Mega Yacht Central

Saturday January 24, 2015

Yacht in Simpson Bay

Back when we were still doing pleasure cruises on Lake Michigan with Serendipity, there wasn’t much boat envy in our little home port of Muskegon.  At 34 feet we were actually on the larger side, or at least average, of all the boats in our mooring field.  Even though we did see the occasional yacht near Mackinac Island or Lake Saint Clare, we remained within 10 feet of everyone else until we cruised into Annapolis.

That’s when 34 feet began to feel a little small in comparison.  It’s also where I had my first breakdown about living on a boat.  I’m actually surprised it took that long.

From that point on we’ve been off and on with boats within, let’s say 15 feet of us, but without any mega yachts cruising the same grounds.  Sure, I got a little ecstatic on our first cruise over to the Bahamas when I saw a 120 ft yacht that I thought might be Tiger Woods (holy crap, we’re cruising in the same grounds as celebrities now!), but usually it was just us and other sailboats near our size from then on out.

If anything over 100 ft came wandering by we were glued to the deadlights wondering who these rich and/or famous people were that could afford such extravagant water crafts. Oh foolish me.  I thought 130 feet was as big as they came.  Or at least, the ones who would come into the same cruising grounds as us.

Well the tables have turned and now that we’re in the Eastern Caribbean in the height of the winter cruising season, we’re taking over the same areas that these mega yachts call home.  And I mean, the MEGA yachts.  I’m talking about the biggest boys any of these seas have to offer.

First there was Eclipse and Le Grand Bleu off St. Barths on our way in.  Eclipse is currently the largest yacht on the water measuring in at 536 feet, and although Le Grand .Bleu is only 371 feet, it carries a 73 ft sailboat on it’s deck as a toy.  Are you freaking kidding me?  Trust me when I say I was half tempted to contact them to see if they wanted to swing by Las Palmas on their way out of the Med and throw us up on deck as well so we wouldn’t have to make another Atlantic crossing.  I would have even worked in the galley for a shot at that ride back.

St. Barths is just a small slice of the pie though and many of the yachts move themselves to the lagoon in Simpson Bay where they sit at docks and have crews mercilessly clean them from top to bottom all day in the blazing heat.  These floating mansions arrive by the day and the best part is that while we sit anchored outside in the harbor, we get to watch the daily parade of them entering and exiting the small channel.  The smaller ones (under 150 feet) will normally wait for the appointed time for a bridge opening and line themselves up at which point we’ll normally fire up the AIS to gather intel on them.

These poverty-stricken yacht owners will pay the bridge fee of $300-$500 every time they transit out back into the bay.  The larger and wealthier yachts though prefer to transit whenever it’s most convenient for them and will hand over $1,000 to have the bridge open on their demand.  It’s actually disturbing how many choose this option.  But with all that money I’m sure $1,000 is just pocket change to them.  Although I’d gladly take it off their hands since that is the same amount we’re getting our monthly cruising budget down to.

Inside the lagoon we’ve also seen Steve Jobs’ (family’s) newest yacht, Venus.  It’s quite a different design and even though Matt had originally hated the looks of it from photos he instantly fell in love with it’s sleek lines upon seeing it in person.

All these mega yachts we’ve been coming upon recently though have me baffled by all that space.  Is it really necessary?  What are you even going to use it for?  You can easily entertain your guests on something much smaller, trust me. All you need is a decent cockpit and, ok, maybe an over-sized fridge and a well stocked liquor cabinet.  I have a feeling that if I were ever invited on such a sizable vessel I’d probably feel so out of place that I’d be hanging out with the crew, socializing with someone more on my economic level.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be hanging out in the galley and chatting with the chef as he prepared my rare premium cut steak before bringing it topside to savor with a select bottle of red wine while enjoying the sunset as a personal quartet played classical music in the background. Hey, you can’t blame a girl for wanting to enjoy a few of the perks that would come with it.

Yachts lining up

The daily line-up to get into the lagoon.

Yachts Z & Sea Owl

Mega Yacht in Simpson Lagoon

Yacht Ester III

I bet Ester III felt big…until Steve Jobs’ yacht pulled in next to it.

Steve Jobs' yacht Venus

Steve Jobs’ yacht….Venus.

Steve Jobs yacht Venus

Matt originally hated this yacht in photos but fell in love with it in person.

Mega yacht 'Z'

yachts in Simpson Bay Lagoon

Mega yacht Eclipse

Eclipse.

