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Feb 19

It was quite windy overnight, resulting in me not sleeping well.  Between the noises of the wind, and worrying about dragging anchor, I was up frequently.  In the end, our anchor did perfectly, as it always has, so I shouldn't have worried.  Mid-morning we dinghied over to Island Water World, one of the two big chandleries here.  I had forgotten how big and well stocked the St. Maarten chandleries are.  Mike picked up a few things, but we just looked around.  We did find that they carry Sport-A-Seats, like the ones we have that have worn through the fabric on the corners.  Barb asked the guy the price on them, and he looked it up and said $179.  We paid under $100 in the States, so either they have gone up a lot or he got the wrong price.  We'll have to check into that some more before buying.  From IWW we walked a few blocks to a NAPA store.  I need to try and find a thermostat that will fit the engine, and also pick up some more belts for the alternator.  The guy at NAPA couldn't cross reference the Westerbeke part number for the thermostat, but he had a book with pictures and dimensions of lots of thermostats.  He compared the old one to the book, and found one that looks exactly like mine.  He only had one, and he didn't have any of the proper belts, but he can have them by the end of the week.

From NAPA, we walked a couple more blocks, past the Harley Davidson dealer to ACE hardware.  The ACE here is larger than any I have been in anywhere, including the States.  It is two floors and is well stocked.  I replenished several Dremel attachments that I have worn out over the past few months, which was the main reason for coming.  Of course the browsing began and we found several other things we had to have.

Returning to the dinghies took us by Lagoonies marina, which has a nice bar and restaurant.  It was conveniently noon, so we stopped for a couple beers and sandwiches for lunch.  We were back on the boat by about 14:00 and relaxed for the afternoon.  About 17:00 we went to Seabbatical for drinks and dinner.  Lynn made a nice meatloaf and we spent several hours there chatting.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 20

Right after the Coconut Telegraph this morning, we dinghied to Palapa Marina and parked the dinghies.  Their dinghy dock area is now half occupied by a small barge, making the parking pretty tight.  But, it is a little more protected from the chop on the lagoon.  We walked across the street to McDonald's for breakfast.  We were in the mood for a good old American fast-food meal.  We also took our computer, knowing McDonald's has good free internet.  We ate first and then Mike & I started catching up on stuff with the computers while Barb & Lynn went down the street to check out a few shops.  While McDonald's has good internet, they don't have plugs, so your time is limited to your battery life.  We both ran out of battery about the same time and packed up.  We walked down the street until Barb spotted us from a shop and called to us.  They were almost to the Gourmet Marche grocery which was the last stop.  We picked up a few things at the grocery and walked back to the dinghies.  Along our walk we noticed that Rick's Sports Bar is apparently gone.  We had been hoping to be able to go there and watch the Daytona 500 Sunday, so we'll need to do some more research.

Back on the boat, I installed the thermostat that I got yesterday.  It went in without a hitch and we ran the motor for awhile.  It came up to temperature just like it should and stayed there.  Hopefully that will be the end of that issue.

At happy hour time, we went to Barnacle's.  Wednesday's happy hour is a cruiser's gathering.  We got there just in time to actually get seats at the bar.  The place was quite crowded.  We ran into several folks that we knew from back in the Grenada year and hadn't seen since then.  We hadn't originally planned to eat here, but changed our minds after seeing a few tasty sounding things on the menu.  The menu has a Greek flair to it.  This place used to be Shrimpy's, but Mike (a.k.a. Shrimpy) moved to the French side several years ago.  Dinner was good and we headed home about 20:00.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 21

Yesterday we switched to our third and last tank of water.  So, I need to get some.  We are probably going to go to a marina for a few days while we are here, but that will probably have to wait until after the Heineken Regatta next week.  I dinghied over to Simpson Bay Marina, where we have stayed before, to inquire about availability.  The lady there said they we so full that "we couldn't fit you in if we greased your hull".  So, I went back to the fuel dock and filled my water jugs.  I have two seven gallon jugs, so two trips filled up our thirty-gallon tank.  That will be good for another week.  While filling the tank, I realized that it must not be venting properly because I had to stop pouring a few times when the water backed up in the fill hose.  I disconnected the vent hose at the tank and tried to blow through it, but it was obviously restricted.  I went to look at the vent fitting where it comes through the hull, and found the cover gone off it and the piece in the hull corroded closed.  These fittings are made out of some crap type of metal that does this.  It corrodes to the point that the cover falls off, and as it does it kind of bubbles up inside and clogs.  I jammed a screwdriver in the hole to open it up and then resumed filling the tank.  It was venting fine now, but I will need to replace the vent through hull some day.

