Overview image of the area:
We had a delightful 3 hour sail over from Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten to Anguilla's port of entry - Road Bay.
We arrived at lunch time so we had lunch and waited for the customs office to open. We waited a while, and finally we saw someone come out of the next door office, he told us the immigration officer was not in today and come back tomorrow. He said he wasn't sure if they would come in on Christmas day. Anyway, he said we could come ashore or whatever. Rather relaxed customs.
We went snorkeling in the afternoon, and the kids all went to the beach. Then we all went to our own boats. On PatiCat we made a nice dinner while listening to Christmas music with our Christmas lights on. The girls made Christmas decorations and hung them around the boat. We opened presents, and then watched a nice movie. It was a very nice Christmas eve.
Here's a picture of our tiny Christmas tree we picked up in St. Maarten - it has one cool feature: tiny fiber optic lines end up at the end of all the branches and it has a white light that blinks powered by two AA batteries. Also, a picture of PatiCat with its lights on (sorry it's not clearer - hard to take a nightshot from a dinghy).
The next morning, the customs office was open. We cleared in around 9:30 AM and Hotel California left to go to another part of the island for a few hours to treat their kids to a Christmas present. Patricia and Catherine played with their presents - including their new hammock.
Karen spent all day cooking Christmas dinner - the highlights were tasty dinner rolls made in the shape of snowmen and pumpkin pie. Frank did various maintenance activities on the boat. Hotel California showed up late in the afternoon, and we invited their kids over to play a while. They left at dinner time, and we had an excellent Christmas dinner outside on the cockpit table. A nice warm breeze blowing with a setting sun in the background.
On December 26, we left early with Hotel California and sailed downwind to Prickly Pear. Our plans were to do some diving on a large wreck nearby and go to the beach. We had invited Wilson Walch, the father on Hotel California, to join us diving since he is certified. We each picked up a mooring ball on East Prickly Pear, and started preparing our new diving gear.
As Frank began preparing, he quickly realized this was going to be challenging. Although, the challenge wasn't what he expected. We only had one dinghy to use as their dinghy was low on fuel, so we had to put 5 tanks, BCs, regulators, weights, fins, snorkels, masks, wet suits, food, radio, GPS, water, and 5 bodies in our 12 foot dinghy. Well, it didn't sink, and we could still move. But, at only about 2-3 knots.
Then we started to head east to our intended destination, which according to the map in the book was 3 nautical miles away. As soon as we got around the island, we faced the wind and waves on our nose. The waves were not particularly high, about 2-3 feet. But, with our heavy weight, we bashed through the waves and constantly had waves splash spray and water into our faces. Karen had to bail continously. It took over an hour to get to where the dive site was located. Frank took readings with the GPS, but the map had not given coordinates. We spent an hour looking for the dive mooring, and moved around and around. But, never found the mooring! Ugh! Talk about frustrated divers!
So, we came part way back until we noticed some incredible coral beneath us. We discovered a sandy patch and had Wilson snorkel to check the waters. He said the anchoring would be fine and there was tons of coral and fish. So, we dropped anchor and prepared our gear to dive. The girls had not dived since their certification 3 months earlier, and this was new gear. It took a while to get prepared, but finally everyone was in the water. Well, the girls started to go down, but they were having trouble clearing their ears. Patricia made it down to the bottom in 20 feet of water, but came back up because she was worried about her ears. Karen stayed with the girls to get them back in the dinghy.
Frank and Wilson decided to go for a short dive and explored the coral. In all the preparations, Frank managed to forget his underwater camera back on PatiCat. So, no pictures. But, the site was pristine coral reefs. Totally untouched. We may have been the only people to ever dive this site. There was elkhorn coral, brain coral, fire coral, sponges, sea fans galore, etc. There were trumpet fish, blue chromis, squirrel fish, damsels, trunkfish, etc. We found a fishing line caught on the bottom, so we know the site had been fished. Surprisingly, we didn't see any larger or unusual fish other than the trumpet fish. The trumpet fish hang vertically looking just like the rods of some of the coral, waiting to catch a passing fish unawares.
After our short dive, we returned to the dinghy and Karen and the girls had already put away their gear on the dinghy. So, the men climbed back in and we left to return to our boats. After some lunch, and washing down all our gear with freshwater, we took the dinghy over to the beautiful beach at Prickly Pear East. Unfortunately, we neglected the camera again. But, the kids from both boats had a great time swimming and building sand castles.
We left late in the afternoon and went to Crocus Bay on the main island of Anguilla for the night. On the way back, Frank took PatiCat to the dive site area to look again for the dive mooring. The seas were calm now, and the sun low in the sky. There was no sight of the mooring ball. Apparently, there is no mooring ball any more. Later, this was confirmed by asking a local dive master. No wonder we couldn't find it!
Crocus Bay was a delightful bay with very few other boats anchored. It was very calm while we were there, aided by light winds in the area - especially at night. Here are some pictures of PatiCat and Hotel California in the bay:
On December 27, the day after the Frustrating First Dive, the kids and Karen and Elizabeth went ashore to explore Anguilla's main village and grocery shop. Wilson and Frank found out a local dive shop was taking a boatload of people to a nearby dive site with the wreck called MV Commerce. They didn't have room for us on the boat, but told us we were welcome to dive the site if we had our own equipment. Frank and Wilson made it to the site a few minutes after they started their dive. They let us tie our dinghy to their boat, and we headed below. It was an excellent dive site, and we had a great time. Here are some photos from the dive...
Next to Crocus Bay was a small beautiful bay, appropriately called Little Bay, with colorful cliffs which reached down and below the water. A bunch of us went over and did a snorkel later the same day. Here are some pictures of Little Bay. Note, the last picture shows some fossils in the bottom of the cliffs.
On December 28th, we left early in the morning to leave Anguilla and head to the French side of St. Martin. On the way, Frank dropped a fishing line and actually caught some fish! Both were game fish, and both were just a bit young to keep - but, still fun to catch. The first we took a picture of, but have yet to identify its type - anyone know?
The second fish was a thrill, we believe it was a young Wahoo. Beautiful colored back (blueish green) with sharp pointy teeth and a long snout. If fought so hard, we thought it would slow the boat down which was under sail. It was a bit bigger than the other fish, but still young for a Wahoo (which can reach over 150 pounds).
We arrived in Marigot, Saint Martin at about 10:00 on the 28th. Wilson and Frank went to enter customs. It was Saturday morning, so the normal customs office was closed. There was a small booth at the Ferry Dock with two customs officers. They had us fill out a single sheet with a carbon copy with the usual information, and then made a cursory glance at our passports, stamped one of the information sheets and handed it all back to us. That was it...they didn't even want to stamp our passports!
More information on our stay in Saint Martin will be added later.