01 March 2007

International Travel

Sailboarding is not an entirely useless activity. I have discovered at least one redeeming value: the sport has inspired someone to create a website (www.windguru.com) devoted to sailboarders, informing them of wind conditions at a hundreds of points around the globe. The site managers use sophisticated algorithms (love that word, have no idea what it means, other than, I am pretty sure, it has nothing to do with birth control) to predict the wind every FOUR HOURS, eight days out, at any point you choose. They show wind speed, direction, wave height, the space between the waves, the percentage of cloud cover, and temperature!

If you are a coastal boater, there is no better source of weather information. None. These guys are way ahead of the run of the mill weather forecasters.

So two weeks ago, Sandy Herzfeld and I saw an opening in the forecast and on a flat day circumnavigated Saba, a forbidding inactive volcano (actually two of them joined at the base) 25 miles southwest of here. Despite a reputation built on the diligent work of the Saba tourist bureau, there simply is no good reason for anyone to go there. Owned by The Netherlands, it is populated by some fifteen hundred souls (must be lots of kissing cousins there, non?) whose ancestors lured boats on to the rocks for plunder. It has no beaches, and it's shoreline consists of two kinds of rocks: large and small. It has virtually no port to speak of, and its airstrip is shorter than St. Barths'. We went because we could, happy to say we visited Saba, but never went ashore. I understand tourists go there for the hiking. I wonder if anyone has ever kept count of the number of tourists going in versus the number coming out.

Anguilla—now that's another story. Located north of St. Martin, about 25 miles northwest of St. Barths, it is reputed to have the most magnificent beaches in the world. Miles and miles of white powder, wind-sheltered beaches.

Anguilla (pronounced ANGWEELA by those who live there) has another virtue—it is an easy day trip from St. Barths by boat, which we did recently for lunch.

I had visions of finding a shoreside restaurant with a dock, the kind you find all over Long Island and New England. No such thing there. I checked with the guys at the local marina here. Frederic told me how to do it: Go the to Rendezvous Bay on the south side (the close side for us) of Anguilla, anchor close to the beach, wave, and somebody from the Cuisinart Hotel will come in a dinghy and take you ashore. All you need do is wave, and they will come. So much for vhf, radio-phone, sat phone, cell phone, and all the rest. We are back to semaphore, without flags yet.

When Windguru told me Monday was to have 9 knot winds and 1% cloud cover, I made plans to go on that day.

I am often asked what I do with myself now that I am retired. What occupies my day. Here's an example:

Two days before our scheduled trip to Anguilla, we decided to take the boat around and swim off Columbier beach, a nice 15 minute jaunt from Corossol Bay, and on our way there, we can look at the big ships in the outer harbor. I never tire of that.

To save time I decided to go out to Fish Faster alone early in the morning, lower and start the engines, check out the boat, etc. I drove down to the beach, parked the car, went to the dinghy, went back to the car and came back home for the dinghy key. Key in hand, drove back to beach, turned around and came back home for the dinghy pump. Returned to the beach with the pump, topped off the tubes, launched the dinghy, started the outboard and got about 20 feet off the shore when I realized I had forgotten to replace the garboard plug in the dinghy transom and the water was rising fast. Nice. Did a 180, beached and drained the dinghy, replaced garboard plug, re-launched the dinghy (Launching dinghy is not so easy given the swell. It involves pushing off in knee deep water, hopping aboard, dropping the engine to the "down" position, pulling the starter rope and getting the engine running before the waves push you back to the shallows where the propellor digs in the sand. The liklihood of that happening is directly proportional to the number of people on the beach watching the operation) putt-putted to Fish Faster. Terrific. All seemed to be in order there, but when Pinks, her sister Karen and I later returned to Fish Faster and motored over to Columbier Bay, I found the anchor windlass had seized and I could not free the anchor. (I had not before used it this year). We were able to tie up to a buoy instead, and while the sisters swam, I sweated trying to fix the windlass, or at least free the chain from the gypsy so I could use the anchor the old fashioned way: pitch it off the bow. Btw, there is no shade at the bow of Fish Faster where the windlass is stationed. I labored in the sun for an hour, but when I was finished the chain was still firmly in the grip of the gypsy.