After lunch, Mike & I went on a scouting trip looking for a bar with TV's that might be agreeable to showing the Daytona 500 Sunday.  Today is also the twin 125 qualifying races that we wouldn't mind watching if we can find them.  We started at Pineapple Pete's on the main Simpson Bay road.  They have a large sports bar area in addition to their regular restaurant, but it is only open in the evenings.  But, the guy who is owner or manager was very accommodating and told us he would be happy to put it on the one TV in the pool room that is always open.  Of course we had a few beers while doing this research.  We have learned that in the islands, you should always have a backup plan, so when we left Pineapple Pete's, we went across the street to a casino.  We found they had a sports book room, and the pre-race show was on a couple of the TV's.  While we were standing there, a horse race was on one TV, and a guy apparently had a bet on it.  He was standing right at the TV yelling and trying to use his hand to stop the second place horse from passing his pick.  His efforts paid off and his horse won.  He jogged around the room and high-fived us and the other few people there.  The casino had a bad smoky smell to it though, so ruled it out.  We went back up the road a bit to a new place called El Toro.  It used to be a biker bar, but is trying to reinvent itself and is advertising to cruisers.  We met Claudio, the owner, and asked about his TV.  He was more than happy to change the channel for us, since we were the only patrons there, but it turned out he didn't get SPEED on his cable plan.  The races today are on SPEED, but Sunday is on FOX, so El Toro could possibly be a backup.  Of course this research took a couple beers to accomplish.  Our next stop was a bit further down the street at Topper's.  We have never been here before, although we know friends who have been.  There were a few people there, but they had three TV's.  The bartender was happy to switch one to SPEED for us.  We watched the twin 125's and of course had a few more beers.  This research is tough.  This could be a place for Sunday, and it looks like they have good food, so we'll have to come back here regardless. 

The races ended about 17:30 and we headed back to the boats.  I dropped Mike at Seabbatical, and then he and Lynn came over to MoonSail for an enchilada dinner.  We ate and visited for a few hours.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 22

The morning today was a lazy one.  About noon, we all dinghied over to Island Water World.  Mike needs some real boat parts, and I need shoes.  Yesterday when I was getting the water, I somehow broke the strap on one of my orange Crocs.  The soles on them were about worn through anyway, so it's not a big loss.  We noticed the other day that IWW had a full rack of Crocs.  As we approached the rack of Crocs, I was pleased to see some bright colors, like yellow, orange, and hot pink.  Barb then pointed out to me that those were the women's sizes, and the men's were on a different rack.  Dang!  The only colorful ones in men's sizes were a bright blue.  So, I have a new color on my feet.

After IWW, we dinghied across the bay to Simpson Bay Marina where we parked the dinghies.  We walked from there to Lee's Roadside Grill.  We have eaten here a number of times before and it's always been good.  This time was an exception.  It's wasn't bad, but it was mediocre.  The service was mediocre too.  There's too many choices here to have mediocre, so we probably won't be back.

Our next stop was a new grocery store across the street from the marina entrance.  There are good grocery stores here in St. Maarten, but the best one (in my previous experience) was the Grand Marche between here and Philipsburg, which meant having a car.  I have been told there is also a Grand Marche within walking distance of the Port de Plaisance Marina which is right near where we are anchored, but we haven't been there yet.  This new grocery apparently was "new" a year or two ago, but their big banner out front still says "new market".  Anyway, it had a wide selection of stuff and we picked up a few bags full. 

We took our groceries back to the boats and relaxed for about an hour.  At 16:00, we were back in the dinghies and headed to the Yacht Club to watch the bridge traffic.  We got a table where we could see the boats, although we weren't right at the water's edge.  There were quite a few boats that came in at 17:30, but the highlight was a chartered catamaran where four or five of the guests (men and women) mooned the crowd as they passed.  They got the biggest cheers.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 23

This morning we decided to visit France.  The dinghy ride from where we are anchored on the Dutch side of the lagoon to Marigot on the French side of the island is almost two miles.  We took a leisurely ride there in the dinghies, checking out the boats anchored on the French side as we went.  I mentioned earlier that the Dutch side has implemented a fee to anchor there, which has driven many cruisers to the French side.  Well, the other side of that coin is that you then also get derelict boats in places where there are no rules or fees.  There are a couple hundred boats on the French side, and I would estimate a third of them are derelict.  My definition of derelict would include those that appear abandoned as well as those that may be being lived on but will never move again.  It really detracts from the whole area to see so many eyesores.

We landed our dinghies in the inner basin at Port Royale Marina, and walked to the waterfront of Marigot Bay.  Our first order of business was breakfast at a boulangerie that we have been to many times before.  There is always a long line in front of their long case of beautiful pastries, quiches, breads, sandwiches, and more.  When you get to the head of the line, you give one of the ladies your order.  They all manage English ok, and we did our best to dredge up the tiny bits of French that we remember.  Barb and I each had quiche, a chocolate croissant, coffee, and fresh orange juice.

After breakfast we went across the street to the market.  The Saturday market includes many fruit and vegetable stands, which are there every day, and also a large area with vendors of all sorts of stuff to sell to tourists.  Barb & Lynn went off to shop while Mike & I sat at a little bar that specializes in fresh fruit juice drinks.  They serve coconut water in the coconut, room temperature or chilled, freshly squeezed cane juice, and lots of other juices.  And of course beer.  We had a couple of beers while watching the world go by.  The people watching was equally entertaining with the American cruise ship tourists and the local folks.  It was fun watching the guy at the bar serving coconuts to people.  He used a large meat cleaver to whack the ends off and open a hole to insert a straw to drink the water.  He would take five or six whacks at the end, trimming through the husk until he could make the last cut and not spill any of the water.  Once though the coconut apparently wasn't as thick as he thought, because after only about three whacks, he hit the water and it splashed all over his face.  He was quite surprised and started laughing.  He probably cuts hundreds of coconuts a day, and this was unusual for him.  We  did note that he had all his fingers.  The ladies returned after about an hour of shopping with a couple of prizes.  We then walked back through the main shopping area of Marigot to the marina complex where there are also many shops and restaurants.  We found one of our old favorite restaurants had changed formats and no longer had a pizza oven right on the sidewalk, and another had been spruced up nicely.  We hopped in the dinghies and headed back to the boats.

