

October 29, 1979
The week after we arrived at St. Maarten, we took Sunnie and two of her friends, James and Joanie, out sailing.  James runs the fiberglass part of the auto company, and Joanie manages Thimbles & Things.  There was almost no wind for sailing.  After three hours, we weren’t very far out of the harbor.  We ended up going to the next bay, and anchoring there to go swimming.  I had fixed a lunch of Gazpacho, with cheese and rolls.  Sunnie brought a case of Heineken and a cooler of ice.

It was one of those classic situations where we had to be back by a certain time because James had a plane to catch.  Ed said, don't worry; we'll just start the engine and motor back.  Though the starter motor was sounding a little sick, the engine did get going, and we returned to Philipsburg on time.  I still haven't figured out why it worked when we needed it, because that was the last time the engine started.

Ed tried the engine again in the evening, and nothing happened except a click.  He took the starter motor apart and found myriad problems - rusted-out brushes, a broken tooth on the pinion gear, disintegrated insulation and insulating tape.  We weren’t able to find the parts we needed on St. Maarten.  Bob checked when he flew to Antigua, even visiting junkyards, with no luck.  Ed sent a cable to the place in England where we’d gotten engine parts before, and order replacements for the brushes and the pinion gear.  We cabled money from the British Barclays on St. Maarten.  What with cables, and shipping costs, we were paying $80 for a $10 part.  Ed’s hoping the parts will arrive this week.

As we generated our own power by running the engine to charge the batteries, no starter motor meant no engine, no power, and no lights at night.  It got dark at 6:00 p.m.  Cooking by kerosene lamp may evoke images of old-time sailors, but roughing it was never my idea of a good time.  Besides, if you don't have sufficient light in the galley, the cockroaches come out to forage, and I worried about one ending up in the dinner.  Though we probably wouldn't have noticed; it was too dark to see what we were eating.

We were without power for two weeks while Ed tried everything he could think of to get the engine going.  Tropic Moon has a 52-hp diesel engine that sits like a large green monster below the saloon floor.  Ed tried starting the engine manually by attaching a pulley system and rope to the flywheel, and pulling on the rope.  When it didn't work from inside the saloon, he threaded the pulley system through the hatch in the saloon roof.  Ed hung onto the rope, and jumped off the main boom, with continued negative results.  Our last attempts involved ropes threaded from the engine, out the hatch, up to the bow, with Ed and I running (sort of) along the deck hauling on the rope.  No go, and very embarrassing.  Someone, seeing all the ropes and pulleys and strange goings-on, asked Ed what he was building.  Ed then took a few days and rebuilt the starter motor, insulating all the coils, and using the broken pinion gear.  It was still too inefficient to start the engine by itself, but a combination of the weak starter motor and the pulley system finally did the trick. 

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