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December 2007
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Philipsburg/The End

Philipsburg_1Philipsburg_2Well, that about does it for my stories about the Caribbean.  I planned my flight home a day late.  It was a scheduling mistake, really.  I would rather have gone home the afternoon we were done, instead of wasting a whole day stuck at Captain Oliver's Resort sitting in a hotel room watching CNN.

Anyway, I tried to make the most of my extra time and explore the island of St Martin a little.  I took a taxi into Philipsburg.  I really wanted to see a historic island city but it turned out to be an endless row of gift and jewery shops and casinos along Front Street.  The beach was beautiful though. 

Philipsburg_6St_martin_205Philipsburg_4Philipsburg_7Philipsburg_5My mother, who for the past several years has enjoyed cruising the world with my father who works as a ship's physician for Holland America, said that the jewelry stores you see in the Caribbean are in fact same as in the small Pacific Northwest towns on the Alaska cruises.  It’s as though the cruise ship companies built these fake little towns to have enough shops selling stuff so that the thousands of passengers would have something to buy -- t-shirts, cheap wooden handicrafts, jewelry -- anything!  In fact, they make a point to close the shops on the ships whenever they are at port. 

The handicrafts I saw had a very generic tropical ethnic feel to them.  I actually saw a bunch of Native American “dreamcatchers” for sale too.  You have to wonder if this stuff isn't actually made in China!

Jewelry makes a logical gift item: it’s small, expensive and easy to carry. If it’s the kind of thing you like to buy, you can’t get enough of it.  And I suspect that it’s pretty easy to inflate the prices in the ersatz free market of a cruise ship town. 

I didn’t see many real restaurants either: just KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut and dozen a pirate-themed watering holes.   

After a couple hours walking around I took another taxi back.  It cost me $15 to get there from Oyster Pond, and $18 to go back.  I would have felt ripped off except I knew for a fact that the prices were set by the government. 

Stupid me.  In retrospect I should have taken the taxi to spend the afternoon on the nude beach in Orient Bay instead!

[ADDENDUM:   To view the  complete  St Martin/St Barts photo album, click here]Philipsburg_3


I'm Bareboat Certified!

Close to the end of our trip I hunkered down in my cabin and took the multiple choice 117 question American Sailing Association Bareboat Certification exam.  It had to be completed within an hour, so it wasn’t that much of a burden on my vacation time, unlike the coastal navigation or advanced coastal cruising exams which would have taken two or three hours each.  Only one of our students was motivated enough to actually take those exams during the trip, because otherwise he would have had to travel from Boise, Idaho to Tacoma to take it sometime after the trip.  He needed the entire dining table in the saloon to lay out the chart and graphs.  I doubt very much that everyone else’s walking around and partying on deck helped him very much.

I’d tell you everything that was on the test if I could remember.  I had to forfeit the last 3 or 4 questions because they referred to a chart that looked like it had come through a fax machine and was totally unreadable.  There were also a few questions that I missed because they required you to select more than one answer, but they didn’t tell you that, so I only selected the best single answer.  My advice is, if the question or answers don’t make sense, ask your examiner because something is probably wrong with the test.  The only other question I remember getting wrong was a true/false question about clearing customs.  I said that it was true that you can only clear customs at designated ports of entry, which is wrong.  Apparently, you can clear customs at any port, provided you are willing to wait a while (days, maybe) for a customs officer to come to your boat.

So after finishing the written exam, and demonstrating a rolling hitch and a trucker’s hitch, I passed!  Now I’m qualified to "act as skipper of a 30 - 50 foot boat sailing by day in coastal waters".  Woo hoo!  After I passed I was like, I’m done, dude.  I don’t need to bark out orders or pay attention to sail trim to squeeze that extra half knot out of them anymore.  Hey, the boat’s going forward, OK?  What the hell more do you want?

DonnydoogirlsWe had one last party on the Donny Doo, with the Donny Doo chicks mixing Mike’s famous rum punch.  So here I am sitting between the ladies all really cozy in the saloon.  And they’re really digging my stories about my exotic and exciting sea kayaking exploits.  As you might suspect from the picture, these are the literally the women my mother warned me about -- nurses!  Plus they show me a natural deference because I'm a doctor, right?  And Jake is trying to impress them about his working for Microsoft in the internet advertising division. 

