St. Martins 2020 Flotilla Cruise


Hello Non-Sailors or significant others of Sailors! I spent my first night ever on a sailboat (actually a 44-foot catamaran). We are in St. Maarten (aka St. Martin) aboard the Furiosa as part of a four boat flotilla with Offshore Sailing School. My husband, a fairly seasoned sailor, finally talked me into accompanying him on one of his sailing trips. If you want to see where other Colgate Sailing Adventures® flotilla cruises will take you next, click here.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

We arose before 4 am to catch our flight from St. Louis to St. Maarten (via Atlanta).  Ugh. In addition to not being a sailing girl (usually prefer my toes in the sand), I’m not a morning person either. After we arrived at the Marina Fort Louis, we were pleasantly surprised to find we were able to board the boat earlier than anticipated (perhaps 4ish instead of 6 pm).

The provisions that had been selected and pre-ordered for us had already been delivered and loaded on board. I started putting away provisions and learned that boat spaces are small. I found the large number of condiments provided very interesting. They included olive oil, vegetable oil, soy sauce, mayo, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, Italian dressing, salsa, and red wine vinegar. In retrospect, it is like most refrigerators – full of condiments.

Meeting Our Crew

Sue Felling, author, is in the middle

Once at the boat, we met Dave who is to be the Skipper (person in charge on our boat). My husband Chris was assigned as our Navigator. Go Baby!! Jim, a single (meaning he was traveling alone, as opposed to a double like my husband and I) arrived shortly after we did, followed by Pat (another single) and Another Girl, so we are a crew of five. Both Jim and Pat have taken a sailing course but aren’t as ‘certified’ or experienced as Dave and Chris. Thus, I retain my title as sole NEVER-sailed sailor. We sorted out who got what ‘stateroom’ and set about learning about the boat.

Dave and Chris took the lead on learning all about the specifics of our boat. Jim, Pat, and I hung out trying to glean info for a while but with space being relatively small, and time getting late, we decided the three of us should make the ‘mandatory’ alcohol run (not provided) before the store closed. The store was an easy walk from the harbor. We also picked up a few miscellaneous items that weren’t in the provisions, so it is helpful to go through those first. When we returned from the store it was dark and the guys were still getting ‘educated’. Thank goodness for cell phone flashlights and that we had been able to get on board early.

Meet and Greet Dinner with the REst of the Flotilla GRoup

Finally, they had their most pressing questions answered and we made our way to a restaurant across the street wearing our red Offshore Sailing School flotilla polo shirts that were gifts received in advance. The flotilla organizers, Nate and Heather, had arranged dinner for everyone (all 4 boat crews). They gave a short orientation and we got to meet some of the others (so many names). Quite a few of the people knew each other having met on previous flotillas, my husband included, and some seem to sail together as a crew on a frequent basis. Heather mentioned she wrote a blog about the trips and invited others to do so also, and I thought, what a great idea, so, TADA.  Here I am. I had forgotten how much I enjoy writing.

First Night on the Boat

Heather mentioned there would be a Navigator meeting every morning at 8 am on their lead boat. You got this Chris! THEN she added she would be doing yoga on her boat at 7:30 am. After dinner, we headed back to the boats around 10 pm, and being that most of us had an early start to the day, we headed to our cabins – each with a private head (I should add that I know the head is a bathroom). Oodles of rules about those. What to flush, when to flush, how to flush, how to shower, how to shower with hot water…..)  Also, before we headed our four separate ways for the night we decided as a group to use the generator so we could run the air conditioner as it was a bit warm and the air flow not super as we were wedged into the marina.

So now my first night ON THE BOAT begins. Chris and I finish kind of organizing our stuff (he is better than I since it’s not his FIRST NIGHT ON A BOAT). And I start to notice a click, click, click, click, click…. continuously. Obviously, it is coming from something in the boat’s systems, but it doesn’t stop. ALL NIGHT.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

I have spent my first night ever on a sailboat. Not my best night’s sleep. Click, click, click. I awoke frequently and it was hard to fall back to sleep. Click, click, click.

