Sailing from Saint Martin

Krister, Sven, and Eva

Krister, Sven, and Eva

We recently got back from our last planned international adventure: a week-long sailboat charter beginning in Saint Martin. St.Martin, is 230 miles east of Puerto Rico and is a unique island because it is split between the Dutch and the French. It has the only airstrip in the smaller Caribbean islands that can support a jumbo jet. In fact, the beach is right at the end of the runway. Many tourists pose on the beach with a huge plane immediately overhead. You may have seen this sight on postcards, magazines or notorious YouTube uploads. (If you are looking for the next winners of the Darwin awards, a quick search will reveal some top contestants.) We did not visit that particular beach.

On board with us were our dear friends from Sweden, Sven and Eva, a good friend of their’s named Krister, Jim’s son Brian and 6-year-old grandson, Jackson.

The crew.

The crew

Almost every island in this part of the Caribbean is a different country, unlike our previous sailing trips, so we had the added complication of clearing immigration and customs several times. We visited Sint Eustatius (Statia) and Saint Barthélemy (St. Barth) and then returned to Saint Martin. St. Barth is known to cater to mega-yachts. Huge fancy power and sail boats were all around with large crews working the decks and garages in their hulls for jet skis and zodiacs. The port town of Gustavia is where today’s jet-set French go to see and be seen. Interestingly, especially for our Scandinavian friends, St. Barth was the only colony Sweden ever had. Gustavia is named after the Swedish King Gustav III and all the streets in town have both a French and a Swedish name.

The jagged dormant volcano on Statia.

The jagged dormant volcano on Statia.

Unlike St. Barth, Statia is blue-collar, not frequented by tourists, and is a little rough around the edges. Historically, Statia was one of the busiest trade ports in the Caribbean and changed hands 22 times! In 1780, the British declared war on Holland and sent Admiral Rodney to claim Statia. The wealthy merchants and traders did not want to share their profit. Our cruising guide said they held many “funerals” burying coffins full of gold until Rodney caught wind of the scam. After British occupation, the island never returned to it’s full glory. A series of storms ruined the sea wall and warehouses right at water’s edge. Today, the rubble acts like an artificial reef and is a good place to snorkel.

Snorkeling right off the boat.

Snorkeling right off the boat.

If you have been following us all along, you know that we love to snorkel. The things that made this trip special were the predominance of turtles, barracuda hanging out under our boat, many colorful starfish, in addition to the wide variety of coral and fish. Jackson took to snorkeling in a big way, fearlessly exploring reefs and walls at every opportunity. Going snorkeling with someone for the first time heightened our joy and enthusiasm for the wonder of all that is underwater.

Mojito Woman setting up the bar.

Mojito Woman setting up the bar.

One afternoon while anchored off Anse de Colombier (Saint Barth), a woman came swimming by with a large dry bag and a dive float. When I waved, she asked if I wanted a mojito! A minute later, she climbed up our swim ladder, hauled up her bag, and was taking orders. She and her husband are known as Mojito Woman and Mojito Man. They swim around busy harbors serving made-to-order mojitos. She closed the deal by offering non-alcoholic ones and a free one for Jackson. She pulled all the ingredients from her bag, including ice, fresh mint, fresh strawberries, lime wedges, and bottles of Perrier. They were delicious! Ten minutes later, she was back in the water and off to the next boat.

Enjoying the view and shade.

Enjoying the view and shade.

Aside from the unexpected mojitos, the other culinary delight we discovered was a new take on banana pancakes. The recipe is so tasty, easy, and healthy, you can find it below.

Captain Butterfinger’s Banana Pancakes

  • Beat one egg
  • Mash one banana
  • Whisk the two together
  • Cook with a little butter in a frypan or on a griddle just like any other pancake
  • Makes one pancake
Captain Jackson at the helm.

Captain Jackson at the helm.

As always, you can see more pictures from our trip by looking at the full gallery here or keep scrolling down and you can view the map here to brush up on your Caribbean geography.

Jackson and some nurse sharks at a nature center.

Jackson and some nurse sharks at a nature center.

Sven, Brian, and Jackson

Sven, Brian, and Jackson

We saw three wrecked catamarans washed ashore. A reminder of the annual hurricane season.

We saw three wrecked catamarans washed ashore. A reminder of the annual hurricane season.

Sven and Eva in the forward lounge.

