milaanchoring.com – Still on St. Martin

It’s been some time since we posted our last blog post, which apart from the usual lazyness is due to the fact that we’re currently still on St. Martin and haven’t left the island in the last two months. We anchored in Marigot Bay for some time, then entered the lagoon and anchored near the dutch border. That’s right, while the whole island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten is about the size of Berlin, it is divided into two countries.

This also means two different mains systems (110V on the dutch side, 220V on the french side) which is normally not important for us as we are always anchored anyways. And this means not only two currencies (Euro on the french side and Netherlands Antillean Guilders on the dutch side) but three, because everyone accepts US Dollars.

St. Martin Lagoon as seen from the hills between Cole Bay and Philippsburg
St. Martin Lagoon as seen from the hills between Cole Bay and Philippsburg

 

Fort near Marigot bay
Fort near Marigot bay
Dinghy dock of Lagoonies, the probably most common bar in the lagoon
Dinghy dock of Lagoonies, the probably most common bar in the lagoon
Squalls, low season is coming fast
Squalls, low season is coming fast

So why did we stay here for so long? At first, because we really love this island. The combination of the two countries makes it really special in the Caribbean. Due to the french impact shopping for food is a pleasure, prices are at least reasonable and the food quality is quite high, but there is absolutely no nightlife on the french side. On the dutch side, there are dozens of different restaurants, bars, night clubs and casinos. And probably because of this the prices here are also reasonable, for Caribbean standards again. The dutch side even has a SXM phone app which tells you about happy hours and special events every day. We stocked up on food a lot and went to several interesting places in the evenings.

One evening, we went to a boat bar called JabJabs that is anchored in Simpson bay, made friends with the owner and found out that he just opened and is searching for bartenders. So Teresa asked if she could work there and became a bartender some days later. While i had a closer look at this boat i found out that the electric system was an absolute chaos and so was working there as well for some days to get this sorted out.

Teresas workplace of the last weeks
Teresas workplace of the last weeks

What else happened in the last few weeks? We went to a Casino, Teresa spent 11$, i had some luck and in the end spent 2$ for gambling the whole evening and night, which was nice because they serve free drinks as long as you’re playing. We went out to several night clubs and bars, went hiking to Philippsburg and to the fort nearby Marigot bay. We also hiked to La Belle Creole which is a former luxury resort that was destroyed by a hurricane in 1995.

We went to Carnival in Philippsburg with our crazy American friend Jeff in his dinghy which has a 50hp outboard. Oh, and we just recently upgraded our own outboard from 5hp to 10hp for an extremely reasonable price (after two months on a small island you know which people to ask). Now we’re getting the dinghy easily on plane with the two of us inside and go 16kts even when carrying some stuff. We bought a sewing machine because there are some projects to be done and in the end this will probably be cheaper than having a sailmaker do it. This turned out to be a harder project than expected because most of the shops for electric stuff are on the dutch side and they only sell 110V equipment, but Mila has a 220V system onboard. But in the end we found a nice Singer, which is a german brand as far as i know.

Cupecoy beach relaxing
Cupecoy beach relaxing
Cupecoy beach handstand
Cupecoy beach handstand

Another reason for staying here so long was that we had to sort out our future plans. As most of you maybe know, initially we planned to head to the Panama Canal in April and as we’re still here, this will not happen this year. There are two reasons for this, the first is that the hurricane season in the Pacific begins in November which would mean that we would sail from here to New Zealand in about five months. This would mean racing through the south pacific without having time to visit many islands there, which is probably one of the most interesting parts of this journey.

The other reason is that we’re simply running out of money. We initially planned to work in New Zealand, but while our cruising kitty is not completely empty right now, we just don’t have enough money to make it there. We would probably have enough canned food on board to sail there without reprovisioning, but the Panama Canal transit is expensive and visas for the Galapagos are extremely expensive. And to be able to sail these long distances with an acceptable speed we would have to haul the boat here and repaint the antifouling, which is also expensive.

Hello big Iguana
Hello big Iguana
Hello small Iguana
Hello small Iguana

10

So for now, no Pacific for us. Still, as the Atlantic hurricane season officially started some days ago the 1st of June, we have to head south in the next days. The current plan is to make a short stop on Dominica because we left that out on our way north. Then we will head to Grenada which is “kind of” hurricane safe, which means it has never been hit by hurricanes except three times in the last two decades thanks to global warming. We’ll stay there for a week or two to help out a friend with repairs on his boat and then head to Curacao which is hurricane safe. That’s the plan for now, from there we will think about what to do next. Maybe we will find jobs there, maybe we will put Mila on the hard and come back home for some time to work and depending on how this all works out we will decide what to do after the end of the hurricane season in December. The options we have is to sail to the pacific (which we hope to do) or sail back home (which we have to do if our funds are not sufficient) or sell the boat, which we currently can’t imagine.