“You mean you’re the one behind spam?” they say.  “And those internet pop-up ads?” 

Then he mentions his previous job working for Cisco, and they say, “You mean those vans that deliver food to hospitals?”  Good effort, Jake.  But it ain’t working.

In retrospect I should have said, hey let’s grab some beers and take one of the dinghys to the island.  Then we can wander on the beach in the dark, then all go skinny-dipping!  But instead I take out my ASA logbook and say, “Hey everybody, want to see my Bareboat Certification?”

A hopeless nerd to the end.

[Thanks to Jeff for the pic]


Reality Check

Img_6638Despite how it looks like we’re all having tons of fun I have to admit that living on a boat can be a little uncomfortable.  Even on a big boat like Merci, you are constantly bumping into people and literally stepping on people’s toes in those cramped, hot, humid cabins.  I think in situations like that you have to make a little extra effort to get along with each other, otherwise personality conflicts and jealousies start to rub people raw.  For my part I brought back this chocolate cake for the crew from a bakery in Gustavia.  So that gave people a reason to like me for maybe 15 extra minutes.

On a boat there is also the constant motion.  During some nights there was a lot of rolling.  I would wake up in the morning and immediately crawl up topsides to get some fresh air and just gaze out over the horizon.  My friend Ricardo thinks that you actually spend a lot of energy on a boat just keeping yourself upright.  Well I really doubt it’s much of a work-out, but it’s true that you can never escape the constant motion and, at least over a few days, I think it can really drain you.

You would think that on a beamy catamaran it would feel more stable, but I think it is actually worse.  When I spent a day on Donny Doo it not only rolled but pitched.  It doesn’t heel under sail but the motion seems more random and more frequent. 

Fortunately I never got seasick.  I’ve only been seasick once in my life, during an ill-fated father-son fishing charter out of Westport.  We woke up at some godawful time in the morning, and spent the entire day motoring around in the swell and thick fog.  People usually describe two phases to seasickness.  During the first phase you feel like you are going to die.  In the second phase you wish you were dead.  We have some great pictures of my brother passed out in the corner of the boat after puking his guts out.  Turned out to be a really good thing my dad brought along some Compazine suppositories!  Back at home I felt like I was still rolling on that boat for the next two days.

Dehydration, overheating, fatigue and alcohol consumption all contribute to seasickness.  So that’s a no-brainer: in the Caribbean we were all at risk every day!  I wore a scopolamine patch from the beginning until the very end.  That of course has its own side effects, primarily blurry vision and dry mouth, but if you get enough of it, possibly agitation, rambling speech, hallucinations, paranoid behaviors, and delusions.  Wait a minute -- maybe that’s why Jake went all apeshit when I showed him the proper way to slice a mango!  (Just kidding, Jake.)

Those patches worked well.  I would be sitting in the saloon sipping a Carib and just rolling with the swell, and enjoying every minute of it.  Then back on land I wouldn’t feel a thing.  No motion at all.  Solid.

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The Carnival Steel Drum Band

61o2s1jjebl_ss500_I ran across this in the Princess Juliana Airport: a series of CDs by the Carnival Steel Drum Band.  You know -- so that after your cruise you can take that Caribbean sound home with you.  I was thrilled so see that they are also available on Amazon, iTunes and even at the local Boater's World.  The series features Caribbean steel drum versions of popular songs, including:

Red, Red Wine
Play That Funky Music
Copacabana
Guantanamera
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Caribbean Queen
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

and many, many more!

There are also a couple volumes of Christmas songs and an entire volume of Jimmy Buffett favorites!


