Simpson Bay, St. Martin
The first stop and beginning of our life aboard is Saint Martin, a mid-sized island at the top of the leeward island chain which is half Dutch and half French. The Dutch half to the south is a bustling area containing the airport, the major ports, and most of the marine businesses, as well as the under-belly (as my brother calls it). This is where Paul landed with his father, my brother, and our friend Chris after crossing from Tortola. I arrived the following day with the kids and we commenced a flurry of spending, installing, and provisioning to get this ex-charter boat prepared to house and propel us for the next year or more.
It was on this dock that we met out first cruising friends. The first friends you meet while cruising become outsized in your memory and imprint on the rest of your journey. I see it as a stroke of immense good luck that we stumbled onto a great family to hold this title on this trip. Just two boats farther along the dock is a monohull called Samantha that houses a British woman, a Dutch man and their two daughters 11 and 9 years old. They had been living and raising their children in Portugal when they decided to get a boat and try cruising. They spent three years traveling and living aboard and after an Atlantic crossing, landed in St. Martin. Their business in Portugal ran into trouble and they were forced to stop cruising and set up in St. Martin. Being Dutch, the father had a visa and no trouble finding work in the marine industry. They've been here for a year and are moving onto land to prepare for the girls starting school in September after three years of home schooling. Along with lining up in age with my girls, this family was inspiring and informative. Jane showed me were to find all the things I would need to set up and stock up a boat, offered great advice on homeschooling, and took us to a couple of great local beaches for cooling off after a day of boat work.
The dock we were on was loaded with people outfitting boats with the idea of getting far away and fast. This time of the year most people have left or are leaving Saint Martin. The hurricane season is a threat and the daily rains make it generally uncomfortable even without a hurricane. At the end of the dock was a 30ish man from New Zealand who had bought a boat online, flown in to take ownership, and was preparing to sale it back to New Zealand to sell it for a profit. He was single-handing this brand-new, used boat across the Caribbean and then across the pacific and planning to make it back by November to get out of the way of their hurricane season. He was far more adventurous that I am and I suppose that's proven by his career as a sky diving instructor. Unfortunately, he suffered a sky diving accident 18 months ago and is now permanently in a wheelchair. As he said every time I skeptically questioned his plans, "What could possibly go wrong?" What indeed. Be safe, John.
Along with making some new friends we accomplished a few other things in our time here.
1. I learned how to make fried plantains: a HUGE success! I'd seen them sold on the roadside for a week before I got up the nerve to buy them. Turns out it's the easiest thing in the world, and the kids ate a pile of them.
2. We had our lifeboat re-packed and got to see it opened up for, hopefully, the only time in our lives. The kids were most interested in the provisions included in the kite, which consists mainly of margarine and soy protein. Yes, they brought it home and tasted it. No, I declined.
3. We peeled off the old name (Powder Days) and applied our own name to this boat. We are long-time resisters of the pun name and thought that seas puns had been our least favorite. We were wrong.
4. I found the first item for my "Gross things in the Caribbean collection." Aside from the canned cheese, the food here has been surprisingly diverse. I've found great markets (thanks to Jane) and am fully stocked with mango pickle, French cheeses, and a full pantry of baking supplies.
5. Jade found the thing she likes best. Snorkeling. The moment we pulled on her new mask and snorkel she laid down in the surf, put her face in the water, and spent the next 30 minutes studying the sand and the shells. It only got better from there.