L O G B O O K - by John Philp

ST MAARTEN, Dutch West Indies

MON 3rd APRIL - Last night we departed Antigua to sail the 90 odd miles to St Maarten. We’ve arrived into Simpson Bay just in time for the 9am opening of the bridge into the inner Simpson Bay Lagoon. As the main road is closed by the bridge opening and it only happens three times a day, they don’t open it for long, and if you’re too slow a water police boat will race by urging you to get a move on. It’s a little intimidating for the first timer as the channel is quite narrow.

Cyclone Lennie has left a lot of scars here. On the long sand beach to the left off the channel is a large freighter still sitting high and dry seven months after the cyclone.

Once through the channel we negotiate our way carefully past the myriad yachts and find a space beyond them near the border : St Maarten (or St Martin) is shared by the Dutch and the French, and the boundary snakes it’s way through the lagoon somewhere near us.

TUE 4th - At 7am we hoist the anchor, motor over to the Palapa Marina and moor stern-to beside the infamous Soggy Dollar bar. It’s a wonderful spot, close to shops and services.

WED 5th - At sundown I go for a cycle, looking for a beach to swim at. I find my beach just past the airport and in doing so discover the celebrated Sunset Beach Bar. In the afternoons a small crowd (after a couple of ales) gets it’s thrills standing on the beach directly behind the jet wash when the big jets take off. Soon an Air France Boeing 747 lumbered up the runway and turned at the fence in preparation for takeoff. I walked over to the ‘zone’ and stood there with a dozen others, waiting... a warm wind rose as the pilot revved his motors, then very quickly built into a severe sand storm. The noise was deafening and I was being pushed toward the sea. I quickly ducked behind a tiny wall to take cover thinking, “Wow I really don’t want to be here anymore!”. In twenty seconds it was all over and I was left, a little shell shocked, all exposed skin peppered in beach sand. I walked back to the bar, suddenly in need of a drink, the bartender took one look at me and says, “First timer?”. Yup! Later, she she told me about the little car that someone left in the jet blast with it’s ‘weather windows’ open - it got blown into the sea!

THUR 6th - St Martin is turning out to be an endlessly social event, we’re meeting so many yachting friends from previous ports. Among them, Doug and Suzy Gilson, friends from Fiji days, and today Tony bumped into a school mate from Australia that he hadn’t seen for four decades. To celebrate, a party is organised on the Tau.

FRI 7th - We’ve been extremely well looked after by Wallyne Dovale (Whippy) a Fiji girl who’s lived here for eight years. She’s appointed herself as our personal driver and tourist guide. Thank you Wallyne!

SAT 8th - We’d planned to leave the inner lagoon this morning and anchor Tau outside in the harbour. As time drew near for the 9am bridge opening things got a little sketchy as a cruel cross wind made it difficult to pull the anchor up and leave the dock, plus the lines from the yacht beside us were in our way. Somehow we managed the tricky operation, then joined the mad dash through the narrow channel, yachts jumping the queue at random. Organised Dutch chaos I thought to myself...

After Tau was securely anchored Tony and I hoped aboard David and Michelle Murphy’s yacht Mrs Marieta to help them sail across to St Barts for a test of their new mainsail. We were hoping to watch the race at St Barts for the big yachts, the one where you have to be a minimum of 100 feet to enter. What’s the world coming to? Mrs Marieta herself was a 72’ Bruce Farr sloop, although not the full racing version she had a lot of fancy gear on her, fully battened mainsail, hydraulic winches, high tech rigging.

The crew rested after dinner and said goodbye’s, then we were off again on another passage, this time for Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

SUN 9th - We’re under way in a 15 knot easterly passing through the magnificent Sir Francis Drake channel which splits the Virgin island chain. Under our keel there’s 20 meters of incomparably clear blue water, the islands on either side of us look like a string of emerald green pearls casually dropped into a cobalt ocean.

It’s the final day of the BVI Spring regatta and there are seventy yachts racing in the channel, fluttering about like butterflies, brightly coloured spinnakers flying. Virgin Gorda passes by to port, the busy city of Road Town, Tortola on our starboard side. Finally we pull into Sopers Hole on the eastern extremity of Tortola, another stunning Caribbean anchorage, and anchor in 20 meters of clean blue water.

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