As we were getting close to our boats, I noticed a large barge being moved near Port de Plaisance Marina.  Once we got close, we saw it was one of the two crane barges that has been working on the new bridge.  It is apparently leaving town.  They had a large tugboat pushing the barge from behind, a small tugboat tied sideways on the bow of the barge that provided steerage, and a third tugboat running around loose pushing here or there to adjust the direction.  They made their way past the two mega-yacht marinas, and then got a special bridge opening to leave the lagoon.  By the time they were gone, the whole Dutch end of the lagoon was murky from all the mud they stirred up in the process.  Once outside the bridge, the two little tugboats untied from the barge, and the large tugboat moved around to tow the barge instead of pushing it.  Meanwhile, a first time sailboat visitor hailed the bridge operator on the radio to inquire about opening times and rules.  The next opening for inbound traffic shouldn't be until 17:30, but the tugboats are going to come back in.  The bridge operator told the guy that if he could stay right behind the tugboats he could follow them in.  I doubt the guy realizes how lucky he was to get that opening.

We had been back on the boat less than an hour when I heard a couple of boats on the French side calling each other on the VHF.  They kept saying "look outside your boat" to each other.  I heard one say something about a "water jet", and I assumed he meant a jet ski.  I figured some rental jet skis were tearing around pissing the anchored boaters off.  I went above and looked that way and was surprised at what I saw.  What I saw was two guys flying in the air propelled by four jets of water from the apparatus they were strapped to.  There was a large hose from them to the water attached to a jet ski that was powering the whole thing.  I have seem videos of these toys before, but never saw them in person.  Of course they make a huge plume of spray as they go, and I'm sure there was some people with open hatches who may have been less than amused by the show.  They kept flying around and doing some cool stunts for quite awhile, eventually making their way over towards us.  Thankfully they went downwind of us, so we didn't get salt water sprayed all over us.  When they got over near the docked mega-yachts, I thought surely they were going to make somebody unhappy.  They finally stopped flying near the mega-yachts.  I watched through the binoculars as they undid the apparatus, and then a large dinghy that had been following them towed them to one of the docked mega-yachts.  They did look like cool toys, but in an anchorage is not the place to be flying them.

I did do one boat project today.  After we got here, the new voltage regulator that I just put in a week ago has been acting strange.  It will go into it's programming mode by itself.  The normal way to put it in programming mode involves touching a magnetic stick to a spot on the face of the regulator.  I sent an e-mail to the manufacturers tech support, and they had replied asking if the regulator was mounted near anything magnetic which might be activating the switch.  It is only about five inches from the alternator itself, which has big magnets in it, but that is where the previous regulators have been mounted and they never did this.  But, to check out the possibility I moved the regulator.  I drilled a hole for the wiring harness in the ceiling of the engine compartment and then mounted the regulator in the area under the galley counter where my water filters are.  It will be cooler outside the engine compartment, and further from the alternator, so we'll see how it acts there.

Dinner was left over enchiladas, and we relaxed onboard for the evening.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 24

For no good reason I had my second lousy night's sleep in a row.  Even though I slept poorly, once the sun is up, I can't get back to sleep so I was up listening to the morning weather and radio nets as usual.  After the Coconut Telegraph was over, Barb and I went to McDonalds for breakfast and internet.  I had foolishly not made sure my computer was fully charged before leaving the boat, and McDonalds doesn't provided power plugs, so my time was limited, but I completed what I needed to.  We had docked at the Yacht Club, which meant walking across the bridge to McDonalds.  On our return, the bridge was open as we walked up.  So now we have waited on the bridge from the boat, from a car, and on foot. 

We went back to the boat for awhile and then about 13:45 we joined Mike & Lynn and headed to Pineapple Pete's to watch the Daytona 500.  When we did our research run on Thursday, we were told that their big sports bar next door wouldn't open until 17:00, but that we could watch on the one TV in the pool room.  When we arrived, we were slightly hassled by the guy who runs the yellow dinghy concession.  The yellow dinghies take cruise ship people on a follow-the-leader dinghy tour through the lagoon everyday.  They use the dock behind Pineapple Pete's, but the Pineapple Pete's manager that was there on Thursday had assured us we could use the end of the dock.  When we told the dinghy guy that, he conceded that we could use the very end if we could tie our dinghies so they weren't in the way.  We tied the dinghies so they couldn't move fore or aft and he was happy.  Once in Pineapple Pete's, there was nobody in the pool room, and the TV was on their music channel.  We asked the waitress, and she said the sports bar was open and the race was on in there.  We went down a connecting hallway and sure enough, they had it on three big screens.  We also found several other cruisers we knew.  John & Kim from 2 Awesome, John & Linda from Kool Kat, and Ed & Linda from Dreamtime were all there ahead of us.  We drew several tables together and had front row seats in front of the TV's.  We were the only people there, so we had our own private bartender and waiter who took care of us.  We enjoyed the race, and some good food.  I had a rib platter that was as good as any I've had.  The race went until about 17:30 and we headed back to the boat for a quiet evening.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 25