Found out from a boat maintenance guy that the sound was from the fuel pump that had to run all night since we were using the generator. Nothing can be done about it. NOTE to my crew – let’s please not use the generator all night unless Absolutely Necessary.  Pat noted that in her room, the generator caused her bed to vibrate all night. I retorted that some people pay for that (I can’t be the only one that remembers motels where you put the quarter in to make you bed vibrate for a few minutes – where did my parents take me?!) We are hopeful that our future overnight spots will be at places with a good breeze and weather so we can just leave our windows and hatches open (PLEASE GOD).

Day One of Sailing

Cruise Leader, Nate Atwater, conducting morning nav sessions

We are planning to set sail by 10 am or so, depending on how a few last-minute maintenance items on the boats go. We (the 5 of us on our boat) make a “kitty,” a boat petty cash fund (as recommended by Heather and Nate) to cover mooring fees and community needs (i.e. ice). We throw in $100 each and I volunteer to keep track of it.  Something I know how to do so I can feel slightly useful.

Maintenance takes a bit longer than expected as the lead boat needed its head hoses replaced (tee hee). Important stuff. We used the extra time at dock taking advantage of the real restrooms that are in the dock building and I cut up our fresh pineapple and a cantaloupe figuring this is a better place for wielding a large knife as opposed to the open sea. The pineapple is especially sweet and delicious (I had to try a sample).

Underway to Roads Bay, Anguilla

At about 12:15 our little flotilla is ready to get underway. A harbormaster motors each boat out of the marina, hops into a following dinghy, and goes to the next boat. Ours is the last to be guided out. Dave and Chris seem to work well together. I know they both appreciate having someone else with experience to handle the boat. Pat, Jim, and I are all willing and ready to follow instructions but are pretty worthless on our own (sorry guys).

With just a bit of delay getting the rust out of their sailing knowledge and skills, we are soon under full sail and smoothly following the other three boats towards Roads Bay, Anguilla. I think I read it was 13 NM (nautical miles). I need to see how that compares to a mile. Once we are out and sailing (no motor) it was quite enjoyable. Chris came and sat next to me. “This is what it’s all about,” he said. “Very pleasant,” I admit. Sun was shining, there was just a gentle sway to the boat, the breeze felt great.

Typical St. Martins anchorage

Upon arrival in Roads Bay, the bay itself was pretty full. We had to take whatever spot we could get which ended up being a bit further in than the other three boats. Now we had to set the anchor, which again involved a little de-rusting. Once the anchor was set, someone had to dive in and make sure the anchor was secure. This is a Dave and/or Chris job. I mean Pat/Jim/I could tell you if it seemed to be in the sand or mud verses just dangling there, but we could not tell if it was going to hold the boat in place all night. Besides, it involved jumping into the somewhat chilly water and diving down. Not me.

BYOB on Cruise Leaders’ boat and BBQ Salmon Back on Our Boat

Tonight’s plan was a cocktail hour on the lead boat with Heather and Nate and their crew. Everyone was asked to bring beer and a little snack to share. I also brought wine (for me). We elected to take one of the two Brie cheese wedges, half a bag of grapes (we had 2 big bags) and half a small loaf of sliced rye bread (of which we had three).  We weren’t willing to part with our 1 box of crackers. By the way, the rule is no alcohol until we’ve anchored or moored each day. Smart.

We used our dinghy to get to the trip leaders’ boat and we all entered and exited it fairly gracefully for our first time, although Chris did nearly clock Pat in the head when pulling on the motor starter. The next hour or so passed pleasantly as we met more of the flotilla members. We then returned to our boat to prepare dinner (first real cooking on the boat). We had defrosted the salmon fillets. The boys got the grill going. Pat made some rice, and I made what turned out to be a very tasty lemon and garlic sauce for the fish (and whatever else). We also heated up some frozen broccoli (balanced diet, right).