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Sint Maarten by Bicycle

Wednesday January 21, 2015

Maho Beach, St. Maarten

Enough was enough and it was finally time to get ourselves off Serendipity for a proper day of sightseeing. After a few false starts earlier in the week, we found ourselves at Island Water World this morning just after 9, ready to go. Not that we were about to take a tour of all the marine chandleries on the island, although I’m sure that could fill a full day as well, but we were there to take advantage of their bicycles. For a deposit of $50/day/person, they have a small group of bicycles to use and since we like free (or at least, returned money) to us it was worth it over taking the mini-van taxi’s across the island.

As we were handed over the keys to our locks, we hopped on and hobbled through the narrow path that leads to the front of the store and out to the main street. On to destination 1 for the day, Maho Beach. Probably one of the most famous stops on the island, it draws tourists from near and far for one reason. To have huge jumbo jets fly over your head as their tails seem to just skim above the water and the sand as they make their landing at Princess Julienne Airport. Ever seen a photo where there’s an extremely low plane, people, and water in the background? This is that place. Also referred to by it’s airport code, SXM.

Although there is a schedule somewhere or another of when the big planes land, we never found it and figured that if we stayed at the beach for an hour, something was bound to come careening in, right? Turns out, it is best to check the schedule first. Arriving so early may have been one of our downfalls, but as we set our bikes down in the sand at 10 am we overlooked a mostly empty beach and no planes on the horizon. Grabbing a couple of cold cokes from a drink stand set up to cater to the many needs of it’s hundreds of daily tourist, we sat to wait. 20 minutes and nothing.

Then over the horizon I could see the light of a plane making it’s approach. Getting all giddy and bouncing around like a child I grabbed my camera out to prepare for the moment I’d be squished like a bug….only to find out as it got closer that it was just a little puddle jumper. Three planes later and that was all I had come in contact with. At least the sun had started to poke out from the somewhat overcast sky and threw light onto the water turning it all shades of brilliant blues and turquoises. Plus the looming shadow of Saba was visible off in the distance and it was, for a short time, just a nice are to sit and be.

As the morning drifted on, more and more people began to show up at the beach, staking out seats in the sand just in front of the runway. There also appeared to be a photo-shoot happening where we spied (and tried not to stare at) a leggy blonde switching between different swimsuits in preparation of that perfect shot when a 747 would be above her head. It started to become that the only way we knew when a plane was coming (even just the smaller ones), is when her entourage would disperse from touching her up and she’d begin posing.

Then it was the moment we’d been waiting for all morning. A large jet was on it’s way in. A few private planes had already come through and sent their jet of air into the sand and crowd, but we were ready for something bigger. Gathering with the crowd at the mouth of the runway, we waited as the little dot grew bigger on the horizon and prepared to swallow us whole. Thinking that ‘Ok, this is the time the big guys are starting to come’, I lived the moment behind my camera lens and thought I’d wait for the next one to really experience it.

As it came over our heads it cast a shadow on the beach and left strong gusts in it’s wake. Cool to see come in, but apparently it’s when they’re taking off and flying over you that you get the winds that will knock you off your feet. As soon as it landed Matt turned to me and asked “So, ready to leave?”  I guess this wasn’t an all day plan of his and waiting around yet again to actually experience one of the big blows from an engine jet sans a camera up to my face wasn’t going to happen.

Princess Julianne Airport

waiting for a plane at Maho Beach

Maho Beach, St. Maarten

puddle jumper over Maho Beach

Back on our bicycles we took off on the long way around the island to get ourselves to the French side.  There was a lot of huffing and puffing on some minor hills and went to show me just incredibly how out of shape I actually am.  Losing 5 pounds on an ocean crossing does not equal fit.

There were some very lovely cottages we found along the way and some very large shopping centers nestled inside resorts that were very obviously for the rich and famous.  We’re neither, so we stayed far away.  Getting from Dutch Sint Maarten to French Saint Marten our next big goal of the day was finding lunch which also meant switching back from US to Euros.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’ll just let you know we didn’t quite care for the French side as much as the Dutch.  To us it was touristy and expensive and not what we were looking for.  Don’t get me wrong, if you’re headed there on a vacation or you’re willing to splurge a little I think you might enjoy it very much. French pastries and little cafes…. But since we’ve gone into a budget lockdown with all the increasing costs of rebuilding a boat we have yet to lay eyes on, we’re on the cheap route from here on out in the Caribbean.  Don’t feel too bad for us though…we’ll hopefully be back here in about a year and ready to make a few splurges.