After the radio nets, I took off to run some errands.  First stop was to leave the dinghy at Lagoonies while I walked to NAPA to retrieve the belts and thermostat I ordered last week.  As promised, they were there.  While there I also looked to see if they had a huge wrench that I might use on the packing nut on my rudder.  It is a 4 1/2" nut, and it is corroded in place.  They didn't have anything that big.  From NAPA, I made the trip around the block to the big ACE Hardware store to see if they had a wrench that large.  They had a 3 1/2" pipe wrench, and huge Channel Locks, but I already have Channel Locks like that and with the corrosion, I can't get a good enough grip.  So, it was back to the dinghy.

My next stop was Port de Plaisance marina to check their rates and see if they had space for us to come in for a few days.  This marina caters to mega yachts, but they do have some space for little boat like us too.  I thought if the rates were competitive, we might like to be treated like a mega-yacht.  I tied up the dinghy and hiked around to the marina office.  The nice girl at the counter gave me a rate sheet, and the rates looked ok.  She wasn't sure about availability though and asked if I could call back later after she could talk to the dockmaster.  I had gotten there just after the 11:00 inbound bridge opening, so the dockmaster was busy berthing several incoming big boats.  I said I would call them later.  When I did call later, I was told they would be full until after the regatta is over this weekend, so we'll probably not be going there.

Next stop was on the other side of the lagoon at the Yacht Club.  From there I walked across the bridge to Sunshine's Car Rental which is right next to McDonalds.  I reserved a car for us tomorrow to be tourists.  As I walked back to the dinghy, I felt a slight pang of guilt for using the Yacht Club's dinghy dock when I wasn't patronizing them.  To resolve this inner conflict, I stopped at the bar and had a beer.  The early day bartender was a hilarious American whom I haven't seen before.  Talking with him and listening to his banter with other customers resulted in me having two beers before I knew what happened. 

I went back to the boat, where we had lunch and relaxed for the afternoon. At 16:00, we joined Mike & Lynn and John & Kim at the yacht club for happy hour and the daily boat parade.  As it is getting closer to the Heineken Regatta time, the traffic is more than usual each opening.  There was not much traffic at the 16:30 outbound opening, but quite a parade at the 17:30 inbound opening.  There were many sailboats, and at least half a dozen mega-yachts.

As we went to the Yacht Club today, we noticed several of the boats that have been anchored at the south end of the lagoon, closest to the bridge and the mega-yacht marina, moved to further north of us near the new bridge under construction.  After we were back on the boat, after dark, several more boats were moving about and re-anchoring north of us.  We know that tomorrow there is going to be small boat races inside the lagoon as a prelude to the big regatta, but we were puzzled why anybody would re-anchor after dark.  One boat in particular had a lot of trouble re-anchoring and took several tries, including a couple that were too close to either us or Seabbatical.  They finally got settled well away from us.  If I had been told to move late in the day, I would have told them I would move at first light, but not in the dark. 

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 26

We are going to be tourists today.  About 8:45, Mike picked me up in his dinghy and took me over to Palapa Marina to drop me off near the rental car place.  He could have gotten me closer, but the small boat races had already started and they were darting about everywhere.  We didn't want to get in their way, so we opted for Palapa's and I walked a bit to Sunshine's.  When I got to Sunshine's, right at 09:00 when I had reserved the car, I was greeted by the guy who runs the office.  He told me that the guy who cleans the cars was stuck in the traffic because the 09:00 bridge was open, but he would be there as soon as the bridge closed.  I asked him how dirty the car was, as I wasn't picky.  He took me outside and showed me the car.  The outside was pretty dirty, but I didn't really care about that, but the inside had a lot of sand in it, and stuff the previous renters left, so I told him I'd wait.  The plan was for Mike to go back and get the girls and meet me down at Barnacle's where the dinghy dock is less crowded.  Since I neglected to bring my handheld VHF, I walked down to Barnacle's to meet the gang.  They were just arriving as I did, and I gave them the news that I didn't have the car yet.  So, we all took a walk back to Sunshine's.  The cleaning guy had arrived and was working on the car.  We also found John & Linda from Kool Kat there also waiting for a car.  About 10:00, we finally got our car, which was a Samsung.  Who knew Samsung made cars?  We joked because while everything worked, it was a typical island car, meaning it was pretty dinged up.  It was so dinged up that the guy didn't bother doing the walk-around inspection with me because pretty much every body panel had scratches or dings in it.

We headed south towards Philipsburg.  The traffic around Simpson Bay and Philipsburg is always heavy, and we probably never went over fifteen miles per hour until we were past Philipsburg.  It was interesting to see a few improvements where traffic circles have been added to replace bad intersections.  Once past Philipsburg, we headed north along the east coast.  We swung through Oyster Bay, where my brother has a timeshare to see what had changed there.  The new Westin Resort just south of Oyster Bay has been completed since last time we were here and looks quite nice.  We continued north, now in French territory, to Orient Beach.