I know he’s my husband, but I have to say he grilled that salmon beautifully. It was scrumptious. Of course, after fixing a meal and eating, there has to be cleanup. Doing dishes on a boat with limited fresh water is an interesting process. The dishes all got a very thorough rinse in a bucket of sea water before being washed with soap and rinsed in very small amounts of fresh water. It worked.

Then off to bed. Fortunately, there was a wonderful breeze and we all opened our windows and hatches and were very comfortable. No click, click, click. Chris and I read for a bit, but then he started softly snoring (a sign he’s really tired) so I turned off my light too and the Snow Moon was perfectly framed in the hatch directly above my head in the bed. What a lovely way to fall asleep.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Heather and Nate arrive at our boat between 7:30 and 8 am. I think they decided it was easier for them to go boat to boat for each days’ navigation/planning session instead of having everyone come to them. I’m not sure what this does to morning yoga, and I don’t ask. In fact, when they arrive, everyone else on my boat is up so I just kind of listen through the overhead hatch and pick up a few words here and there. Mostly I enjoy that half asleep/half awake state. I also decide this is the day I’m breaking out my new bikini. I haven’t worn one in years, usually going with a tankini. I figured if some of the people I have seen in bikinis lately can wear them, so can I. I do hope my seriously white belly doesn’t blind anyone (although we all do wear sunglasses a lot since we are on the water).

A Nice Sail to Prickly Pear Cay

Chris has made yummy eggs and bacon this morning for breakfast. This is his specialty at home and we all appreciate it.

Then we are off for a nice sail to Prickly Pear Cay where there is supposed to be great snorkeling. We again arrive last due to being further into Roads Bay. Alas, there are four mooring balls at this site and a fishing boat is tied up to one of them when our flotilla arrives. Our first three boats of course have tied up to the three remaining balls. We decide to tie on to what may or may not be a secure mooring ball. Dave hooks the line deftly and we secure our boat to it. However, it is not a secure moor, which is fortunately noticed before we drift into the rocks. As we disengage, we notice the fishing boat seems to be packing up. I’m thinking that our arrival may have chased away any fish they were hoping to catch. So we hold very near to them like a vulture and snag their spot as soon as they are outta there. The motors come in very handy at times like this.

I toe check the water – a bit chilly for me. I decide to skip the snorkeling and instead grab some sun on the catamaran’s trampoline and see if I can get previously-mentioned white belly to a slightly lesser shade of white without burning the heck out of it. Lots of sunscreen!!!! The rest of our boat climbed into the dinghy for a ride to the snorkeling reef. Just before they left, Chris made sure to show me how to start the motors and let me know that I was now in charge of the boat, and if it started drifting, I would have to start it up and keep us from hitting anything.

GULP.  Not a way to let me RELAX on my trampoline in my bikini. Thanks honey. Fortunately, my new friend Dave the skipper, set up a drift alarm on one of the several iPads he brought, so after being nervous for the first 45 minutes and not hearing any alarms and noticing that we haven’t seemed to drift precipitously closer to anything, I relax. And am happy to report that I applied enough sunscreen and limited my time so as not to burn. By the way, the trampoline and bean bag chairs they had tied up there were very comfy.

The rest of the crew returned and reported that while the snorkeling was good, it was probably a good thing I hadn’t gone with them as on the ride over in the dinghy they got soaked. Righto!! My crew knows me already.

To Sandy Cay

We lunch here on a large salad with the rest of our salmon from last night. Yum. Then head out towards Sandy Island. We had passed it on the way to Prickly Pear Cay. It is a very small plot of sand in the middle of the sea. There is a place you can get drinks but other than that, it is all SUN and snorkeling. Our crew elected not to go ashore. I asked Jim if he was getting in the water and he said, “If you do.” Well, not wanting to deprive Jim of time in the water, I dunked in. Then just as quickly got out. Chilly. And a lot of current. He did go in and ended up snorkeling quite a while. I ask Chris what a nautical mile is and discover it is a bit longer than a regular mile, but the exact nuance is lost on me so I will not explain it here.

