Wednesday, February 26, 2014

USVI


After checking out of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) at the west end of Tortola, Motivator made the short hop (9 NM) over to Coral Harbor on the east end of St. John.  There is no US Customs station in Coral Bay, but we were able to check in using the Small Vessel Reporting system (SVR).  I will go into deeper detail about the US’s SVR system in a subsequent posting.


Of course, our first stop after ensuring our anchor was secure was Skinny Legs Bar & Grill.  After the “vacation” pricing in the BVIs, Skinny Legs was a welcome change.  Two-thirds of St. John is National Park and the remaining third seems to have become the home of US citizens seeking an alternate lifestyle.


Although I am usually the only guy over fifty without a ponytail, we enjoy the laissez-faire atmosphere of the small enclave.  Unfortunately, that attitude extends into the anchorage which is cluttered with derelict boats and squatters attached to “private” moorings that leave little room for the occasional transit boat.


After lunch we returned to find that the small fenders we had anchored a good distance behind was actually the “private” mooring for a rather large and dilapidated excursion boat.  Although the captain was courteous, he wanted us to move as much as we wanted out of there.  He started his engine and moved aside on the “private” mooring so that we could pull Motivator’s anchor up. 


Our initial plan after being evicted from Coral Harbor was to scoot over to the west side of the island and into Cruz Bay where we had been before.  However, as we rounded Rams Head on the southeast corner of the island, we spotted an available mooring in Salt Pond Bay.  A quick check of our guidebook ensured it was a National Park Service mooring (see; archived posting, Golden Age Card, March 11, 2013), so we grabbed it.

Sunset from Salt Pond Bay

We found Salt Pond to be lovely.  The well protected little cove with deep water was very quiet.  So, we splurged and stayed two nights paying the park service $7.50 per night for the mooring.

Small visitor behind Motivator

The shore was too rocky for our dinghy, so we swam from the back of Motivator to shore to do a little hiking.  The rocks pictured above would rattle as the surf receded. 

Cruise ship pulling into Charlotte Amalie ahead of Motivator

After enough communing with nature, we left St. John for St. Thomas and the port at Charlotte Amalie.  It is definitely a cruise ship town, but it still retains a certain charm that manages to escape all of the jewelry stores and T-shirt shops.

The Amber Waterfall

Pollie had been waiting all year to visit the amber museum once again, and was very disappointed to find out that it had closed and the collection had been shipped to Germany.  Oh well, she did manage to find a couple of pieces in one of the many gift shops.  

Pirates make good neighbors

When we visit Charlotte Amalie, we like to anchor near the pirate ships’ moorings.  We find that after a hard day of pirating and taking the cruise ship passengers on adventures, the pirates return to shore and the pirate boats are then quiet neighbors.


During the day, after some hurried preparation, the pirates rush off to indoctrinate another load of sun burnt want-a-be pirates.


Our entertainment was more sedate.  We went to the local supermarket for provisions and to Hooters for Internet access.

View from a “dollar safari” at another “dollar safari”

Like many of the islands, St. Thomas has a network of independent busses.  Here they use ¾ ton trucks with five rows of seats mounted where the bed should be.  Driving on the left with left hand drive vehicles allows the curb side to be open for easy ingress/egress and the driver is on the correct side to collect your dollar.

Bus selfie

Evidently there is an official bus system, but like any many places the public system is not reliable.  The “dollar safari” seems to have taken over.  Washington, DC, please take note.

American Yacht Harbor

We rode the “dollar safari” out to Red Hook at the east end of the island.  Approximately 16 years previously we had sat in the same booth using walkie-talkies to direct the cleaning of the charter boat by our son and his cousin.  They had been less than congenial crew mates on our charter so we had them clean the Island Packet sailboat upon return.  We laughed as they could not figure out where we were watching from.

