Tuesday, February 20, 2007

December 26, 2006 - January 2, 2007- Anse du Colombier, St. Bart’s

We’re anchored in beautiful bay, just about a mile from the main harbor of Gustavia. On our first afternoon here we hiked over to some beaches on the windward side. They really are stunning, and we could understand why St. Bart’s is such a renowned holiday destination. It is apparently the place to be for the Christmas holidays. The entire Caribbean charter fleet appears to be here this week. And we’re here to check them out.

There are hundreds of boats anchored around Gustavia, including some of the largest mega yachts in the world. Each day a dozen or so visit our beautiful anchorage, then scurry back to anchor off the main harbor again for the evening. I don’t quite understand why they don’t stay here. The only one that does stay night after night is Limitless, on the engine system of which one of Sten’s coworkers at CAT in Indiana spent months working.

Luckily for us, these boats occasionally provide us with some very good entertainment. I like to call this little routine “the anchor dance.”

The M/V Barchetta seems to have wrapped one of their anchor chains around the other while setting both of its anchors. So one of the crew climbed onto the anchor trying to unwrap the chain. As he lost his footing and fell into the water we gasped, certain that he had impaled himself. But he appeared to be fine as he repositioned himself on the bulbous bow and worked away on the tangle. After they managed to untangle the mess, the deck crew spent the rest of the morning doing anchor drills - punishment perhaps?

Another great source of entertainment is the bareboat charter boats that come bombing into the anchorage, courtesy flags all out of place. Everyone on the moored or anchored boats tense up to watch these guys maneuver. We had a guy anchored near us with a big old glory flying from his starboard stay, and a pirate flag off the backstay. So, he’s telling the world that he thinks he is in a US territory and that he hails from the land of the pirates?

A quick lesson: the flag of the country you are entering hangs from the starboard stay, below the first spreader. If you haven’t cleared in yet, the yellow Q flag goes below it. Any yacht club or cruising club burgees, or flags showing the nationality of the crew hang from the port stay. The flag of your country of registry flies from the stern. And there is never any excuse for flying the flag of your home team, particularly if that team is the Eagles, because that's just sad, or the Yankees, and if I have to explain that to you, then you clearly aren’t from New England.

Hawksbill turtles hatch on the shores around here and a good number seem to have stuck around. Whenever we’re in the cockpit we see them surfacing for air. After a few days of snorkeling I happened across one that was feeding on the bottom. I spent about 30 minutes hovering 30 feet above him, watching him feed. Twice he surfaced to take a few breaths before diving back to the bottom. There were three remoras hovering around him as he fed, surfaced and dove - like his own little entourage.

We ventured into Gustavia a few times to wander through the shops and have a few meals off the boat. The cheeseburgers at Le Select really are excellent - I understand how they could have inspired Buffet to write Cheeseburger in Paradise. We had one rather good meal at Eddie’s, one of the more reasonably priced places in town. We were amused when the folks at the table behind us were so pleased with their $200 bill for a family of four, two of which were under the age of four. Christmas week in St. Barts can throw off your perspective in so many ways.

There is a race around the island each year on the 31st. As Jake on Avalanche put it, if you have a rating you should do it just to get your ass kicked by the fastest yachts in the world. We don’t have a rating, so Sten went out in the dink to watch Ranger and Endeavor fly by him.

On New Year’s Eve we anchored among the fleet off of Gustavia so that we could watch the fireworks. We went into town thinking that we would have dinner at the little Vietnamese shop, but even they had gotten into the price gouging and were offering a 70 Euro fixed price dinner. So, back to Le Select we went, where we had tasty burgers and a terrific time people watching. Entire families, including little kids, were out enjoying the night. After a bit of dancing, we went back to the boat in time to watch the fireworks.

At the stoke of midnight the fleet, lead by Lone Ranger, began sounding their fog horns. It was a haunting, mournful wail, which seemed all the more sorrowful after the festivities of the evening.
During the evening the wind died, and all of the boats began hanging off of their anchor chains in the most haphazard way. So before we could swing into anyone, we upped anchor and headed back to our little bay. As we passed Rising Sun, currently the biggest yacht in the world (there is a basketball court on the aft deck), she began doing a laser light show off of her top deck. Crazy.

In the morning, we were enjoying our coffee in the cockpit when we noticed the rather seaworn looking yacht next to us getting ready to sail off its mooring. Assuming that the couple on deck had a few miles under their belts, I turned to Sten and said “I have to give them props for that. Nobody sails off their mooring anymore.” No sooner had I said that than we realized that the couple on board had no idea what they were doing. The main was sheeted in completely and they were bearing down on us. Sten shouted at them to ease their main and I scrambled to the stern rail to untie a fender in time to fend them off, but I couldn’t get it loose before they crashed into us. Luckily, our pushpit was stronger than their pulpit, which lifted right out of their deck. We only sustained minimal damage to our caprail.

What we couldn’t believe was that they seemed to have every intention of continuing to sail out of the harbor. Sten hopped into the dink to chase them down and get their information. Of course, it turns out that they had borrowed the boat from a friend and had no idea if it was insured or not. When Sten asked him why he sailed off the mooring in a crowded harbor if he didn't know what he was doing, the guy who was driving offered up the excuse that his engine had died. Couldn’t they have asked for help? We certainly learned a valuable lesson about not judging the skills of the crew by the appearance of the boat. But still, I wouldn’t go so far as to assume that the guy in the charter boat flying the pirate flag knows what he’s doing.

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