Orient Beach is known for it's nudist resort and clothing optional beach on the southern end.  Where we parked was right near the demarcation point of the clothing optional part of the beach, and the regular part.  Even on the regular part, it is common to see topless women, as it is pretty much anywhere in St. Maarten.  Even though it is very windy, and overcast, the beach was fairly crowded.  We walked north along the beach checking out the crowds of very pale cruise ship passengers who get bussed in here everyday.  Being only Tuesday, most of them are probably on the second day of their cruise, so they aren't too red yet.  We walked well up the beach and stopped at a restaurant/bar called the Bikini Bar.  Looking at the signage at their stairs, we found that they are in dispute with the place next door regarding the beach chairs in front of their establishment.  The beaches are technically public, but each restaurant has their own chairs that they want to rent you.  Apparently the place next door has expanded their chairs in front of the Bikini Bar.  It is in litigation now, but the other guy's chairs remain.  We ordered beers and sat in some chairs on their deck and watched the beach show.  While there a fat cat came out and rolled around on the floor in front of me in apparent need of a belly rub.  Once I bent over and rubbed her belly, she swatted at me.  We learned that we could pet her head and scratch her neck, but below the neck, belly or back, was off limits. 

When we finished our beers, we walked back south on the beach.  We went to a restaurant called Kon Tiki where we have gone before.  We had a nice lunch, and were safely there behind a plastic curtain when a heavy rain shower blew through.  When it rained, most of the beach people scurried for cover, which I will never understand.  You are in your bathing suit, under a beach umbrella.  Either stay there, or get in the water to avoid the cold rain.  But, most of them dash into the restaurants.  We took our time with lunch, and several beers.  One of the things we have always liked about this place is that after your meal, you are offered a complimentary "digestive" of a shot of flavored rum.  Right after we ate, the waiter brought us shots of a banana/vanilla rum, which we all enjoyed.  Since we stayed there drinking beer for another half hour or more, when he brought the check, he brought us another round, this time coconut.

We left the beach about 14:00 and headed back towards Philipsburg to the Grand Marche.  The Grand Marche is a great grocery store.  We used to say it was the best in the islands, but the new Epicurean in Antigua may have them beat.  But, it is still a great store.  We took our time doing our shopping, enjoying looking at the brands and things we don't see in the US.  We loaded the groceries in the car and headed back to Simpson Bay.  We parked near Barnacles and loaded all our groceries and ourselves in the dinghy.  We didn't stay at the boats long.  After putting away the groceries, we took our dinghy this time and parked back at Barnacles. 

Our destination for the evening is Grand Case, on the French side, where Tuesday nights are a street fair of vendors.  Grand Case is also a center of lots of great restaurants.  We drove up the east side of the island this time, through Marigot to Grand Case.  Parking is a problem anywhere on this island, but Grand Case on a Tuesday night is one of the worst places.  We were up there by 17:00, so we tried the one public parking lot, but it was full.  We backtracked to one of the many yards where residents let you parked for $5.  I was able to park with the nose of the car pointed at the street, and right on the curb, so there was no way we could get blocked in.  We walked the few blocks from there to the main drag where the action is.  The vendors were just getting set up, so we made a pass the length of the main drag and back doing a preliminary look.  All along the main drag there are many fine restaurants.  We have eaten at several of them in the past.  There is also one area where there are six open-air places that all do similar menus cooked on big grills.  They all have people on the street offering to seat you, and if you are a first-timer, you probably don't realize that you have choices.  All the menus are pretty much the same, and the prices are all the same, but for us the difference was sitting at one of the ones right on the street where there was a band with huge speakers directly across the street, or sitting at one on the back side, right on the water, away from the music and with a nice view.  You can guess which we chose.  Three of us had ribs and Lynn had shrimp.  The food was all ok, but the ribs were nowhere near as good as the ones I had Sunday at Pineapple Pete's.  After we ate, it was time for the real shopping run.  We retraced our steps the length of the street, with Mike & I just hanging in the street people watching, as Barb & Lynn looked at goods on tables and went in many of the regular permanent shops.  No large purchases were made, but we did buy some sweets for desert.  As we were heading back towards the car, we decided to have a nightcap at the Zen Bar, which is the last establishment inside the closed off street fair area.  As we were getting close, we felt a few sprinkles of rain, and the breeze was freshening.  We had just stepped inside as a heavy rain shower started.  We snagged the last table for four just as people from the street and the beach came in to seek shelter.  We ordered drinks, mine being a BBC, which is Bailey's, banana liquor, and cream de cocoa liquor, blended like a nice milk shake.  It satisfied my urge for ice cream after dinner and a nightcap.