Unfortunately in Charlotte Amalie we had to say goodbye to our friends Jeff and Izzy on our sister ship the Izzy R.  They have been our friends and sometimes travel companions for almost three years.  As we head north back to the states, they have elected to continue cruising the Caribbean.  Fair seas and cheap diesel.

Friday, February 21, 2014

BVIs


Our introduction to the Caribbean (20 years ago) was chartering bare boats in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs).  The charter business for both crewed and bare boats is still thriving.  As a result, prices in the BVIs are what cruisers call “vacation prices.”  Moorings, food, beer, fuel - everything is pricey, but the water is beautiful. 

Break from bottom cleaning

Motivator’s crew has found we like stopping at Biras Creek when we are transiting the BVIs.  The moorings are almost reasonable at $25 per night and you are close to Gun Creek where there is customs and immigration for checking in or out.  While in Biras Creek I took advantage of the clear water to do a running gear and bottom cleaning.

How did I end up with a pink snorkel?

After a couple of nights at Biras Creek, we moved on to Norman Island.  Our intent was to have dinner and say good bye to the Willie T. (see: www.williamthornton.com).  But, when we went to make reservations we found the music and demeanor of the crowd was beyond our pay-grade.  We ended up having a pleasant evening with friends on a Canadian boat.

The Fish n’ Lime Inn
(Found a new bar & restaurant)

Our last stop in the BVIs was at the West End.  There we waited a day for some breezy weather to pass by and then we checked out of the BVIs before heading over to the US Virgin Islands.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The “Oh-my-god-a Passage”

St. Martin to the Virgin Islands

The stretch of open water between St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) is marked on some charts as the Sombrero Passage and as the Anegada Passage on others.  Many sailors refer to it as the “Oh-my-god-a Passage.”  The passage has very deep water between the shallow water surrounding the Virgin Islands and St. Martin.  The fast moving current in the passage has a tendency to make the seas “lump up a bit” as it encounters the shallow areas.

 Simpson Bay Bridge

Standard procedure is to exit the St. Martin Lagoon at the 4:00 PM bridge opening, wave good bye to friends on the deck of the Sint Maarten Yacht Club, and anchor outside in Simpson Bay.  The next outbound bridge opening is not until 8:30 AM. 

Sint Maarten Yacht Club

It takes Motivator 10 to 10 ½ hours to do the 81 NM to the BVIs.  The prudent mariner does not run the chance of being forced to enter an unfamiliar harbor after sunset.  So, an early departure (6:00 AM) is warranted.


Besides, it gives you a chance to enjoy another spectacular Caribbean sunset.

Friends we met on the way to the BVIs

We waited 3 weeks for a good weather window to make the passage, and our patience paid off.  The wind for most of the way was less than 15 knots and we had a gentle following sea with only the occasional large swell.

Riding our bow wake

The two pods of dolphins we encountered each had 7 to 8 healthy looking members of various sizes.  One pod had distinctive stripes while the other had freckles.  Each pod stayed with us for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Pollie thinks they liked us because she was on the bow waving and talking to them.  I think it was the Dire Straits album I was playing.

Motivator in Biras Creek, BVIs

While we enjoyed our time in Sint Maarten, we were ready for the quiet of Biras Creek.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The 1%ers’ Boats

One of the mega yacht docks in St. Maarten

Of recent there has been a lot of talk concerning the concentration of income and wealth among the top earning 1%.  Most recently President Obama promised to focus on income inequality in his State of the Union address.  For those in the 99% that seldom gets to see that wealth, I say come to St Maarten where it is proudly on display.  St. Maarten is the winter home for many of the world’s mega yachts.

