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Provisioning in St. Martin

On April 26th, 2011, while Mike, Fred, Paula, Wendy, Katelinn, Davey, Ollie, Josh and Tammy were sailing in the Carriacou sloops Pipe Dream, Tradition and Good Expectation, the Picton Castle sailed off the hook under sail alone, out of Road Bay, Anguilla, bound for St. Martin. A mere five miles south of Anguilla, and about 13 miles from anchor to anchor St. Martin is one of the smallest of islands to be divided between two nations. Both France and the Netherlands lay claim to portions of this isle in the Northern Caribbean. There is no border crossing between the two portions.

With the wind, blowing 20 knots in our favour, it looked as if it would a beautiful, if short, day of sailing. As we sailed out of the harbour, the Captain called a muster to discuss the plan for the passage. “Closer.” He gestured to us and we obligingly crowded onto the hatch to get a better view of the white board he held. “Today we will tack our way to St. Martin.” Among other things St. Martin is great place for refuelling and provisioning. Wielding a red white board marker, in order to illustrate his point, the Captain drew overlapping lines in between his hand-drawn maps of Anguilla and St. Martin. Invigorated from our days sailing in the Antigua Classic the crew grinned at one another. Tacking a small boat like a Carriacou sloop or a ketch or gaff-rigged schooner is a regular affair – tacking the Picton Castle, on the other hand, is something we seldom get to practice, just due to the nature of our westward voyage.

Tacking is a manoeuvre which consists of reaching across the wind so that the ship builds up maximum speed, taking the bow through the wind and changing tacks as we do so. If we begin on a starboard tack with the wind blowing from the right side we come about by bracing the yards, passing the staysails and the jibs and will end up on a port tack with the wind on the left side. This action is nearly impossible to do when sailing less than 3 knots. When the bow is pointing directly upwind the ship loses a considerable amount of momentum, the sails luff and, if you do not have enough momentum the ship will stall and you must start the procedure once again.

With all crew on deck for the day sail we had plenty of hands for quick sail-handling and we jumped at the opportunity to practice. As we approached the French port of Marigot our friend Jan Rolus began circling the ship in a helicopter, snapping pictures as we tacked through the waters off the coast. To say that we did not feel a bit like celebrities would be a lie. It must have been particularly thrilling for those furling sail on the royal yard as the helicopter whirred and whizzed directly above them.

We had met Jan Rolus in Antigua during the Antigua Classic and indeed, he was the one who had encouraged us to sail to St. Martin for a few days. It had been about 2 months since we had last done major dry goods food provisioning and just as long since we had filled our engine tanks with diesel. Jan promised that all that and more could be accomplished easily in St. Martin. In fact, the island is primed for it and this, in part, is what makes St. Martin such a big attraction for sailing vessels. Jan and his wife Veerle run a sea school, do STCW training and a have a business assisting yachts when they arrive in St. Martin. They were incredibly helpful to us during our stay in St. Martin, asking only one favour in return – that we hold an open-ship afternoon for interested locals and visitors. We always enjoy sharing our home and way of life with others and so, it was an easy promise for us to make. Jan advertised the open-ship in the local paper and for five hours a steady stream of families, photographers, journalists and fellow sailors toured the ship. Just like Reunion, our crew were forced to pull their rusty French out of their back pockets and put it to use and just like Reunion those who took tours were thrilled with the efforts and the opportunity.

We stayed in St. Martin for two days. While there was indeed a multitude of errands to run and provisions to acquire, there was also opportunity to spend an afternoon or evening off the ship, taking in the sights of the island. The French side of the island is mountainous and for those among us who enjoy a good hike into the wilderness, St. Martin did not disappoint. The Dutch side, by comparison is relatively flat. It was a far better choice for those who wished to swim or snorkel or simply lounge in the sun. I, for one, indulged in one of my favourite activities: eating. The French are known the world over for their rich and delicate fare and this island was not an exception. Escargot, sharp cheese and fresh baked baguette? Oui! Merci beaucoup!

We steamed out of Marigot Harbour on April 28th, bound for St. Barths and the West Indies Regatta of traditional West Indian-built sailing vessels. We had been invited to join and to be the “mother ship.”

Loading provisions St Martin
Open ship day
Picton Castle under sail from helicopter
Picton Castle under sail photo from helicopter
Picton Castle under sail shot from helicopter

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