We retrieved the car, and my plan had worked, as we had a clean escape route from the parking lot.  The rental company is typical in that the car is not necessarily full of gas when you get it, and you bring it back with however much it had when you picked it up.  We left this morning with a quarter tank.  In hindsight, I should have gotten gas earlier, as it is dead on empty as we left Grand Case.  I don't know where any stations are as we pass through Margot, so I was a little nervous.  When we got into the Cole Bay area, near Simpson Bay, we stopped at the first station we saw and got a few gallons.  This brought it up slightly over a quarter tank, so we are good.  I dropped the girls at Barnacle's so they wouldn't have to walk so far, and Mike & I went to the car place.  I had asked the guy where a safe place to park it overnight was, and he told me to bring it back there.  He said if the gate was locked, just park it outside the gate, but that if the gate was ajar, to open it and bring the car in as he was usually there until about 23:00.  We found the gate ajar, so Mike got out and opened it.  I drove in and parked, and went and knocked on the window as he had instructed me to do.  All the lights were on inside, but nobody was there.  So, we locked the car and closed the gate as we left.  We did check McDonalds to see if he was there, but he wasn't.

When Mike and I got to Barnacle's we found the girls sitting at the bar.  The bartender, in his twenties, was engaged in a conversation with them.  When Mike & I walked up, we seemed to dash his hopes that he might have a chance with one or both of these two cougars he had been chatting up.  The girls were flattered.  We had one drink there and then got in the dinghy for the ride home.  The wind was much more than earlier and we braced ourselves for a potentially wet ride into the chop, but actually got home relatively dry.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 27

First thing in the morning, we started the engine to charge the batteries a bit.  We usually do that in the evenings, but since we were out late last night, we didn't get to.  When we revved up the engine, the alternator belt squealed again.  This is puzzling, since it's a new belt.  One of these days, I'm going to have to find a real solution to the poor design of my big alternator mount.

About 09:00, I dinghied to the dock by Immigration and landed.  You aren't supposed to use this dock except for checking in or out, but the car rental place is right next door and I'll only be a few minutes.  I took the keys to the car in to the rental place, and the guy asked me what time I dropped the car off.  I said a few minutes after 21:00, and he laughed.  He said we must have just missed him when he went across the street to get a pizza.  I told him we had checked McDonalds, but not the pizza place.

Back at the boat, it's a work day.  There really is work that goes with all this fun, and I have a list of things to get done before we leave St. Maarten.  The first was to try and determine of the rudder seal is the source of the water we took on during our last passage.  The big nut that seals the rudder shaft has a jam nut to keep it in place once adjusted.  These two have not been apart in years, so they are seized up pretty good with corrosion.  I moved the bed to get access to the rudder shaft and put a liberal amount of PB Blaster on the nuts.  PB Blaster is similar to WD-40 but better in my opinion for this type of thing.  I let it sit a bit and then tried banging on the jam nut with a hammer.  I was angling my blows on the proper corner of the nut so that not only was I shocking the nut which should help get the PB Blaster to work in, but when it breaks loose, the nut will turn.  To my surprise, after not too many blows, the nut started to move.  Once the jam nut was loose, I was able to turn the packing nut with my huge Channel Locks.  I backed the nut off all the way, which allows a fair amount of water to enter past the rudder shaft.  I had Barb turn the wheel from side to side to see if rudder movement increased the flow, but it didn't significantly.  I retightened the nut as tight as I could which slows the ingress of water to a slow trickle.  We'll see if this helps next time we are underway. 

My next task was to replace a light bulb in the helm panel behind the voltage gauge.  I opened up the panel and took the bulb out to look at it.  It didn't appear to be blown.  Closer inspection found that the connector on the wire to the bulb had broken in half.  This is a piece of metal that never moves, and had no corrosion on it, and it just gave up.  These are the little things that really puzzle me on a boat.  It was a pretty easy fix as I put on a new connector and put the panel back together.

Next was to replace the starting battery.  I put a new starting battery in the boat last year, so I am surprised it is not holding a charge, but it won't start the engine unless I combine the house batteries with the starting battery.  This has been making me nervous since I have to be careful to not let the overall battery charge get too low.  Usually, even if I run the house batteries down too low, the starting battery should be fully charged.  I was going to wait until we get into the marina to do this, but since that won't be for another week, I'll do it now.  The starting battery is not readily accessible without taking up a section of the floor, and once I had it accessible, I found that it was very low on water.  This is the first time I have had a starting battery that needed the water checked, and if I recall it was all they had last year when I replaced it.  I should have a maintenance-free battery for this, since it is hard to get to.  I took the old battery out and prepared to go to Island Water World to swap it.  I had found that apparently there is no real warrantee on marine batteries, so I'm not going to go to Budget Marine whose store I bought the old one from in Antigua.  As I was about to load the old battery in the dinghy, Barb started yelling and pointing at the boat anchored behind us.  What she was yelling was that nobody was aboard. I didn't understand at first why she was excited about this, until I noticed that the windlass was running and pulling up the anchor chain.  Not only was this bringing the boat very close to us, but once the anchor was dislodged, the boat would be drifting back towards several other boats anchored behind it.  I quickly jumped in the dinghy and raced around behind the boat and hopped aboard.  I was hoping the keys were in it in case the anchor came free.  (The keys should always be in the ignition in case somebody has to rescue your boat.  Nobody steals whole boats.  And if they wanted to, they don't need the key.)  I ran to the bow of the boat and by then the windlass had stopped.  The boat seemed to still be anchored, but there was about ten or fifteen feet of chain piled up under the windlass.  What had happened, and really saved the day, was that because the chain had a snubber line on it, it jammed under the windlass gypsy, eventually causing the circuit breaker to blow and stop the windlass.  Once I was convinced the boat was not moving, I sat down on the bow and tried to un-jam the chain.  It took a minute, but I got it free and let the chain back out to it's original length.  I then pushed the buttons for the windlass to make sure it was dead, and I got no response.  Not trusting the windlass with a mind of it's own, I went below in the boat to see if I could find the circuit breaker and make sure it was indeed off.  I didn't dig through the guys stuff at all, but the breaker was not in an obvious place.  (Mine is right on the nav panel with everything else to control the boat.)  While all this was happening, Mike had seen what was going on and come to help.  He couldn't find the circuit breaker either, so we left, hoping the ghost on the boat wouldn't try to move it again.