To Crocus Bay on Anguilla

After Sandy Beach we sailed/motored to Crocus Bay, on Anguilla. I say sailed/motored because it is seeming like we use the motor quite a bit. This isn’t the “old-style” of sailing with lots of tacking. We seem to pretty much set a direction and go. If wind is favorable, we sail. If not, we motor.

Once in Crocus Bay, we decide to dine ashore. We lock up our boat whenever we leave it (windows, hatches and doors) and lock up the dinghy when it is anywhere but the back of one of the flotilla boats. Best to be safe than sorry. We have also started running the air conditioner (click, click) if we go out for the evening so the rooms are cool when we return and we can then open all the windows, etc. for sleeping. Seems to be working well. The most noted restaurant here is not open, so we go to Ce Blue. We walk up a steep road – the only one from the beach. It has outstanding views from its open-air dining patio. They mainly serve pizza, made right there in front of you. Our second pizza was really good. (Sorry, I sent the first one back it was SO burned. Why they even brought it out I don’t know.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I again miss the 7:30 am visit from Nate and Heather for the day’s update that the others seem to embrace. Actually, it seems like they are all insomniacs with the exception of Chris who is just really good about getting up when needed. But I am up by 8 am. I have embraced a no make-up routine (actually not all that uncommon for me) and just put on my moisturizer with SPF. I grab some coffee. (I have been making it every evening so that the early risers can have it ready to go – You’re welcome Dave.) And then we are hoisting the anchor. Skipper Dave is determined not to be the last boat out of the harbor today.

Today’s route takes us directly into the wind for a while. We use the engines but it is Very bumpy. A couple of folks didn’t batten down all their hatches/windows in their rooms and end up with some very wet sheets (not me). After about an hour we change direction and have the jib (front sail) up and the motor is off. Not as bumpy but swells between 6 and 12 feet keep us holding on tight. We were all a little green around the gills. Kudos to Dave and Chris who manned the wheel. Jim coped by standing and bracing the whole time. Pat sat and hung on. I laid down on the benches. Guess we all cope with that queasy feeling a bit differently.

A Gorgeous LIttle Beach at Ile Fourche

We finally moored near a gorgeous little beach at Ile Fourche. This island is part of St. Barts but we saw no buildings or any development. Both Pat and I thought it looked a bit like parts of Ireland. We were all relieved to be relatively still. We slowly grabbed some lunch (I made a peanut butter and butter sandwich which I had started craving about halfway here). THEN, Pat and Dave both admitted they had anti-nausea aids down below. Could have used those!!

With belly’s full, we were all content to chill on the boat. Relax, nap, journal/blog, enjoy the breeze and dry out sheets. For dinner we grilled hamburgers and I roasted some potato wedges and carrots. The boat has a small 3-burner gas stove and gas oven, along with a grill that can be mounted on the back of the boat. To use the grill we have to lower the dinghy so it doesn’t melt. We hope we have enough charcoal left for one more dinner.

My phone rings at 11:30 pm. It is our eldest daughter. She hadn’t heard from us in a few days and was worried (Awww). Actually, I had gotten her texts but my replies wouldn’t go through. Crazy how that works. It was good to hear her voice and know that all is well at home (although very cold – Yay!).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Today we are heading to St. Barts proper. It is a short trip and we anchor outside the capital of Gustavia. This is a very busy port. As we enter the main port of each island we visit, the skippers get together and take our passports to customs and pay a fee.  Anguilla was by far the most expensive (using that kitty money) and time-consuming.  We get in early enough to go ashore and do some sight-seeing. Some of our other flotilla boats are waiting for a mechanic. The lead boat is having head issues again and another boat is having a winch issue. I’m thankful it isn’t us.

