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January 9, 2009

A New French Revolution, Caribbean Style

The Columbie anchorage, with St. Martin in the background, is wonderful, but less so with a price tag of $900 U.S. a month.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We were born 210 years too late for the big French Revolution, and were otherwise occupied during the ‘Days of May’ revolution in Paris 40 years ago. But we’re not going to miss the St. Barth Sailor’s Revolution coming this Sunday afternoon at the Hotel de Collective.

The cause for the revolution is that the powers that be have jacked up the rates for moorings and anchoring so fast and so high that sailors are  . . . well, revolted. To give you an example of how absurd it’s become, as of January 1, we’re being charged nearly $900 U.S. a month for the privilege of anchoring our Leopard 45 catamaran. Not for docking or mooring her, mind you, but for anchoring her anywhere around the island. This marks the second year in a row that the rates were jacked up approximately 50% at the height of the season.

Bathed in blue, tiny St. Barth looks like the last place for a sailors’ ‘revolution’.

St. Barth Tourism
©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We can and will pay the new rate — but only for the remaining six weeks we’ll be here this year. If the price increase isn’t rescinded for next winter, we’ll probably sell the cat and begin sailing adventures in Thailand and Indonesia next winter. St. Barth is a fabulous place and we’ve met many great friends here, but too much is too much. Besides, there are some other fabulous places on the sea.

While such high rates are a financial burden to visitors such as us, the ones they hit the hardest are the 150 to 200 people who live on their boats and work on the island, many of whom just get by as it is. Like many affluent places, St. Barth doesn’t have anywhere near enough — actually, it doesn’t have any — affordable accommodations for all the service people required to staff the bars, restaurants and hotels/villas, and to work construction. So many of these people live on their boats. Such a rate increase is devastating to their finances, and losing them would put an even further strain on the businesses which are forever in search of such employees.

The Corossol anchorage is home to a number of service people for the island – people who can barely make ends meet as it is.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

As it is, those who are likely to suffer as much as the mariners and workers are the owners of restaurants and bars. That’s because nautical visitors, who are now having to pay the higher rate for anchoring, are in many cases simply cutting back on their spending in restaurants and bars by the same amount as the rate increase. So in essence the government is taking away from the local businesses that are one of their tax bases and which make the island so attractive to visitors.

Some are comparing what seems to be happening here to what happened in Nantucket. Those in the know say that 12 years ago Nantucket was a terrific place with lots of life, but over the last decade, when all the big money and glitz and glamour came in, the less affluent but more colorful people were driven out. "That once great island is now as rich and boring as can be, and I hate it," said one sailor who doesn’t want to be identified. "But if they keep increasing the anchoring and mooring fees on St. Barth, the same thing is going to happen."

While all this is, of course, a piffle compared to the other economic problems of the world, we’re old time ‘revolutionaries’ from the ’60s, and will be looking on with a sense of bemusement.

If you can’t identify this Belvedere-based yacht, you need to review recent issues of Latitude.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

In other St. Barth news, this morning we took the accompanying photo of a boat arriving from the direction of Antigua. Give yourself two demerits if you can’t identify her.

Shave and a Haircut for Ol’ Balclutha

Still lookin’ good 123 years after her launch, Balclutha will be hauled out in Alameda until spring.

© Capt. Jack Goldthorpe

No San Francisco landmark commemorates the city’s rich maritime history more dramatically than the 301-ft (LOA) square-rigger Balclutha. Built of steel in Scotland in 1886 to haul bulk grain, her half-century-long commercial career took her around Cape Horn 17 times. Since arriving at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park decades ago, she has been the centerpiece of the historic ship exhibits along the Hyde St. Pier, giving thousands of visitors per year insights into life at sea during the so-called Age of Sail. 

If you’ve noticed that this familiar icon has been conspicuously absent lately, fear not. She is merely in dry dock at Alameda’s Bay Ship and Yacht getting a minor overhaul. Until Balclutha returns to the Historical Park this spring the 136-ft gaff topsail schooner Bill of Rights will be subbing for her. Look for more on Balclutha in the February edition of Latitude 38.

San Diego Boat Show

We’re not sure if Thursday’s big opening day crowds at the San Diego Boat Show were there because of the economy — or in spite of it. The show opened at noon under sunny skies and warm breezes. By 2 p.m., boarding steps were surrounded by shoes and barefooted sailors were checking out the nice line-up of boats.

Of course the economy was on everyone’s mind, and these are challenging times, but the dealers we spoke with said activity has picked up. With good slips available in San Diego, and the Mexican border just a few miles to the south, it’s easy to see why the sailing dream inspires so many to head to the show in a continued ‘pursuit of happiness’. The show runs through this Sunday at the San Diego Convention Center.

Sailboat Washed Up on Ocean Beach

On or around New Year’s Eve, a 24-ft sailboat washed up on Ocean Beach. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Reed reports that Sherry Mae broke loose from her mooring — he could not confirm where she was moored — while her owner was out of town. The Coasties have been in contact with the owner, who is returning to the Bay this weekend to begin the removal process. The boat doesn’t seem to have suffered major damage but one wonders what kind of condition she’s in after 10 or more days aground. If you have any more info on the boat, please contact LaDonna.

Is This A Good Time To Cruise?

"Yes," say Rob and Mary Miller, who did the first Ha-Ha in ’94, then cruised most of the way around the world for the next 11 years aboard their 44-ft Maude I. Jones.

"We have been back from cruising for 4.5 years now, and with all the money we’ve lost on our real estate and in the stock market, we should have kept cruising. Fortunately, things don’t look so dismal when you’re in the islands, and the bright spot in our life is that we have a good gig on a big motoryacht that keeps us in the Bahamas for seven months of the year.

"But if anyone has the money and inclination to go cruising, now is the best time. Believe us, if we could even sell this worthless real estate and come out owing nothing, we’d be gone in a minute!"

By the way, we’re still asking cruisers for reports on what it costs them to cruise  each year. On the low end, we’ve received reports from an individual in the Caribbean who does it for less than $1,000 a month, and on the high end, from a couple who do it on about $10,000 a month. Those $350 dinners, hotels and rental cars add up! If you’re cruising, we’d love to hear what you do it on. Email Richard.

VM Materiaux upside down, sans bulb, while skipper Jean Le Cam waits for the arrival of friend and competitor Vincent Riou.
Oops! Forgetting to check his tidebook, the owner of Dionysus took a longer-than-expected lunch at Oyster Point Marina .