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tcm
12-05-07, 23:07
Its been over two weeks since four of us set off from Heathrow en route to St. Martin. It’s difficult to think what’s happened in that time, other than that we’ve provisioned a boat and sailed it two thirds of the way across the Atlantic. Mostly the boat has sailed (or sometimes motored ) itself, leaving us, the crew, to read, sleep, tell stories, engage in some competitive cooking, eat, tell tales, play with the dolphins, listen to music, drink exotic rum cocktails and generally shoot the Caribbean or Atlantic breeze all the doo-dah day.
That’s it then. What follows are a few ramblings that were committed to paper (a cheap and now weather-beaten exercise book which I bought in Marigot) before they could be safely forgotten…

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Caribbean - The Restaurant at the End of the Runway
Glancing casually out of the window as the big Airbus 340 makes a final approach to Princess Juliana airport on St. Martin, you could be forgiven for thinking that the airplane is about to ditch in the sea. Blue Caribbean water rises almost to touch the wheels before a blur of sand then the impact on tarmac, the engines screaming in reverse thrust to hold the plane on the shortest of runways.
Half an hour later, and barely half a mile away, you’re sipping drinks in the Sunset Beach Bar, just a few metres from where the runway starts. A surf board stuck in the sand gives times of arrival of the next few flights. As the aircraft line themselves up to land, there’s a point where they seem to be heading directly for your table, before straightening at the last minute to clear 20 or 30 metres of beach, a narrow road, then the airport perimeter fence, reputedly reduced to about three feet in height to stop it catching the undercarriage of the incoming planes. Radio traffic from the control tower is played over loudspeakers.
At peak times, small crowds gather with cameras on the terrace of the restaurant, or brace themselves in swimsuits in the water, ignoring signs warning that jet blast can cause injury or death…
It’s the biggest, almost inter-active spectator event on the small island, and ensures that the bar is mostly full. Oh together of course with the sign advertising ‘topless women drink for free….’

MARIGOT, the main town on the French half of the island, and the location of our marina, is small but hectic, offering everything from ramshackle houses with corrugated roofs to upscale shopping malls, fading colonial to modern French chic. There is a laid-back but on-going traffic jam through the narrow streets and out along the main drag to the airport, where out of town chandlers, DIY shops and the inevitable McDonalds stretch several miles to the ‘Dutch’ border. The main language is French, though everyone speaks English.
It’s hot, though not oppressively so during the day when a welcome breeze drags the temperature down to something rather pleasant. In the evening, the wind often dies, whilst warm cloudbursts arrive without warning.
And as Tom McGuane might have said, when the sun first assembles itself over the broken skyline of St. Martin on a morning of great humidity, a thunderous light fills the island and everyone moves in stately flotation through streets that are conduits of something empyrean. Also, things can get sweaty.

…and so it was that, on the 26th April, probably the best prepared, most knowledgeable, outrageously good-looking bunch of right-thinking, free-spirited individuals to sail the Atlantic in recent times slipped anchor and set off with brio, confidence and no little panache…
We left the following day.

The Caribbean Sea, gratifyingly, is just that shade of translucent aquamarine/topaz/azure - well blue - that it appears in Bond films, Bacardi ads or beach holiday brochures.
We motor up into the north-east trades between Anguilla and St. Martin, then make sail and head north through Scrub Island Passage out into the Atlantic. To those (like me) more used to beating around a succession of treeless rocky headlands on a foul tide, sky almost touching the sea, land half-hidden in mist or cloud and everything watery and opaque in muted shades of grey or green, the vivid colours come as a pleasant surprise.
During the first 24 hours we cover over 200 miles, making 9 or 10 knots in 18 to 20 knots of wind on the beam. The cat deals easily with the swell, though occasionally the water builds up between the hulls and punches up into the underside of the bridge deck with a loud noise and vibration, causing it to check momentarily…..



After that the entries become a bit too ocean passagey and lyrical (‘The phenomenon of phosphorescence: cushioned on a wake of stars‘) so maybe a good point to stop for now…

Bajansailor
13-05-07, 01:05
Excellent account! Am looking forward to the next installment.
And thank you for all the voyage reports submitted along the way - I might be following in your way this time next year, hence am taking a keen interest in conditions experienced.

Steve_R
13-05-07, 08:40
I'd like to add my thanks too ! I have followed your reports all the way across and enjoyed keeping track of your progress. Congratulations on a safe passage.

Twister_Ken
13-05-07, 09:17
Panic at Lonely Planet Publications as they read this new competitor.

longjohnsadler
13-05-07, 11:28
OOPS! Have to confess that the above account is actually Longjohnsadler's diary posted by LJS on tcm's computer.
Apologies for not remembering to log out and back in in my name.

Lakesailor
13-05-07, 15:24
Trip not nearly finished and already the crew are having copyright disputes.
Where will it all end?