Busy St. Barts with Impressive Yachts

Taking our dinghy in, we pass dozens of massive yachts. They are huge and have names like ‘Never Enough’ and ‘Attitude’ and ‘Just Another Toy’ (not picking on you!!).  We decide to walk up to the lighthouse over the harbor. It’s a nice (uphill) walk but when we get almost there, discover that the grounds are closed for renovations. That’s okay.  We get lovely vistas of the island and port and can see the small planes coming in for landing. We then search for a restaurant for dinner and end up in a downpour. Glad I brought my jacket (Jim and I are prepared). We duck into some bar/restaurant at the end of the harbor (sorry, don’t remember the name) for a drink and to check Wi-Fi. We are completely antisocial as everyone checks their phones for email and messages. Except me because I’ve been checking it all along when I get a signal. Frankly, if I’m on this trip, I’m not going to worry about a few extra phone charges.

After the rain stops, we try to get a reservation for that night (they are full – check back later) and get the things on our shopping list, WIE – wine, ice, and eggs. We head back to our boat for a rest before dinner. Our chosen restaurant is still full, so we end up at a random place nearby and have an okay meal of wings and mahi burgers. After we put in our order, Pat and I try to do a little shopping but the stores have just closed. Better for our pocketbooks I’m sure. St. Barts is known for its high-end shops.

That night it rains off and on. I wake up at one point due to raindrops hitting my face from the overhead hatch. I reach up and close it and go right back to sleep. Maybe I am getting the hang of this.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

I think I am actually up for Nate and Heather’s ‘early’ morning visit to our boat today. He steals a piece of bacon. Today is another short sail to the other side of St. Barts. I think it is Anse De Colombiers but am not for sure. I leave most of these details to my husband and Dave. It is a pretty bay with snorkeling, a beach, and hiking trails. Chris snorkels into shore and Dave, Pat, and Jim take the dinghy and dry shorts and shoes for Chris. I elect to stay behind and give my bikini some more action.

They hike up the right-hand trail and see goats, turtles, lovely vistas, and an estate once owned by the Rockefellers. I manage to not sunburn myself again. At this beach we see the small planes shortly after take -off. Tonight is our last cook-out on board. We have saved the steaks. We have enough charcoal (yay) and we bake potatoes. I try a sauce out of canned mushrooms, red wine vinegar, and onions. It is okay but not on par with the garlic/lemon sauce for the salmon. I warn the others to get their sour cream on their potatoes first as it is a small container and Chris likes a little potato with his sour cream.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine’s Day!!  My honey and I have both snuck cards aboard for each other.  Mine wins because it is huge but his is awesome because it had googly dog eyes. I am missing my dog(s). Another short sail – back to St. Maarten but to a different bay, Grande Case. We decide to dinghy in and hang at the beach under umbrellas and have fancy drinks. We try to find my sister-in-law’s favorite hang-out but don’t.

Later that night we meet for our last (group) dinner, again in our red polos (a few dissent and wear other clothes). After dinner, we go back to our boats and stay up a little later and finish all the wine and most of the beer. Chris asks me if I’ll do this again next year. I tell him not next year, but maybe every other year. He is beyond thrilled (Heart emojis).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Another short hop around the corner back to our starting point, Fort Louis. The harbormasters need to take the boats in. Again we are last and wait over an hour for them to get to us. It is frustrating and for some reason I am annoyed. Then, once the harbormaster gets to our boat, he is barking at Dave and Chris – do this – do that. Pat and I hang in the galley and praise their calmness. A routine docking gets mucked up when the harbormaster runs over a mooring ball and gets its line tangled in our starboard (right) motor. He blames our crew. More cursing from Pat and I. Finally, we are docked.

Last Beer Together

It takes a while to get checked back in. I divvy up the remaining kitty and we each get $48 back. Not bad. We have heard that boat cleaner is actually a desired job on the island because they get to keep anything they find on the boats – i.e. all the left-over food. While we wait for the taxi to come to take us to the airport, we have a last beer together. We have traded cell numbers to keep in touch. I have survived, and generally enjoyed, my first WEEK of sailing.

See you in two years. . . Sue Felling


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