Baie Orientale

Library_1859Orient_bay_09Orient_bayOrient_bay_05Orient_bay_08Orient_bay_10Orient_bay_06Orient_bay_07The entrance to Orient Bay is a challenge.   There is a reef around Green Cay at the south and around Pinel Island on the north.  The recommended approach is to start at Tintamarre Island to the east and approach on a heading of 255 deg M toward the radio towers that stand just to the south of the tallest visible peak of St Martin.  The south end of Tintamarre should bear 075 deg M off your stern.  Even if your heading seems correct if your depth finder reads less than 25 ft you need to turn around immediately before you run aground and try again.

On the south end of the bay is a nude beach which when viewed through binoculars from the middle of the bay appeared to be very crowded.  At the north end is Pinel Island which has a restaurant, a couple watering holes, a watersports rental hut and good snorkeling.

While we were anchored a boat pulled up in front of us and about five guys walked up to the bow to drop their anchor -- totally naked. (And I was worried about stubbing a toe on a fairlead or something if I went barefoot!) Someone said there were a couple women on board too but I didn't see them.    Of course the guys on our boat weren't too thrilled about a bunch of bare-assed leather-skinned men spoiling our view of the beach.

Since the entire island closed at 6PM every night we ordered dinner from the restaurant and they delivered everything on their dinghy right after closing.  You would think that they did this all the time but they said it was definitely the strangest delivery they had ever made.  They were a couple from New York City and they said the worst business in the world to be in was to running a restaurant on Pinel Island.


Island Escape, Inc.

Islandescape_2Like it or not, Jimmy Buffet is the cultural icon for Island Escapism.  The influence of Margaritaville® extends from the Gulf Coast to Mexico and throughout the Caribbean.  Buffett's CDs are prominently featured on checkout counters in gift shops in St. Martin and St Barts.  He has single-handedly (likely with the help of an army of marketing consultants) corporatized the "beach bum lifestyle".  Who would think anyone could own the franchise on lounging drunk on a beach? 

Check it out: the marketing geniuses of Margaritaville® provide ideas for your beach party, including recipes, games and suggestions for proper attire ("There is no such thing as a tropical shirt “too tacky” to party in. The brighter the color, the better. Extra credit if you purchase one from our Margaritaville® stores.")  And Margaritaville® Frozen Concoction Makers™ will help you keep up with your party-goers' demands for more of those awesome cold drinks!

Margaritaville® is a also a restaurant chain with locations in Key West, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Glendale, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Some restaurants have pools and characters dressed up like green parrots.

Jimmy Buffett owns or licenses another restaurant chain called Cheeseburger in Paradise™.  There is also Margaritaville® brand name frozen shrimp, chicken wings, margarita mix, tequila, and tropical footwear.  There is a beer under the Margaritaville Brewing label called Land Shark Lager.  Radio Margaritaville is available on Sirius Satellite Radio. 

Between his restaurants, album sales, and tours, Jimmy Buffett earns an estimated $100 million a year.

Are you starting to feel a little nauseated?  Better make sure your Transderm Scop patch hasn't fallen off!

No mention of Jimmy Buffett would be complete without noting his literary accomplishments.  Did you know that he is also a best selling author? His book A Pirate Looks At Fifty went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller non-fiction list, making him one of seven authors in that list's history to have reached No. 1 on both the fiction and non-fiction lists. The other authors who have accomplished this include Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Dr. Seuss!

Islandescape_1


Marine Head

NavigatorDon’t be intimidated by a marine head.  Just remember a few simple things and you soon will be an expert.  First, there will be a pump that serves to both fill the bowl and empty the bowl.   Second, there will be a lever that you turn to either “fill” (or “wet”) or “empty” (or “dry”).  It may also be marked by a wordless diagram. Turn the lever to fill, and pump water into the bowl.  It may already be filled with water.  The pump fills the bowl with sea water through a through-hull fitting. 

When the bowl is wet then do your thing. 

Important: If you really want to avoid clogs then nothing should go into the marine head that doesn’t come out of your body!  That means all used toilet paper goes into a plastic bag.  Paper will clog the marine head.  Our rule was that if you clog the marine head you alone will be responsible for cleaning it out.  So keep that paper out, even if it means fishing it out after accidentally dropping it in the bowl (everyone has done that before).

