06/03/2016 – St Martin, Sint Maarten and St Barthélemy

We spent a relaxed couple of days anchored off Tintamare Island. It's part of a large nature reserve but the snorkelling was disappointing. We explored the island, scrambling our way along the beach on the windward side where there are a lot of evil looking reefs just offshore and a wrecked yacht in the shallows. We also discovered an aero engine graveyard, at least 6 large rotary engines which will never run again. We stopped overnight in Grand Case and snorkelled Rocher Creole again then, early Tuesday morning, we pulled up the anchor to return to Marigot as John was in a hurry to collect his alternator! We'd anchored soon after 0830 and were in the dinghy by 0845. The heavens opened at 0846! The rain was torrential and we took shelter under the Sandy Ground lifting bridge, the French entry canal to the lagoon. Unfortunately my iPad wasn't ready so we caught a bus to Philipsburg. While John went to collect the alternator I set about finding Philipsburg Pharmacy which advertises that it will fill travellers' prescriptions. It took some finding but I eventually left with enough statins to last until we get home. New Zealand is definitely the cheapest, followed by South Africa with duty free and tax free Sint Maarten being the most expensive for statins! On the way to Simpson Bay (town) we had got very wet, John's iPad was in a waterproof case in his rucksack but it got wet. In the bar over a beer he found that the screen was not behaving as it should so we caught a bus back to Simpson Bay and made a beeline for the Apple repairer. They checked the number and said it should be covered by the warranty and that mine was ready. Wonderful news! If the trip to Simpson Bay was wet, albeit fresh water (rain), the trip back was worse. A strong wind was blowing and the lagoon was very choppy but nothing compared with the conditions in Marigot Bay. We got soaked to the skin but at least the new waterproof bag I'd bought for the iPad kept it dry. When John installed the new alternator it didn't work. Further investigation found a thin wire, the exciter wire (ignition light wire), which had worn through its sleeving was shorting to ground. Maybe the repair Benjy did to the old one is still good but we can't just swap them back as John had to get an engineering workshop to swap the new single pulley for the old double one. John also got an e-mail to say his iPad was fine, the next day they couldn't replicate the problem so he did another return trip to Simpson Bay. Thank heavens we bought a new outboard engine in the Channel Islands when we had to replace the old RIB in 2011. Does Brexit mean we'll be able to buy 2 stroke outboards in the UK again? I somehow doubt it! Carnival in St Martin lasts about 10 days. The weekend we were at Tintamare the individual adult entries paraded on one day and the children paraded on the next day. The following weekend the main parade, with large music floats and groups of dancers in fantastic costumes, took place on Saturday. It was much smaller than the Carnival we went to in Philipsburg in 2006, far more colourful than Salvador in Brazil last year but also far less deafening. I suspect the main crowds were on the main road where we subsequently discovered lots of food stalls, impromptu bars etc. We had a good position on a corner where the lorries and trailers had to effect a right angle turn without wiping out the rooftop balcony on one of the buildings. Tuesday and Wednesday were public holidays in St Martin so most shops didn't open on Monday either but some opened on Wednesday regardless. It is what the French describe as to 'Faire le pont', to make a bridge joining a public holiday to the weekend. A five day weekend can't be bad! It was time to leave St Martin with its active cruisers' radio net, good marine infrastructure, a Super U hypermarket within easy walking distance..... The list goes on! Thursday was the first day of the Heineken Regatta in Simpson Bay and we motorsailed offshore to keep out of the way. The trip to St Barthélemy, known as St Barth to the locals, was much closer to the wind than we would have wished though we sailed most of the way with the engine ticking over in gear as we needed to make water. We cleared in on Friday morning and discovered a good chandlery which John revisited on Saturday morning while I did the washing. He came back, came on board then I noticed the dinghy floating away. He dived in but the 20-25 knot wind was blowing it away faster than he could swim so he came back. We pulled up the anchor and rounded up the errant dinghy with Starblazer, festooned with the laundry, then re-anchored. I rushed forward at one point later on as I thought the sheet was about to blow away, on my way back to the cockpit I was looking down at the sheet, trying to fold it, and noticed a serious crack in part of the shroud fitting. For non-sailors, shrouds are the wires which hold the mast up and keep it 'in column', i.e. straight. The damaged fitting is one we replaced in New Zealand when it had broken completely on passage from New Caledonia. Today's task is to see if we can source a replacement here or whether we need to return to St Martin. See FB posts from John for details of the break and its temporary repair. Sailing isn't all about the problems, they just seem to gang up on us! We are fit and well, eating well, drinking well.... I mean, where else other than the French Caribbean islands would you find rum sold by the box, and not only small boxes? Joyce Sent from my iPad

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