 

One of the good things of french islands - a 24/7 baguette vending machine
One of the good things of french islands – a 24/7 baguette vending machine

So to sum it up, everything is good onboard Mila, but for now, plans have changed. But actually, we’re in good company with that. We’re underway now for about 10 months and in this time we met several other boats with more or less fixed plans to go through the Panama Canal this spring. And as far as i know there is only one single boat that is currently sailing in the Pacific which is the Little Coconut that we met in Portugal, on the Cape Verdes and on Barbados. All the others have changed plans. Boats have been sold or will be sold soon or are on the hard for at least the hurricane season. Or in one special case, are on the hard because they got stolen but were recovered and got major damage to the hull in the whole process. But in the end (apart from the story of the stolen boat) that’s an important factor of the whole cruising lifestyle: Things never work out as planned. Else, it would probably be quite boring.

Mila in Marigot bay, thanks to our friend Bryan for taking some drone shots!
Mila in Marigot bay, thanks to our friend Bryan for taking some drone shots!

Down the Portuguese coast

(It’s possible to click on the pictures now for a bigger version)

To sum up the last weeks, we were a little bit lazy and just did some short passages down the Portuguese coast. Nearly all Portuguese harbours are in river entrances and can get quite rough even with moderate winds because the Atlantic swell works against the river and tidal currents.

Porto
Porto
Port wine tasting in Porto
Port wine tasting in Porto

We had some great days in Porto with crews from other boats and our friend Moritz who joined us from Povoa de Varzim to Peniche. We explored the city, had an exceptionally good sushi and did a Port wine tasting that was included in the marina fee.

Dolphins
Dolphins
Motoring through the atlantic swell somewhere on the Portuguese coast
Motoring through the atlantic swell somewhere on the Portuguese coast
Sao Jacinto anchorage with Mila in the back
Sao Jacinto anchorage with Mila in the back

After some days we headed south to Aveiro and anchored in the nearby Sao Jacinto anchoring bight, because there is a high voltage cable crossing the river that goes to the Aveiro Marina. According to our charts the minimum height below the cable is 18m, but as Mila has a height of nearly 17m including the VHF antenna we decided not to try out the accuracy of the given cable height.

The entrance to the river delta was quite rough although there was nearly no wind and only about 2m of swell outside in the deeper water. But as we approached the shallower entrance the waves got steeper and quite chaotic. It didn’t help that we arrived exactly between high and low tide. When we walked to the entrance the next day at high water the conditions were a lot calmer.

Going to Sao Jacinto turned out to be a wise decision, because it is an interesting place that is much less touristy than Aveiro. We were the only boat in the anchorage at first, and then another french boat joined us. We went to the only existing bar in the village, which was only populated by locals and had two nice evenings with cheap beer and funny karaoke singers. As this was the only place to go to there were people of all ages, and on the second evening we noticed that there were not only exactly the same people but they even sat in exactly the same spot. So we wondered whose spot we occupied…

Moritz and me went to a fish restaurant and I ordered grilled sardines and got a delicious plate of six of them. This has been the first time in my life that I ordered fish in a restaurant and was not able to eat all of it, but fortunately Moritz was able to help.

Exploring Aveiro
Exploring Aveiro
Sao Jacinto beach
Sao Jacinto beach

From Sao Jacinto we went to Peniche and originally planned to visit the Berlengas Island which is about 5 nautical miles west of Peniche. But this island has no harbour and there was to much swell to use the dinghy to get to land, so we just motored around the island and then went to Peniche.

Peniche harbour
Peniche harbour

When we arrived we were welcomed by the norwegian girls of Paloma which we already knew from Porto. We had told them before that we are really sad about not being able to make pizza on board because we don’t have an oven and so they invited us over for a really nice pizza dinner.

We stayed for some days and walked around the peninsula, went for a swim and to a local bar. The weather was changing a lot between warm sunshine, strong rainshowers and extremely thick fog.

Next stop was Cascais in the Tejo river nearby Lisboa. We didn’t like this town as it is a rich people’s area and so were the prices in the harbour, not only the high marina fee but also 13€ for using the washing machine and the dryer. Because of the conditions on the river we had to stay some days but then went on to Oeiras closer to Lisboa as soon as possible.

Approaching Oeiras was as rough as the other Portuguese river approaches, but this time we had a funny encounter with a portuguese submarine warship. We arrived in the darkness and the submarine was black, had no AIS transponder, the wrong navigational lights (actually it had the lights that a sailboat shows when sailing without the engine running and therefore having the right of way). The lights were mounted so low that i saw the boat at first when it was only about 50-60m away. But all went fine, probably they saw us much earlier and kept clear of us.