Turn the lever to “empty” and pump the bowl dry.  Then turn the lever again to fill the head with water again.  You may want to empty it again to flush it clean. 

Be sure to leave the lever on “empty” so that the head doesn’t overflow with water when the ship is underway.

So what happens to the sewage?  In the Caribbean there are no pump-out stations.  It all goes overboard!  I think according to international regulations you can’t dump any garbage including raw sewage within 3 nautical miles of shore.  But who really checks anyway?  It makes you think twice about swimming around a crowded anchorage, huh?

*   *   *   

I just finished reading an article in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the cruise ships that run between Seattle and Alaska.  The average cruise ship will need to eliminate 28,000 gallons of sewage sludge after a week-long voyage.  Sludge refers to the semisolid fraction of raw sewage.  The liquid potion is filtered out, treated on board, and is dumped into Puget Sound.   It may be pumped out “within 1 nautical mile of port berth” while the ship is underway!   That nutrient-rich effluent contributes to algal blooms and dead zones in Puget Sound, and does who knows what else.

The semisolid sludge fraction can be legally dumped in the water at least 3 miles offshore, but the cruise ship companies have agreed to dump it 12 miles offshore.  One idea is to pump the sludge out of the ships when they dock in Seattle. Then to get rid of it they would truck it out and spray it on forested land or nonfood farm crops!


Rock Gardens

Snorkeling_1Snorkeling_2Snorkeling_3Snorkeling_4Snorkeling_5Snorkeling_6Snorkeling_7Snorkeling_8Snorkeling_9We went snorkeling every day.  The water was warm enough that you could swim all day and not get cold.  And it was amazingly clear. 

The cool thing about anchoring is that after you dropped anchor you could just dive down and take a look at how the chain lay and how the anchor set.  The last evening we actually increased our scope based on that.  At a popular anchorage you can see how the anchors scar up the sea floor.  They leave long crossing lines on the bottom.  When an anchor digs in it can bury itself in a hole four feet deep.

I saw a lot of colorful little fish and these pictures really don't do them justice.  Although I saw a couple sea turtles from the boat I did't get to see any up close.  There were no sea mammals anywhere.  At one spot by Pinel Island people say they saw a group of 15 lobsters and a 5 ft barracuda.


Donny Doo

Party_boat_3St_martin_170Party_boat_4Party_boat_2Party_boat_5The other boat in our flotilla was a Lagoon 380 catamaran which went by the curious name of Donny Doo.  Of course, no one could help but hail them as “Doggy Doo” over the radio. But they refused to answer to that.   

I think our boat Merci ended up having more sailors who were serious about getting their ASA certifications.  I have to admit I couldn’t leave home without my own copy of The Annapolis Book of Seamanship (with the hardback cover sliced off to make it easier to stuff in the duffel).  Who of all the students remembered to bring their official ASA logbooks and even navigation tools?  That would be the Merci crew.  In other words, we were the nerd boat. There was definitely no shortage of people on Merci who were willing to tell you how you needed to trim the sails.

The other boat was clearly the party boat.  After all, their instructor Mike had the recipe for this awesome rum punch.  As a group they tended to wear fewer clothes.  They also had those three quite adventurous twenty-something babes who showed up with no sailing experience whatsoever and just wanted to lie in the sun and catch a ride on the trampoline as the cat jumped over the waves. (Did I mention they all slept together in the same V-berth?)  And they were flying the Jolly Roger too (that is, until a bold member of our team crept aboard their vessel at night and captured it for the Merci!)


Girls on a Rope

Tarzan_jump_8Tarzan_jump_1Tarzan_jump_2Tarzan_jump_3Tarzan_jump_7A few days in the tropics will bring out the primitive instincts in young women and they’ll start swinging half-naked from the rigging! This is called the “Tarzan Jump”.  Take the halyard from the mainsail, tie a bowline in it, then jump off the stern pulpit.  The goal is to jump far enough away from the boat that you swing forward of the shrouds and land in the water near the bow.  It’s important to time your release so you don’t bounce off the lifelines or toe rail, and to breathe out your nose to keep the water out of your sinuses.