The Martha Ann blocking the channel to St. Maarten

A mega yacht (also known as luxury yacht or super yacht) is defined as a very expensive, privately owned, professionally crewed sailing or motor yacht.  The minimum length to be considered a mega yacht is in the 150 to 160 foot range.  The Martha Ann pictured above is 230 feet in length and features an oversize swim spa on the sports deck.  She was delivered to her owner, Warren E. Halle, a Maryland/Virginia real estate developer in 2008.  She was the third in a series of sister ships all built in Germany by L├╝rssen for Mr. Halle.  After the law suits were settled, the first in the series sold for 65 million Euros ($87.6 million USD).  So much for the “Buy American” slogan.
Source: SuperYachtFan.com

Professional crew in action

One of the arguments used by the GOP to keep taxes on the wealth at the lowest rate in a generation is that the wealthy are “job creators.”  Billionaire Darwin Deason’s 205-foot yacht, Apogee is a crewed yacht, so I guess you could argue that cutting his taxes has resulted in creating jobs of the 17 crew members (of different nationalities)  and two security guards. 

Crew hanging SXM courtesy flag

After selling MTech in 1988, Mr. Deason immediately founded ACS to provide computer and processing services to clients such as E-ZPass and the federal government’s student loan program.  In relation to a spinoff company of ACS, Deason paid $3.75 million to make allegations that he was dipping into company funds go away and two top executives resigned after ACS was investigated for a backdating-options scandal.  In 2010 Deason sold ACS for $6.4 billion after successfully beating off investors suing him over the hefty premium he had negotiated for his class B shares.
Source: Forbes 5/7/2012

Apogee

The owners of most mega yachts look for ways to offset cost by making the yachts businesses. Both the Martha Ann and Apogee are available for charter.  The weekly rate for the Martha Ann is 600,000 Euros while Apogee is only asking $450,000, but that is “dry.”  Berthing, fuel and tips for the crew will run you another $200,000 per week.  From Motivator’s vantage point it does not seem like good business ventures for the billionaires.  On the three occasions when we have been on a mooring adjacent to Apogee, we have only seen the yacht move once and that was only to spin it around probably so that it does not get sun struck on one side.  There must be some tax dodge that I do not understand.

NSA if you are reading this, please forward to the IRS.

Venus

The 256 foot mega yacht Venus was designed by Philippe Starck (also the designer of A) and built by Feadship in the Netherlands for Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs.  Jobs died in October of 2011, and the yacht was launched a year later after Jobs’s estate paid off the last of the bills.  Construction cost estimates range from 100 million Euros to $250 million USD.   While visiting the local iStore, I asked the salesperson if she was ever invited over for drinks on Venus.  She said she had not, but wished they would at least stop by the store and say she was doing a good job.

Clean machine - noticeable lack of antenna array

“Apple claims to be the largest U.S. corporate taxpayer, but . . . it is also among America’s largest tax avoiders,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).  Ouch, even the Republicans are on Apple’s case about avoiding US taxes.  Apple reportedly had $102 billion in off shore accounts in 2012.  That would buy 408 more boats like Venus unless you moved the production to China where labor is much cheaper.  But then you would have those pesky rumors about workers committing suicide rather than work in Apple production facilities.

Flagged in the Cayman Islands

A common practice among the mega yacht crowd is to register (flag) their boats in the Cayman Islands, Marshal Islands, Isle of Man or the British Virgin Islands even though the yachts may never visit those countries.  The Martha Ann, Apogee and Venus are Cayman Islands flagged.  I have to admit that the morass of state boating regulations in the US is a problem, but the goal of the mega yacht owners is ultimately to again avoid US taxes.

Motivator proudly (and probably stupidly) flies the Stars and Stripes.

The Corporate Pledge of Allegiance to America

Our corporation pledges allegiance to
The United States of America. To that end:

We pledge to create more jobs in the
United States than we create outside the
United States, either directly or in our foreign
subsidiaries and subcontractors.

We further pledge that no more than
20 percent of our total labor costs will be
outsourced abroad.  If we have to lay off
American workers at a time when we’re profitable,
we will give those workers severance payments
equal to their weekly wage time the number of
months they’ve worked for us.