Back to the task at hand, I loaded my old battery and my computer in the dinghy and headed for Lagoonies Bar first.  I have been able to intermittently get a weak wi-fi signal on the boat and retrieve e-mail, but I have not been able to send from the boat.  So I took the computer to Lagoonies to get a good connection.  Once connected I found that I couldn't send from there either.  I am familiar with the potential for having to tweak the Outlook port numbers to send mail from public places, but I had tried the port numbers I knew to no avail.  Since I had a good connection though, I was able to get on GoDaddy's website and find two more port numbers to try.  The second of those worked, and hopefully will work anywhere.  While I was at Lagoonies, I ran into Morgan, from Nirvana. We originally met Morgan years ago in Grenada.  He is also from Texas and has a deep, deep voice with a Texas drawl.  It's one of those voices you never forget.  We chatted for a few minutes and caught up on where we had been and where we were going.

Once finished with the internet, I dinghied a few hundred yards over to Island Water World.  I put the old battery up on the dock and secured the dinghy.  I carried the old battery around to the front of the store and inquired where they put old batteries.  The guy told me to set it out front near the dumpster.  He said "somebody will pick it up".  Apparently they just rely on scavengers to take them away.  I picked out the new battery, the guy tested it to show me it was charged, and off I went.  When I got to the boat, I hoisted it up on the deck, along with the computer and tied up the dinghy.  I installed the new battery and had Barb try to start the engine.  It cranked slowly and after a few seconds, one of the cable ends started to smoke.  So, I pulled that cable back off and took a closer look.  While there was no obvious corrosion on the outside of the cable, the inside of the strands were corroded.  So, I cut about two inches off the cable and put a new cable end on it.  Once reconnected, the new battery fired us up just fine.  In hindsight, I probably could have revived the old battery by filling it up, and fixing the cable would have fixed the problem.  But, I would have still had a battery that needs to be checked, in a place I can't check it.  So, putting in the new AGM battery that never needs attention is still an improvement. 

With three projects done, it was time to quit working for the day.  It was also getting to be mid-afternoon.  We are invited to happy hour on 2 Awesome this evening, so we showered and Barb prepared a dish to take with us.  At 16:30, we watched the regular outbound bridge opening, but were surprised to hear the bridge tender say on the radio that since there were only a few boats going out, he was going to let inbound boats in on the same opening.  This is due to the extreme number of boats here for the Heineken Regatta.  About twenty boats were able to come in at 16:30 instead of waiting until 17:30.  About 17:00, as we were preparing to leave MoonSail, Paul & Janie from Shian dinghied up.  We had chatted on the radio with them a few times in the past two weeks, as our paths came close but didn't quite cross.  We had hoped to get together with them sometime this week, but they are taking advantage of the nice forecast and moving to St. Barth's tomorrow and then points south.  So, we chatted with them for about ten minutes, and hopefully our paths will cross again next year.  When they left, we loaded up and headed out into the bay to 2 Awesome.  2 Awesome is a 40 foot catamaran, so they have been staying outside the lagoon, in the bay.  It is always quite rolly outside in the bay, but catamarans ride the roll better than monohulls.  There were five couples there which points out another characteristic of a catamaran.  They generally have huge cockpit areas for entertaining.  They also have huge foredecks where we all sat and watched the large parade of boats going in the 17:30 bridge.  Even though twenty had been let in early, there were at least fifty. We had a very nice evening, and everybody brought great treats to eat.  We left about 21:00 with Mike & Lynn following us.  Even though we are in unfamiliar waters outside the lagoon, we had our lights and found our way back in just fine.  Once inside the bridge, we were greeted by large flashing lights we were not accustomed to.  They were coming from Palapa Marina, where apparently there is a big party tonight for the regatta.  Unfortunately, our stern, and thus the head of our bed, pointed right at Palapa Marina.  The lights turned out not to be such a problem on our boat, because the big boats at the marina blocked them, but the loud obnoxious music that went on until 04:00 in the morning, made sleep hard to find.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.

Feb 28

The regatta gets into full swing today, so there are announced extra bridge openings.  While this is probably the islands largest event, it has to drive land-based people crazy with the extra disruptions in the traffic.  Especially since the road that crosses the bridge is the road in and out of the airport.  We have started monitoring the VHF channel that the bridge tender uses during the openings.  It is quite entertaining to listen to him trying to herd the boats along faster and closer than they are normally comfortable with.  There is also a loudspeaker on the bridge, so even those captains who are ignorant of the fact that they should be monitoring the bridge channel hear him yelling to them.