Sven and Eva in the forward lounge.

Jackson and Brian take the helm.

Jackson and Brian take the helm.

The waters around Statia are busy from a crude oil transfer station. These tugs fired up and went to work at night, near where we were moored.

The waters around Statia are busy from a crude oil transfer station. These tugs fired up and went to work at night, near where we were moored.

Jackson and Sven enjoying the sun, wind, and view.

Jackson and Sven enjoying the sun, wind, and view.

Megan and Krister. We alternated days at the helm.

Megan and Krister. We alternated days at the helm.

One afternoon Jackson borrowed our camera to take pictures of what caught his attention. This bronze sculpture in Gustavia is looking right at him.

One afternoon Jackson borrowed our camera to take pictures of what caught his attention. This bronze sculpture in Gustavia is looking right at him.

On a photo shoot with Jackson in Gustavia.

On a photo shoot with Jackson in Gustavia.

Jackson and Brian exploring from the dingy. Gustavia, St. Barth.

Jackson and Brian exploring from the dingy. Gustavia, St. Barth.

Sun setting over our night anchorage in Gustavia.

Sun setting over our night anchorage in Gustavia.

Mojito Woman in search of the next customer.

Mojito Woman in search of the next customer.

Mojito Woman earned Jackson's endorsement.

Mojito Woman earned Jackson’s endorsement.

Scandanavians on watch.

Scandanavians on watch.

Krister in the groove.

Krister in the groove.

Fantastic cloud castles seen on the flight home.

Fantastic cloud castles seen on the flight home.

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Daytona 500

The three siblings at Castillo de San Marcos, Saint Augustine.

The three siblings at Castillo de San Marcos, Saint Augustine.

We recently spent a week in northern Florida with Megan’s brothers. Megan’s oldest brother is a huge Nascar fan, specifically of the driver Danica Patrick. The impetus of this trip was to attend the Daytona 500 and have some time together as siblings.

All the cars, teams, sponsors, and crews lined up before the race begins.

All the cars, teams, sponsors, and crews lined up before the race begins.

The Daytona 500 is quite a production. There is no official count of attendees but estimates say 250,000! We parked in a huge field miles away and rode the school bus shuttle service to the track. We had seats between turn four and the front straight, which gave us a view of cars jockeying for position coming out of the corner, cars braking hard to enter the pits, and the hordes filling the stands on all sides. The Daytona 500 has been going on since 1959 in it’s current form. Before then, the “track” consisted of the highway, local avenues, and the beach. This year, 43 drivers competed in 200 laps, or 500 miles, averaging about 160mph. The Daytona 500 is unique because it is the first race of the season and the largest event for the season, unlike most sports where the largest event happens at the end of the season. Twenty million people watch this race on television!

Before the race began at the Daytona 500. Adam is wearing one of his Nascar fan shirts.

Before the race began at the Daytona 500. Adam is wearing one of his Nascar fan shirts.

I have to say it was more amusing than I expected. The cars whiz by at amazing speeds, often around 200mph! The noise and rush of wind with the pack’s passing is powerful. The crowd was generally enthusiastic, jovial, and fairly mild-mannered. The cars maneuvering into the pits while scrubbing 150mph of speed in the length of three football fields was exciting. Every type of junk food imaginable was available for purchase. Gaudy fan memorabilia was being bought as if it was in style (and according to the crowd, it was).

Waiting in one of the many snaking lines to board a bus back to our parked car after the Daytona 500.

Waiting in one of the many snaking lines to board a bus back to our parked car after the Daytona 500.

After the race, we waited in line for two hours to board the school buses that shuttled the masses back to our parked cars. Then we waited in the line of cars exiting the parking lot for quite a while. I lost track of time. Let’s just say, the race ended about 4:30pm and we didn’t eat dinner until after 8:30pm and that was still in the town of Daytona Beach! We appreciated that the crowd stayed relaxed and in good spirits during the long waits. We also appreciated having packed snack food.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

In addition to the race, we got a chance to explore some other attractions. Saint Augustine is celebrating it’s 450th anniversary this year, making it the oldest continuously-inhabited European-established settlement in the USA. We walked through the small defensive fort the Spanish built when they first came. While hiking at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, we saw dozens of bird species, reams of Spanish Moss, swampy trails left from belly-dragging alligators, and droppings from wild bison. We walked the beach and stuck our feet in the ocean, despite it feeling quite cold out.  On a tour of an Anheuser-Busch Brewery, we became mesmerized by the miles of whirring conveyer belts holding boxes, bottles, and cans. A lively docent tour in the quirky Amelia Island History Museum taught us a new angle on the area’s history. Best of all, we had lots of time together for telling stories and laughter.