Marjiot Bay, St. Marten

St. Marten

With our stomachs still rumbling we got back on our bikes to get to the cheaper Dutch side of the island.  It wasn’t until we were just about back to IWW to return our bikes and giving up on the idea of food altogether that we stumbled across a Colombian restaurant that one of our neighbors in the anchorage told us about.

Before I could even fully settle in my chair I had an ice cold Presidente in my hand and an order in for a shredded chicken meal served on fried plantains.  I had no idea what it was, but it sounded interesting.  It did not disappoint my expectations.  Holy crap.  In fact it was probably one of the best meals I’ve had in such a long time.  When I get back to Florida and have full run of a grocery store I might have to move heaven and earth trying to recreate it myself.

Colombian meal

I’m sure there’s still a ton to Sint Maarten and Saint Marten that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy or experience, but I’m not sad about that.  Even after just a week here we’re realizing that we want to come back in the new boat and see what the rest of the Eastern Caribbean has to offer.  A little more researched and with slightly deeper pockets.  And of course, with good friends by our side.

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Seeking Internet in Paradise

Tuesday January 20, 2015

boats at anchor in Simpson Bay

Sometimes finding internet while cruising can include many difficult things.  Like sitting in the blistering heat outside of Island WaterWorld while trying to pick up a barley there signal that keeps failing.

And sometimes it means visiting all the beach side resorts and ordering a beer so I can get the password to their wifi and then bringing it back to the boat to see if we can get the signal there with our long range device as well.  If this fails I have to fall into a routine of try and try again.

Sitting at all these beach resorts in the shade while sipping a cold Presidente and regaling my ocean crossing to resort guests while groups of men twice my age look at me in wonder that I was half of a crew that just sailed over 3,000 miles from Europe.

Drinking beer and chatting with friends I haven’t spoken to in a month while overlooking a pristine beach and all the boats at anchor is a very rough life.  But let me tell you my friends, I am fully up for these duties.

Presidente beer

resort overlooking Simpson Bay

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Unwinding in Sint Maarten

Saturday January 17, 2015

sunset in Simpson Bay

Who would have thought that after so much time on the boat, the last thing we want to do now that we’ve made landfall is get off the boat.  Maybe it’s because we’re in that two week period where we’re catching up on our loss of sleep.  Or maybe it’s because after three weeks of being stuck below deck in rough weather, we finally have the opportunity to use the cockpit again.  Yeah, that sounds like a winner to me, I’ll go with that answer.

All joking aside though, there is no reason we’ve wanted to get off Serendipity now that we can enjoy her in all her beautiful surroundings.  The views here from our deck are breathtaking, and while we’re still catching our breaths, there’s been no reason to abandon them by spending all our days ashore.

Take yesterday morning for example.  It was our first full morning at anchor after getting a very relaxing 12 hours of sleep.  After rolling out of bed a little after 9 am we turned on the Caribbean tunes wafting through the radio waves and put on a pot of coffee.   (Or AeroPressed a few cups, same diff).  Taking our drinks to the cockpit we let the gentle morning breeze roll over us as hundreds of little yellow butterflies fluttered through the air.  A mass hatching of some sorts.  This was ecstasy for Georgie as there were constantly moving targets floating past her on the deck to chase.  After a few swift moves, a few of them even ended up in her mouth.  Very good morning entertainment for us.

We have managed to get off the boat for an hour or two each day to find the Island Water World for boat supplies, and most importantly, topping off our propane tanks; and the grocery store and bulk food store to replenish our dwindling supply of food and alcohol.  No energy for exploring at the moment though, it’s always right back to the boat for a nap and relaxing.

The past few nights have been ended with a cocktail in the cockpit while watching the sun sink into the open horizon in front of us and watching the evening shuffle of cruisers either coming back to their boats or about to head out for a night on the town.

