Sunday, March 18, 2007

Week of Feasts

Back in Soper's Hole has felt like being home. For days it was a reunion with most of our new friends being around for at least a couple of days as they dropped-off or picked-up quests. Most evenings were, again, spent hanging out in “The Lounge”, the gangs given name to the most heralded of our boat cockpits (spacious with comfy cushions) who’s boat name will remain anonymous to protect, well, to protect us all!

As for the feasting, it all started just after most of the gang had departed. It was one of those rare days when we had a rental car to take us into Road Town. This time we went in at night to experience the famed C&F Restaurant, known for its barbeque. We had heard so much, and one among us had been before to confirm that it did indeed rank among the world’s best barbeque. We all hemmed and hawed as to whether we should get the ribs or the chicken. Maybe a mix of entrees we could all share? But as plates were served around us we all caved and ordered a chicken and rib combo. We had to try both and there would be no sharing. I found the decor island kitschy cool and service like grandmother's house. We waited restlessly like children in church until mounded plates were placed in front of each of us. Then aside from the occasional grunt of pleasure, we ate in silence, at one with our meat. It did not disappoint! We departed all smiles with take-out containers in-hand.

Then trauma struck. The Lounge lost its refrigeration at the start of a long holiday weekend. (Commonwealth Day) Repair service was uncertain and ice would extend the life of the freezer's contents for only so long. Their misfortune was my boon, hence the week of feasts. Anticipated evenings of grilled carnivorous dinners consisting of moist tender chicken breast basted with gourmet sauces or large juicy melt-in-your-mouth strip or tenderloin steaks recently hand delivered from prime US cattle country. It was just cause to unearth our finest bottles of stowed wine and forgo with any side dishes.

We nearly ate its contents before the refrigeration was back to normal, but at least it was fixed in time for The Lounge to wine and dine their scheduled paying charter. So I have gone from feasting to fasting. Is not it supposed to be the other way around?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saba Island

My captain decided we should return to West End, Tortola, my winter neighborhood, since he would again be traveling for his day job. But first we would add a little more distance to our journey to feed my hunger for another island and sail to Saba Island. Our departure was unexpectedly riveting and alarming as we tried to avoid and yet crossed paths with the big-boat fleet racing, each of us sailing at top speeds due to 24kt winds under full canvas.

The passage to Saba (SAY-bah) was fast and breathtaking as we watched her once volcanic peak grow with our approach. Upon reaching Fort Bay the fetch and rough chop prohibited us from safely going ashore to customs and immigration. To buy time we picked up a distant mooring where the winds forced us to have lunch down below. With an uncomfortable sea state and no relief in sight, we decided to take advantage of the wind and set sail for Tortola. Our landfall was not meant to be this time.

It does not take much research to learn that Saba is unlike other Caribbean islands and that Sabans have much to be proud of, including their tolerance of differences. I hope to experience it in person someday, but in the meantime I will share some fun facts. Saba is 5 sq miles and about 1500 people reside here where nearly every step you take is either up or down hill. Five completely separate temperature zones exist (try packing for that!) and visitors come for her village charm, ecotourism, hiking and diving, which is reputed to be the best in the Caribbean. There are no beaches, instead her steep shores fall into the sea in depths often too deep for anchoring, so it may be easier to take a ferry or plane from Sint Maarten.

Now you want to visit Saba too, don’t you?

Friday, March 09, 2007

St Maarten

St Maarten is very popular among boaters so I was eager to experience it for myself. It is the only island in the Caribbean where you find two islands sharing one land mass and it is the smallest island in the world ever to have been partitioned between two different nations. During my short stay I only got to visit Dutch Sint Maarten which occupies the southern part of the island, but hope to return so I may also visit French Saint Martin on the northern side.

We anchored in Simpson Bay, just outside the bridge entrance to Simpson Lagoon, which is known for its excellent marine facilities including mega yacht marinas. Amazing sail and power mega yachts were everywhere. Some yachts had helicopters and boats larger than Event Horizon on their decks. It was unbelievable and among boaters, referred to as boat porn.

This friendly island is a duty-free zone and visitors may stay as long as three months. All welcomed changes for the Event Horizon crew! For only $1 each way I took a bus, well actually a van but they call it the bus (you have to look at the license plates of vans to see if it says bus or taxi), up and over a mountain into the capital of Philipsburg, which is filled with open air kiosks and duty-free shops. My timing was excellent as it was a rare occasion with no cruise ships in town allowing me to have a wonderful experience as I strolled the towns three main and many side streets. I found some men making beautiful baskets from palm leaves which I could not resist. The baskets will gradually turn from bright green into a light brown color as the leaves dry, resulting in a sturdy useful boat item.

This European influenced island is cosmopolitan casual and filled with happy tourists spending Guilders or US$ on the Dutch side and Euro or US$ on the French side. We loved the wide selection of goods, low prices and variety of ethnic restaurants, including Indian which we enjoyed a few times. Most street vendors, shops and bar happy hours sell cold beers for $1 which can be enjoyed inside or on the move. We learned of a new refreshing beer called Amstel Bright (nothing like Amstel or Amstel Light) clearly trying to woo Corona and Carib drinkers. I did a little online research to learn it is “brewed with desalinated seawater and 100% natural Curacao ingredients, Amstel Bright is a light, thirst-quenching Caribbean sensation.” Unfortunately only available in the Netherlands and in the Netherlands Antilles. But Heineken was the beer for the masses as our visit coincided with the 27th Annual Heineken Regatta. Over 200 boats from around the globe racing and a 5-day revolving party all made for an exciting time for both racers and spectators.