Sunday, March 13, 2011


Finally... after being 18 months into our 6 month refit plan, we escaped the lagoon for Odessa's first shakedown cruise. Yes, 18 months stuck on the island, but to be fair we did take a 4 month diversion during the summer. I can't describe how ready we were to leave the dock and begin the real adventure, spirits were high and everyone began counting down the hours to the bridge opening.

The big day arrived and the last minute chores began... the boys dove the propeller to clean off any growth and make sure that the folding prop actually folded. It's amazing how quickly barnacles and general lagoon scum grows on your bottom... especially the unprotected parts like the propeller and shaft.

Major chores done, and we we're planning on the special 11:00am bridge opening. It is regatta week and there are more bridge openings over the next few days. We also wanted to take advantage of the confusion and slip out with the 30 or so boats heading out to practice for the following race days. The rules are a bit confusing with the island being two countries and the fact that Odessa had been on the Dutch side of the lagoon for 2 years, but is checked in through the French side.

Well, the preparations took longer and we ended up having to wait for the 4:30pm bridge, but we were ready. Engine purring we slipped out of Porto Cupecoy, with the many friends that we have made here all standing on the dock... it was almost sad because everyone knows that we'll be leaving permanently soon and our shakedown was the first real sign that proper goodbyes were coming.

Motoring across the lagoon we chatted about all of the places we'd been along the way, we waved to our cruiser friends living on the many boats anchored along the lagoon channel as we approached the bridge.

Crossing beneath this singe concrete and steel break in the cycle of life on the island felt very strange, exciting yes, but also sad. All of the cars stuck in miles of traffic waiting for the bridge to drop, each one wishing us every insult for interrupting their lives, and the revelers at the yacht club all cheering and excited about the next 3 days of racing and parties. Island life is a strange and diverse ecosystem all condensed into a few square miles of rock.

As we passed under the bridge I felt a huge weight lifting from my shoulders, the unknown was sweeping over us like a blanket... it was warm, soft and comfortable... we felt freedoms allure pulling us through the channel and out into the ocean.

Wow... it's crowded!
There must have been 100 boats anchored in the bay, so we slipped quietly around to the outside edge of the fleet... and back in close to the beach, next to the runway. The sun began its last push for the horizon so we dropped our anchor through the crystal clear water and set it into the pure white sand 20ft below.

We were a bit stunned and sat in the cockpit in silence... everything was different now, quiet, calm and comfortable. Devon cooked up some dinner and we discussed tomorrows adventure until we simply couldn't stay awake anymore. But, everything was different... each sound new, and the movement of Odessa under the influence of a gentle ground swell sweeping across the bay from the south east and light breeze from the north east. I set the anchor alarm and we settled in to get some rest for the big day tomorrow... not so easy as the excitement and newness of everything made for little sleep.

Morning came early... 5:00am I think. Coffee got my body moving and we watched the racing boats pouring out of the lagoon. Once they we're released for the round island race we pulled anchor and slipped out from the turquoise water to the deep blue of the ocean.

Raising the main sail we set one reef so that we didn't get over powered on our first experience with Odessa. How she sails is unknown at this point, so best to keep the sail pattern short, even though it was only a 10 knot day and the weather perfect.

We also unfurled the Genoa, a big cruising sail and felt Odessa surge forward as the wind filled our sails, she leaned a little under the influence of her fuel and showed her purpose as she turned the wind into power transforming from a bobbing motor boat to a knife slicing through the water. Her balance is perfect, she tracks beautifully, smooth and without any drama. We ran off wind following the regatta fleet, but heading out deeper into the blue to find stronger more consistent wind.

Smiles all round. I had forgotten that Doreen and the kids had never sailed before. For me it was still a bit of a challenge, but I knew what to expect. I can't imagine the feeling of relief for my family when each one realized just how amazing it is to be in balance with nature and her forces, and said "I love sailing". This meant so much to me because I also realized that Doreen and the children know how much I love the ocean, sailing and adventure. But, it began as "my" dream and up until now they weren't sure if it was theirs. My heart sang all day as I watched the smiles and excitement oozing from my family.

We lucked into some better wind a few miles offshore and zipped along at an amazing pace, 8 knots in 10 knots of wind under short sail and dragging our heavy dingy and huge outboard behind us. We went to full main and found some more speed as we made the turn to head up the Anguila channel towards Marigot. To our amazement we began catching the smaller class regatta racers who had been hugging the shoreline for the shortest rout along the course, but only found light fluky winds. Being careful not to get too exuberant we began beating into wind as we passed the course marker, and spent time practicing our tacking and shortening sail. Odessa leaned a little more as we made the fastest point of sail and we zipped along with no drama and a cool breeze sweeping across the cockpit.

Doreen and Simon made lunch as we sailed and the conversation swung from sailing to fishing. I'm surprised the boys were able to contain themselves for so long, but as we turned to beat back to the anchorage it was time to get some lines wet.

We hooked up very quickly, but as we were close to shore we caught Jacks and Barracuda... no good for dinner but great for fun. It was a perfect day, Odessa sailed far better than expected, our new rig performed beautifully and everyone had an amazing time. The 18 months of work had all been worth it and even though we still have a few weeks on the island and several boat as well as work projects to finish, we have a new confidence, a refreshed sense of adventure and the allure of the unknown has gripped us again.

Taking cruisers to the farm

The Coffee and ice cream fund helped mobilized the cruising children to the Jamaican Farm here in St. Maarten.
We were lucky to have a private tour of this awe-inspiring place. The children learnt about the different types of trees and plants that are grown in the Caribbean. Also what verity of fruit are good to eat and what is poisonous (always good to know). 

Our lovely tour guide was very knowledgeable about the different aspects of the farm she so loved, and was delighted to instruct us on irrigation and the difference between natural wells and huge black containers that catch water. Things we take for granted in the "real world"... like water, are scarce on most islands. All of the water here in St. Maarten is desalinated from the ocean and therefore very expensive... it's almost cheaper to buy Evian at the supermarket than turn on a hose.

The property that she works on was a gift to the Jamaican ethnic group to help bring agriculture back to St. Maarten. This is needed since everything is shipped into the country and caters more to the resorts and rich boat owners. The locals find it harder to afford produce as the island becomes more successful so there is a concerted effort to "grow your own" which also helps retain more green land as the condo developments spread concrete scars cross the island.

This concept of going back to local farming seems to be getting more popular back home. Shipping everything was a good idea when fuel was cheap, but there's nothing like the amazing flavors of locally grown "fresh" food... I think many people have forgotten how good food really tastes.

We all just enjoyed the day and the young cruising kids got an fun "school day" messing around with agriculture... maybe one or two will be inspired to reclaim some land in a far off place and build a farm... this is a common dream for boat people.