Exploring Lisboa
Exploring Lisboa

In Oeiras we met up again with some of the other boats. The marina has its own pool that is naturally only open during daytime but as we decided that all of us are in need of a swim in the late night we unfortunately misunderstood the pool area fence for a pool area boarding ladder. This worked quite well for about 10 minutes until the very relaxed pool guard arrived. He approached in normal Portuguese guard pace (means extremely slow) and friendly informed us that the pool is closed till the next morning. So we went back over the pool area boarding ladder and decided to go to the next beach for another swim and the usual bonfire.

Partying on Landkrabbene with the Girls from Paloma and Tuuli
Partying on Landkrabbene with the Girls from Paloma and Tuuli

In contrary to our original plans we decided not to head to Madeira next but go further south on the coast and then cross the strait of Gibraltar to go to Morocco. While Madeira would definitely have been nice too, we’re interested in going somewhere that is a little bit off the normal cruising routes, so we plan to visit El Jadida and Essaouira because those are the only harbours that we can enter with our 2m draft and do at least have some sort of small pier where a yacht can go to. After Morocco we will get back on our planned route and therefore sail to the Canaries.

Further West and a little bit to the South

Our next leg from Saint-Germain-des-Vaux was to Guernsey. We were accompanied by the Tuulis (check out their website). We motored the whole way through the so-called “Race of Alderney”. It’s called like this because of the very strong currents that can occur due to the tide. But we arrived a little bit early and so the Race was not as exciting as we expected.

Shortly before we approached St. Peter-Port which is the main harbour of Guernsey we had a small thunderstorm coming along our way. Wind speeds increased from zero to nearly 40 knots in minutes and decreased shortly after we finished berthing, which went surprisingly well for those conditions.

The marina has a very motivated harbour master. We arrived in the middle of the night at about 3:30 and he instantly came over in his small dinghy and pointed us to the right berth.

Guernsey was the first “country” where we had to clear customs, but it’s a quite easy procedure. You simply have to fill out a form with all your personal and ship data (and list all alcoholic beverages and all vegetables and meat onboard) and then put the form into a postbox when leaving your boat for the first time.

 

Guernsey
Guernsey

The yacht harbour has a sill to keep the water inside at low tide. Tidal differences are quite high.

The Sill at St.Peter-Port (Guernsey) at high tide
The Sill at St.Peter-Port (Guernsey) at high tide
The sill of St.Peter-Port on Guernsey at low tide
The sill of St.Peter-Port on Guernsey at low tide

 

Guernsey jetty
Guernsey jetty
Guernsey with the old fort in the background
Guernsey with the old fort in the background

Guernsey was nice to visit but at least St. Peter-Port was not as interesting as we would have liked it to be. For me, the most remarkable thing was the extraordinarily good Burger Menu i ate.

 

That's how home-grade "stainless" steel is looking after some weeks in a marine environment
That’s how home-grade “stainless” steel is looking after some weeks in a marine environment

We should have stayed for another night to explore the other parts of the island. Instead, we decided to continue Southwest and went back to France to Roscoff due to a very good weather forecast which turned out to be wrong, we had to use the engine most of the way.

We've been escorted by Dolphins while sailing to Roscoff
We were escorted by Dolphins while sailing to Roscoff

Roscoff is a nice little city with stores that have a quite long lunch break, and when we decide to walk to the next supermarket we usually arrive five minutes after the beginning of this. So instead of cooking we went to a creperie and had some crepes and coffee. Afterwards, we went to a marine chandler and got some emergency parachute rockets. We would have liked to buy them before we started our journey, but in Germany you are not allowed to buy these without a special license. In France (and probably everywhere else on the world except Germany) you simply go to the store and buy the stuff.

Roscoff
Roscoff

We stayed in Roscoff for two days and went to the beach both days. The first day it was a nice relaxing stay, the second day it wasn’t, because we arrived at high tide and there was no beach any more.

Roscoff harbour at low tide
Roscoff harbour at low tide
Roscoff beach
Roscoff beach

 

From Roscoff, we had a nice relaxing sail to L’Aber Wrac’h. We had to sail close-hauled again and made really good progress due to the wave patterns. While our french boat that has been built in La Rochelle in the middle of the bay of biscay really struggles to go upwind in the short and steep waves of the baltic sea or the english channel, it works like a charm in those long and even Atlantic waves. We’ve had waves of probably two to three meters and it was a lot more relaxing than sailing against waves of less than one meter on the baltic sea.

The next leg was through the Chanel du Four to the Rade du Brest (Bay of Brest) where we’re at anchor now about four miles south of the city. We went there by dinghy today and explored the city center.

The next step will be crossing the bay of Biscay, and we hope to get nice weather for the whole passage (about 350 miles) in about a week.  It gets quite cold here now at night so we hope to be in the warmer south soon.