We have a couple of errands to run this morning.  We are into our fourth week since we have had laundry done, so we loaded it up in the dinghy and took it to the laundry at Lagoonies.  The wash/dry/fold service there is $1/lb and we had 30 pounds.  On our way to Lagoonies we ducked into Port de Plaisance Marina to look for a boat.  Barb had seen a Tradewinds Charter catamaran come through the morning inbound bridge, and through the binoculars she thought it might be carrying Adriane and Samantha, whom we met in Antigua last year.  After we last saw them there last year, they got hired by Tradewinds to be captain and crew of one of their cats.  Last we knew, they were in Panama doing charters.  We found the boat and approached in the dinghy.  Sure enough, Adriane popped his head out of the cabin and saw us.  It was a great reunion.  They briefly filled us in on what they have been up to, including the fact that they were just getting in from a seven day trip from Bonaire to bring the boat back here.  We agreed to meet later at the Yacht Club.  From Lagoonies, we went across the lagoon to Simpson Bay Marina.  We found the dinghy dock there absolutely full, and the only way we could have landed there would have meant climbing through other dinghies to get ashore.  We didn't want to do that, so we went around to the Yacht Club.  That dinghy dock was crowded also, but as we approached, a dinghy pulled out, so we slid right into his space.  The Yacht Club was very busy with race activities, but we just walked through and out to the road, where we walked about a quarter mile back to the marina complex.  Our errand here is to go to the pharmacy to see if they will refill one of Barb's prescriptions.  She has the old bottle, which clearly says "no refills" without calling the doctor.  She explained to the pharmacist that she wouldn't be back in the States for a few months, and the reply was "how many do you want"?  The price for thirty pills was $7.  Half what even our co-pay would be back home.  With that done, we went across the street to Zee Best Restaurant for a late breakfast.  We have been here many times before, and they have good breakfasts.  After breakfast, we went to the marina office and made a firm reservation for the day after the regatta boats all leave to come into the marina for a few days, so we can plug in and get a full battery charge and fix a few other things.

On the way back to the boat we stopped by a boat we saw come in the bridge yesterday evening.  Moony, with Wolfgang & Denise, is from Germany and we met back in 2006 in the Bahamas.  Of course the name of their boat caught our attention then.  When we met them back then, we found we had several other boat friends in common.  We chatted with them for a bit and then went back to the boat.

A few days ago, I replaced the alternator belt because it had been squealing.  The new one worked fine for a couple days, but then started squealing again.  For at least two days, we have put up with only being able to charge at about 25 amps to keep the belt from squealing.  I assumed it was just the fact that the alternator adjusting potential sucks because it's a poorly designed installation.  But today, I actually opened up the engine compartment and looked, and found that the bolt that attaches the adjustment arm to the engine had come off.  So the belt was totally loose.  I was surprised it charged at all.  I found the nut that had fallen off in the bilge, and put it back together and tightened it.  Barb started the motor and we were charging at 70 amps.  Whoo hoo!

At 16:00, we picked up Mike & Lynn and went to the Yacht Club for happy hour.  We only took one dinghy, expecting it to be quite crowded.  Crowded it was.  Adriane and Sam had just landed before us, so they took our long line and tied us up behind them.  We then climbed through their dinghy to the dock.  We found John & Kim from 2 Awesome and John & Linda from Kool Kat already there with a table and chairs waiting for us.  We introduced Adriane & Sam and caught up more with them on their past year.  We are also expecting to hook up with other old friends tonight.  Don & Devin, formerly of Liquid Courage are flying in today.  Mike & Lynn had introduced us to them back in 2009.  After that, they sailed Liquid Courage to Australia where they sold her.  They now are back in the States as working stiffs, but are sneaking away this weekend for the regatta.  We don't have a firm plan of when or where to meet, but we're betting the Yacht Club happy hour will be the first place they look.  Sure enough, they showed up about 17:00.  They joined the table and we introduced them to everyone they didn't already know.  There had been a special 15:00 inbound bridge opening today that let at least thirty boats in.  But, as we sat at the yacht club, it looked like a forest of masts outside the lagoon waiting for the 17:30 inbound.  This should be quite a show.  The bridge tender kept encouraging the boats to come on up into the channel close to the bridge before it opened.  They started creeping forward, but then traffic delayed him getting the bridge open, so several sailboats had to try and stop.  Three or four got sideways in the channel right close to one another.  We could only see the masts from where we were, but it looked ugly.  The bridge finally opened and the parade began.  There had to be fifty boats inbound, with all of the racers except one motor yacht that brought up the rear.  The crowd was slower than usual to clear out of the Yacht Club after the bridge show, but eventually started to clear.  We were planning to have dinner here. but were waiting for the crowd to clear a little before ordering.  We finally ordered and had dinner, before heading back to the boats about 20:00.  We made plans to meet Don & Devin tomorrow for lunch.

GPS N 18-02.434 W 063-05.579  Nautical miles traveled today 0.  Total miles 10254.