Woke up early the next morning full of ideas. Maybe it was electrical. Yeah, that's the ticket. Ugh, so what? I know zilch re boat electronics. Dinghied out to Fish Faster, found no loose battery wires, tried shorting out the circuit breaker with a screwdriver (to see if it was a bad breaker) could not short out the sealed switch, so I was stymied. Dinghied back to the beach, and returned to the house, then returned to the beach because I had left the key in the dinghy and forgot to close the gas line, then went to the shipchandlers for some gizmos, then back to beach, back to Fish Faster and freed the chain, then back to beach, drove to shipchandler for a stainless steel shackle because I destroyed the cast iron one that connects the anchor to the chain. I also bought a pair of work gloves so the substitute anchor windlass doesn't ruin her manicure while retrieving the anchor. Came home, made some calls re getting the windlass repaired.

The windlass is a name brand, Simpson Lawrence. Their ads in all the boating magazines talk about CUSTOMER SUPPORT. What a joke. I called the Simpson Lawrence dealer in St. Martin. He was not familiar with model, had never seen one, and suggested I call the former dealer. The latter told me he was the former dealer and I should call the boat riggers who are the guys who suggested I call the Simpson Lawrence dealers. My email to the company was apparently ignored. Nice. I think I will write a letter. Just have to figure out to whom to write it. To Pinks, I guess. She, I know, will answer it.

Back to my tale, if any reader be still awake: new shackle in hand, back to beach, back to boat to attach the anchor chain to the anchor, then splice a rope to a newly purchased stainless steel ("inox," en francaise) clip to hold the anchor in its roller, and this is all before lunch. See, I am busy.

Monday produced a 6 AM rain squall lasting a good three minutes, the sky then turned an outrageously bright blue, and the sea was dead flat. Windguru had nailed it again. The scheduled 11 AM departure occurred right on schedule at noon.

With the use of paper chart (24 euros, egad!), GPS, and the written chart Frederic scratched out for me on the back of his telephone bill (he said he doesn't need it, they just take the money from his bank account.—me too), we found Rendezvous Bay just where it is supposed to be, travel time one hour ten minutes.

Then comes ten minutes of The Marx Brothers. I get to about 30 yards off the beach, the depth meter says 9.5 feet, and that's good enough for me. Over goes the anchor. I wave at the people on the shore, they wave back. I wave, they wave. Nice, but nobody's coming. After much gymnastics, a lady in a hotel uniform comes to the water's edge and starts pointing and waving. I respond by pointing and waving. She is also speaking but I can hear not a word, and I tell her so, which is really dumb cause if I can't hear her, likely she can't hear me. I do a lot of pantomiming. Not quite sure how you pantomime the message "Huh?" but I tried. Does she want me to move? Am I too close to the swimmers? (There are none, everybody is at the pool. Isn't that amazing?) This is all very unproductive and we are considering tossing Karen overboard so she can swim ashore and be our waterborne carrier pigeon,(a "carrier cormorant?") when we see our shorelady pointing to a guy who is shoving off from shore kneeeling on a surfboard, and who proceeds to start paddling in our general direction. A SURFBOARD. We were howling. Tears on our cheeks. Does this guy intend to ferry us ashore one at a time on that thing? Why not just ask us to swim?

Nope, he is paddling to his 10 foot motorized inflatable dinghy attached to a close-by buoy. He cranks up the outboard, dinghies over to us, we hop aboard and he deposits us in 12 inches of warm water with the soft sand of Anguilla under our feet. Hey, the whole process worked just fine.

There are no border or customs police in the shallows. We wade ashore a la Douglas McArthur, except we do it only once, no rehearsals, no photographers. A shame, I think.

Off to lunch at the restaurant near the pool. All very exciting, except the fries were way greasy,the "panini" was on a hamburger roll, the wait staff spoke without that soft French accent, and I left my Crocs on the boat and as a result had burned the soles of my feet on the walk to the restaurant. But hey, we were on Anguilla, another international boundary crossed (Anguilla is or was British) and the whole thing was a hoot.

As Windguru predicted, the wind picked up in the afternoon. We dinghied back to the boat at 2:45 and I did some boat-keeping stuff while the ladies swam off the stern platform. At 3 PM sharp, the captain recovered the swimmers, started the engines, and Pinks got to use her new gloves hauling up the anchor rode. Our trip back to France, bow into the freshening wind, was 1 hour 25 minutes.

Dinner at Maya's. Monday is Chicken Night. It is not the only thing on the menu, but I always order it on Monday. Why? Because the boat from France (that France, not this one) with the French chickens arrives on Saturday, so Monday is Chicken Night. If you don't believe me, ask Maya. She is the source of my intelligence on this subject.

Whoops, it is past my official gin and tonic time. Remind me to tell you about the time I lost my glasses on a two-hour walk home from the St. Barths airport.

A bientot.

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