We pledge to keep a lid on executive
pay so no executive is paid more than fifty
times the median pay of American workers.
We define “pay” to include salary, bonuses,
health benefits, pension benefits, deferred
salary, stock options, and every other form
of compensation.

We pledge to pay at least 30 percent
of money earned in the United States in taxes
to the United States.  We won’t shift our money to
offshore tax havens, and we won’t use accounting
gimmicks to fake how much we earn.

We pledge not to use our money to
influence elections.

Source: Beyond Outrage, by Robert B. Reich     

Saturday, February 1, 2014

St Eustatius to Sint Maarten


After enough rolling in the harbor at Statia, we departed for St. Martin/Sint Maarten.  We had hoped to stop at Saba on our north bound leg, but that was not going to happen.  The swell at Saba can make the island untenable for getting to shore via a dinghy, not to mention trying to sleep while hanging on to the bed.

St. Barthelemy (St. Barts)

Stopping at St. Barts was another option which we had done on a previous trip (see: archived posting, May 17, 2012).  But, this is their high season, so the possibility of getting a mooring inside the harbor at Gustavia was slim to none.  There is an anchorage just outside of the harbor, but it is reported as quite rolly.  

Our sister ship, the Izzy R, went to Anse du Colombier on the northwest corner of the island and reported that it was quite nice.  There are marine park moorings, nice beaches, hiking, and the dinghy ride into to Gustavia is not too bad – next time.

St. Martin/Sint Maarten

The dual nation island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten offers plenty of anchoring and marina options.  Marigot Bay on the north side is good if there is no north swell.  Grande Case is noted for its French restaurants.  From Orient Bay you can watch the nude sun bathers on Orient Beach.  At Philipsburg you can anchor in the bay where the large cruise ships come to visit.  Simpson Bay is fairly well protected and offers easy access to services.

The Lagoon

Motivator’s crew prefers going through the Dutch Bridge and grabbing Andy’s mooring on the Dutch side.  Andy is an Australian expatriate and jack of all trades who lives in a motor-less motor yacht on the French Side. 

Anchorage on the French side

There seems to be a lot of Andys on the French side because they do not charge for their bridge or anchoring.  One of our budget conscious friends calls anchoring on the French side living in “the hood.”

Anchorage on the Dutch side with mega yachts in the background

For a boat the size of Motivator there is a $21 USD charge for the bridge and a $40 per week anchoring fee on the Dutch side.  We find the Dutch side to be a little more attractive. The bridge to be dependable (the French bridge was broken for the first week we were here). We are closer to the services we prefer.  We also feel somewhat safer due to the Dutch patrol boats.  I guess you get what you pay for.  


New Causeway Bridge

The big news in The Lagoon was that the new causeway bridge is operational.  Opening times for the Causeway Bridge are 15 minutes before or after the inbound and outbound opening times for the Dutch Bridge leading into the lagoon.

Bridge Lighting

A dedication ceremony for the New Causeway Bridge was scheduled for the weekend after our arrival.  The bridge is well lit with color changing lights, but that was not enough.  The fireworks were the most spectacular we have ever seen.  It was a highly orchestrate affair with fireworks originating from several different locations along the bridge.  From our front row seating on Motivator it was so overwhelming; we forgot to grab a camera.

The Bridge Walk

Joining the crews of Banyan and Izzy R, we did our own bridge dedication by hiking across it.

Swing Bridge

By perfectly timing our hike (actually dumb luck) we got to watch an opening.


These hard working young men standing in the shade of the newly planted palm tree are finishing up the landscaping on the roads leading to the bridge.  We feel somewhat invested in the new bridge because we have watched it being built on our previous visits to Sint Maarten (see: archive postings, May 14, 2012; March 1, 2013 and June 1, 2013).

Maho Beach

Again, we are blown in.  The current weather pattern has created long periods of high winds and waves that we want to avoid when we do the passage to the Virgin Islands.  Oh well, it is warm here, there are a bunch of great restaurants, and there is plenty to do.