Although we know we have to be cautious with our time since the new boat is still beckoning to us and our stay in the Caribbean won’t be long, so far we haven’t felt the rush to keep busy or take in all of the sights just yet.  There will be time for that.  Right now we’re enjoying each moment.  Transitioning quite fluidly into Island Time and finding there is no rush for anything.

sunset in Sint Maarten

kids on sailboat, St. Maarten

Simpson Bay at dusk

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Champange Celebration

Thursday January 15, 2015

champagne celebration at Sint Maarten

After 28 consecutive days on the open ocean, we finally made landfall in St. Maarten this afternoon. Luckily today was the kind of day that we knew we didn’t have to beat the clock and there was no worry if we’d be pulling in after dark and therefore waiting just outside the harbor and staring longingly in while we wait at sea for just one more night. Not only did we have that exciting news to look forward to, but the conditions had finally turned favorable and it was a perfect day for sailing.

Still on a downwind tack, we had winds of 17 knots behind us and swells that had died down to about 5 feet or under. The sun was shinning and there was barley a cloud in the sky. As Matt woke me for my first morning watch at 8 am, we scrutinized our position on the chart plotter and our intended course to Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. Coming below St. Barths we would stay in deep water for a longer period and have a better transition into waters going from 10,000 ft to only 150 feet. Realizing that St. Barths was less than 10 miles from us I looked up at Matt and asked if he’d been able to make it out yet on the horizon. Telling me that he hadn’t, I did quick glance around thinking that there would be nothing out there…until I saw this huge peak sticking out of the water on our starboard side. St. Barths….it was the most beautiful thing anyone could see after two fortnights on the water.

In very high spirits now that there was A.) Sunshine for the first time in two weeks, B.) Some of the best sailing conditions we’d ever seen, and C.) A big hunk of paradise in front of my eyes, I went into full tropical preparation mode. At the top of my agenda was making my first cup of non instant coffee in a month. Lana Del Rey blasted out of the speakers and I daydreamed of what the next few weeks will have in store for us.

As St. Barths grew larger and I could make out details of the land I switched to some upbeat Enrique Inglesias and mixed a fruit juice spritzer as I planned land and beach based activities in my head and texted friends via our satellite phone to let them know I had been able to scream ‘Land Ho!’. I was also able to tell them of the mega yachts I’d already been spotting anchored outside of Gustavia Harbor, including Eclipse, the current largest yacht on the market at over 600 ft. I honestly thought it was a cruise ship when I first spotted it until I looked up it’s information through our AIS. Oh yes, we’re playing with the big kids now.

St. Barths from sea

Eclipse at St. Barths

Jessica sailing

When Matt woke up we took our showers in what again had been the first time in about six days. Be very thankful you were nowhere near us on this passages. Showers were so few and far between that our clothes could basically stand up on their own by the time they came off. But today was completely different. The sun was shining, I could keep my balance while using the foot pump in the head, and I even got a shave in. Operation ‘Caribbean-girly’ was in full swing. As I combed out my hair and put on my last bits of eyeliner and mascara I came out into the cockpit to find we were soon approaching St. Maarten.

Coming up from the SE side we were greeted with small cliffs followed by the harbor of Phillipsburg (filled with cruise ships, no thanks), we sailed on in the mid afternoon sun to Simpson Bay. There’s an option to anchor out in the big bay for a small charge or pay to go through the draw bridge and into the lagoon. This seems to be a popular thing to do but held no interest for us. I know I just spent 28 day straight staring at nothing but the big blue ocean, but I still want to keep it close. I miss it’s view if I’m away from it for too long.

I had been a little wary of what we’d find there since the photos in our guidebook were taken with a terrible camera, but we were in love as soon as our anchor hit the sandy bottom. Under our keel was 15 ft of beautiful turquoise water, to our starboard side was open water featuring a golden afternoon sun, and off our port were lush green hills with sandy beaches and resorts lining their foreground.

After breezing through customs and immigration (and having McDonald’s for dinner…I mean, come on. It was right there), we were back at the boat in need of a little R&R. Not before we could celebrate our crossing though. Ever since we left Michigan we’ve been carrying around a bottle of champagne that Matt’s sister had given us, waiting for the perfect occasion to open it. First it was supposed to be our friend Jackie’s 30th birthday in the Bahamas..but that didn’t happen. Then it was supposed to be when we passed the rock of Gibraltar….but that didn’t happen. So, covering 3,100 miles in one go? I think that deserves a toast.

Having picked out what I can only describe as the absolute perfect champagne for us, a Moscato since Matt likes things super sweet, we popped the cork and enjoyed our first hours of stillness in four weeks. Caribbean music floated through our speakers and Georgie delightedly wandered the decks again. Paradise, we have finally arrived.

Sint Maarten from the sea

kissing Georgie in Simpson Bay

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