Old oak tree in downtown Jacksonville.

Old oak tree in downtown Jacksonville.

You can see more pictures from this trip if you keep scrolling or go to the gallery here.

Jesse and Megan

Jesse and Megan

Boneyard Beach is full of dead trees and root wads.

Boneyard Beach is full of dead trees and root wads.

Boneyard Beach, Big Talbot Island State Park

Boneyard Beach, Big Talbot Island State Park

Jesse and Adam outside Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

Jesse and Adam outside Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

Anheuser-Busch Brewery

Anheuser-Busch Brewery

A flock of birds taking off at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

A flock of birds taking off at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

Daytona 500. The cars are sedate and well-spaced because they are following the pace car.

Daytona 500. The cars are sedate and well-spaced because they are following the pace car.

Thunderbirds roar over the racetrack, Daytona 500.

Thunderbirds roar over the racetrack, Daytona 500.

Us under the corroding pier at Saint Augustine Beach.

Us under the corroding pier at Saint Augustine Beach.

Walking on the beach

Walking on the beach

Shorebirds and gulls resting on Amelia Island.

Shorebirds and gulls resting on Amelia Island.

Armadillo, scurrying away from us at Amelia Island.

Armadillo, scurrying away from us at Amelia Island.

Behind The Scenes with Plan B

It has been a year since we left home. Multiple people have asked how we’ve done it, if we like it, and what we’ve learned. You’ll find some of our travel, budget, and packing tips below. Please feel free to leave additional questions or suggestions as a comment.

General

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A simple calendar with a list of what we want to do and what happened each day.

  • Don’t be too attached to your plans. With open eyes, ears, and noses sometimes the world will present you with an opportunity that may become the highlight of your trip—as long as you are willing to let go of the plans you walked out the door with.
  • Always stop in the Tourist Information office. In addition to picking up the usual maps and pamphlets, showing genuine curiosity for the area often leads to stellar recommendations from the staff. Some of our best day trips, meals, and walks are from asking a staff person what they would do with a free day/weekend/afternoon.
  • Stay organized with planning. When we arrive in a new place, we post a one-page, blank, hand-drawn monthly calendar on the wall. At the header, we list the things we would like to do. As we make commitments, those go on their respective day. As each day passes, we write in what actually happened. This calendar becomes the outline for journaling and the blog.
  • Every time we book something, we keep a couple copies of the details (time, place, confirmation code, etc). We each have a copy in our email, a file is saved to our laptop, and the details are written on our paper calendar.
  • Edit photographs at least every two weeks to keep only the good ones.
  • Know common local scams. Guide books and travel websites can be a source of what to expect. For example, we read about two common set-ups for pickpockets in Paris. Within five minutes of exiting the train station, we were approached with one of them (a petition for English-speakers to help handicapped children). The next day as we walked the banks of the Seine, the other one happened three times in ten minutes (a gold ring that we “dropped”). By being aware of these before we arrived, we didn’t become victims.
  • Read more than travel guides. Reading fiction, short stories, and essays by local authors increases our understanding of the culture.
  • Find out what is going on: concerts, street fairs, festivals, races, etc. Pick up a weekly paper. Ask around. Read the posters plastered to walls. Pause at a community board in the grocery or library to see what’s on.
  • Use the Chrome browser to translate local webpages into English. The translation is often clunky, but lets you read and explore information that otherwise would be inaccessible.
  • Rick Steves is a great resource for Europe. He has a website and app with free videos, interviews, old radio shows, and walking tours. We have particularly enjoyed the walking tours for everything from museums, to parks, to historic neighborhoods.

Budget

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Our shopping bags. The red one is stuffed into its pouch.

