Travels With Val and Paul
Still riding an emotional high from our final retirement celebrations less than seventy two hours earlier, Valerie and I flew out of the Minnesota winter to meet Marnie and Whit for a week of sailing in the Caribbean. This was the fifth time that we had chartered a sailboat in the Caribbean . . with our family (British Virgin Islands, 1986), John and Kirsten Gibson (BVI, 1988), Rob and Karmel (Guadeloupe, 1991), Jill and Trevor (BVI, 1993), and now Marnie and Whit in St. Martin . . . but this cruise had a couple special events to celebrate. Marnie and Whit had just announced that they are expecting their first baby in October and I had just retired after over thirty six years with 3M. Note: Katherine and Alain (BVI, 2000) had their turn three years later.
Valerie and I arrived in St. Martin a few days before Marnie and Whit . . to get a head start on our sun tans and to explore the island in our rental car. St. Martin is located two hundred miles east of Puerto Rico in the French West Indies. It offers a unique convergence of European charm with Caribbean flavor. The fifty square mile island is divided into two parts . . . a French side and a Dutch side . . . although there are no border formalities or great differentiation between the two parts. The island was hit hard by Hurricane Luis in September 1995 and signs of the devastation are still evident everywhere.
We were introduced to La Petite Julie . . our companion and home for the next week . . by the charter company staff on Palm Sunday morning. "Little Julie" is a 40 foot Beneteau sailing yacht equipped with three cabins, two heads and a spacious salon. It had all the latest sailing gear including an autopilot and GPS . . a navigational system which can define your global position within several hundred feet (We should have had such a thing back in my midshipman days when I used to have to get up in the middle of the night to take star shots with a sextant). And, of course, it had a CD player and cellular telephone . . a couple of other amenities that Columbus didnt have along when he sailed in the Caribbean.
Sunday, March 24. We set sail for our first destination . . St. Bartholomew island . . in early afternoon directly into the spanking easterly winds and somewhat choppy seas and after three hours of beating into the winds decided instead to drop anchor for the night in a sheltered anchorage of Ile de Fourche, a couple miles short of St. Barts. After a swim, Whit cooked some tuna steaks on the barbecue and we settle in to watch the first of our many glorious celestial shows . . a beautiful sunset, followed almost immediately by a spectacular moonrise over the islands headlands and capped by an eclipse of the moon later that night. All of this at no extra cost !
Monday, March 25. We sailed the final two miles to St. Barts the next morning and anchored at Gustavia, the main town on this small island and went ashore to shop, sightsee and register our boat with the harbor master. We came back to town again in the evening for dinner at a noisy, harbor side restaurant.
Tuesday, March 26. After a morning swim, we motored around to Anse Columbier, a secluded anchorage on the north end of St. Barts. We hiked up to the top of the hills for a panoramic view of the bay and nearby islands. Whit again performed his magic on the barbecue with some salmon steaks.
Wednesday, March 27 . The fifteen mile return sail on Wednesday was an exhilarating, broad reach on a single tack back to St. Martins with brisk winds and ten foot waves. I think the crew was happy to come around the north end of St. Martins and tuck into Anse Marcel, a protected anchorage with a white sand beach and turquoise waters. We all went ashore in the evening for a nice dinner at the marina followed by a walk on the beach.
Thursday, March 28. Two of the French America Cup contenders for the 1995 races were tied up at the marina in Ance Marcel and offered rides every Thursday to the public. I had made reservations for Whit and me beforehand and, as it turned out, we were the only two paying crew members so they filled out the rest of the other crew positions with professional sailors so Whit and I ended up, in effect, having an America Cup class yacht and its eight person crew at our disposal for three hours of the most exhilarating sailing Ive ever done . . or will again.
The France III is 24 meters long, 5 meters wide and 3 meters in depth. It weighs 25 tons of which 20 tons are located in the winged keel alone. The 34 meter mast carries a 150 square meter mainsail and a 100 meter jib or a 300 meter spinnaker. After brief instructions, Whit was assigned the jib sheet and I was assigned the main sheet for the runs. . although we each had a turn at the tiller, grinders, etc. as well. Most the morning, we raced along at about 10 knots with the deck at a 50 degree incline and water coming over the lee rail. At one point, the crew raised the spinnaker and the boat felt like it was going to take off into the clouds. It was a thrill that neither of us will soon forget.
That evening Whit and Marnie went ashore for dinner while Val and I stayed on board for a light supper and to watch the pelicans diving in formation near the boat for their dinners. We had just turned on the CD and opened a bottle of wine to watch the sunset when what to our wondering eyes should appear but the Hale-Bopp comet making its spectacular run across the northern skies. It was another magic moment . . a glass of wine, a Rachmaninov piano concerto and our own comet.
Friday, March 29. Dodging a little squall, we motored over to Tintamarre, an island off the east coast of St. Martin for our final overnight anchorage. Tintamarre is an uninhabited island used by day trippers for snorkeling trips but we had it pretty much to ourselves for the evening. Our final dinner on board was Marnies specialty, spaghetti alla carabonara ,and again Hale-Bopp made an appearance to provide us with our final evenings entertainment.
Saturday, March 30. After spending most of the day at leisure on the beach, we reluctantly hoisted our sails for the final, four mile cruise back to Oyster Pond, where a pilot lead us through the reefs and back to our original dockside berth. We celebrated our week of sailing with a four star, lobster dinner at Captain Olivers restaurant overlooking the harbor, the sea and some of the islands in the distance
In previous years, we would have probably caught the early flight the next morning to return home for work. Not this time. Valerie and I spent a couple extra days by the pool before finally flying home on Tuesday. If this is what retirement is all about, I think that were going to be able to handle it with no trouble at all.