  • Slow down. This has been our SOP. You don’t pack every day so there is time to seek out the music you hear wafting from blocks away, time to have a snack at the local bakery you didn’t know existed, time to sit in the sun and watch the people go by. Spending weeks in a place allows you to become a temporary local, return to the same cafe multiple times, develop a relationship with the cheese vendor, and attend events you see posters hanging around town for. Booking accommodation for a month is often the same price as 3 weeks or less. Buying a pound of butter is the same price as a stick. You spend significantly less money at a slow pace.
  • When booking onward travel, find out the location-specific equivalent of Expedia. In Sweden, we ran the same possible flights through our go-to booking conglomerates and our Swedish friend’s go-to page. The same exact flights on his page were about one third of the prices we could find.
  • If you are going to eat out, do it midday. Lunch is cheaper than dinner and has a more casual dress code. Daily specials are often tasty and a real bargain. Plus, it requires us to sit down and relax in the middle of the day, regardless of where we are.
  • Our home public library has a large selection of e-books and videos. With the Kindle and laptop, we are able to download these anywhere we can connect to wi-fi. Most of the guide books we’ve used have come from the library and 80% of our pleasure reading has also been free through the library.

Packing

A tidy suitcase with packing cubes.

A tidy suitcase with packing cubes.

  • Packing cubes are simple cloth zippered bags. They come in different sizes. We each have about five in our luggage and use them to stay tidy. For example, warm clothes to wear in cold weather are all in the same cube. Toiletries are in another. They make packing and unpacking quick, neat, and orderly.
  • Small tote bags. We have two bags that fold into themselves, each to be smaller than a tennis ball and very light. We often use these multiple times a day. They save us money in places that charge for grocery bags. They are endlessly useful: at the beach to carry wet bathing suits, when we come across a great deal on ripe pineapples, or to hold our lunch before we eat it on the train.
  • If the water out of the faucet is questionable, a water purifier not only will save you lots of money on bottled water but also will save you from wasting all those plastic bottles. We have one that takes out even the smallest nasties and can conveniently be set up with a gravity feed, so it doesn’t require manual pumping.
  • A headlamp guides you to the bathroom, lets you explore a cave, allows you to read at night, and becomes indispensable when the power cuts out and you’ve just sat down to dinner or stepped into the shower.
  • Sheets are heavy but can guarantee a better night’s sleep. They protect sensitive skin from scratchy synthetics. In Europe, we found many places only provided a comforter and it was too hot to sleep under but too cold to sleep without—a sheet was the perfect balance.
  • Laundry facilities are not everywhere, but you can always do your own if you have a drain plug (many sinks lack a stopper). We have one of those flat rubbery ones that will cover any hole.Fifteen feet or more of line can make a clothesline on which to dry your newly-washed clothes.
  • Our Camelbak daypack comes out with us almost every day. We stay hydrated and are able to carry whatever else we might need for the day: snacks, extra clothes, camera, etc.
  • A sarong can become a picnic blanket, beach towel, shower towel, shade cloth, changing screen, or even a dress.
  • Early in the trip, we made a packing list. Since we usually stay in a place for a month we seriously move in. The list doesn’t include things like clothes but does include all the things we are likely to not see when leaving a place, like electrical adapters, dirty laundry, the dish scraper, shampoo, snacks for the road, the alarm clock. In fact, the only time we left something behind was when we both had colds and didn’t run through the list.
  • Even the worst cheap knife becomes usable with a diamond sharpener. Since we’re making most of our meals, being able to cut things is necessary. Give Jim five minutes with the Diamond M and he can get an edge on the worst blades.
  • A lightweight, bluetooth, compact speaker makes anywhere feel like home. We can listen to the morning news on NPR or our favorite tunes.
  • While in the tropics, pack a mosquito net that has been pretreated with mosquito-repellent. Having about 100 feet of line will guarantee that you can find ways to string it up and sleep soundly. A king size model can be adapted to fit a double, queen, or two twins.
  • Before leaving we got a a global telephone. In each place we stay, we pick up a local SIM card and are able to make local calls. This isn’t essential but has been very handy. It has been used mainly to call/text with our host. With a small data plan, we’ve been able to check bus schedules on the fly and have a back-up when the wi-fi is spotty or not functioning.
  • Simple flat slippers have become our best friends. We always leave shoes at the door to keep our place cleaner. Slippers mitigate a cold or grimy floor and make you feel cozy and at home.

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There are a few things that we wished we brought along but did not need enough to pick up en route:

  • a compact world atlas for planning the next legs of our journey and brushing up on geography
  • compact high-quality zoom binoculars
  • more toothbrush heads for our electric toothbrush as we were unable to find them in many countries

If you have any additional questions for us or suggestions from your own experience, please leave them below as comments.