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April 26th, 2002
Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

A funny thing happened on the way to the market yesterday. We got caught in rush hour traffic and just decided to sit it out at the Floating Bar, which seems to be quickly becoming our local haunt. We originally discovered this place in our search for our boat. On our first night here on the island, we were over at the Peg Leg Pub asking the locals if they knew of any boats for sale, and this guy Norbert (an old salty dog sort with a heavy German accent) gave us a lead. He said (insert accent and thick cigarette smoke cloud here) to , "…go down to the Floating Bar ya, and ask for Tamara ya. Tell her you want to take a look at Collin's boat there at the dock ya and tell her Norbert sent you, ya?." The boat ended up being in need of far more work than we would've had time to tend to if we want to leave before hurricane season, but it did give us a chance to discover this great local haunt.

So last night, we stationed ourselves at the same corner we had sat at the night before for our $1 Carib beers and $2 Captain and Cokes. What we've since discovered seems to be the usual crowd was there: two blonde bartenders, some chain-smoking woman with red hair and a thick southern accent, and a hoard of weathered old sailors slurring out stories and tipping back beers. And of course, the very obvious tourist or two. A barefoot guy to our left strikes up a conversation with us. Turns out Jeremy is a software programmer about our age, living aboard down here in St. Maarten, though he spends the occasional summer back in New York in search of women. Seems the local talent here is scarce and what you can find is usually already taken.

Our conversation turned to sailing and I found myself not only learning a ton from listening to him and Curt talk, but even being able to contribute here and there.

Some stuff I learned:
· You don't want to swim over in Simpson Bay. The water is brown for a reason- perhaps because most boats here don't have holding tanks and everything just goes straight overboard. This is perfectly legal.
· You can bomb a boat for roaches- 2 should do the trick for a boat our size
· To get good wine at great prices, head over to the French side of island
· The Soggy Dollar bar has great food for good deal. He eats there often for about $7-8USD a meal.
· The squalls that were my topic of worry yesterday aren't a big deal in his opinion. "Take in some sail and use the wind to get you where you're going quicker." (coincidentally, as I write this, I think we're in one… it's pouring rain outside)
· Cell phones work, but it's touch and go per island
· Tying your dinghy to the dock isn't good enough- lock it with a chain whenever possible. He budgets $3,000 a year just to replace dinghies and/or their outboard engines (in life living aboard, if you think of the sailboat as your house, then your dinghy is like a car- taking you to shore to run errands, do laundry, grocery shopping, etc.).

We also discovered that the community here is much smaller than we originally thought. Turns out Jeremy knows the old German guy Norbert, as well as Norbert's friends Collin and Tamara. He seems impressed to find we know of them and gives us the inside line: Collins the big playboy on the island, and Tamara is his girlfriend (and one of the blonde bartenders at the Floating Bar). Also turns out Jeremy's anchored across from our boat broker Heather. And just about the time we discover this, Heather saunters up behind us and we have the opportunity to officially introduce these two neighbors who have actually never met.

We hadn't seen Heather since our offer on Force Five was accepted by Sean, the current owner. She was full of congratulations and invited us on her boat for a drink. While Jeremy declined, Curt and I were both excited to see her 54' sailboat, Pretty Woman (I think made by the same maker as ours- John Robertson Yachts in South Africa). It was funny to say good-bye to Jeremy without exchanging phone numbers or emails and knowing that we'll have no problem finding him later so he and Curt can play guitars together. It's like going back in time to experience what life must've been like before phones, and faxes, and email and all.

Heather, Curt and I clamored aboard her dinghy and sped out under the bridge toward the spot where her boat is anchored. Pretty Woman is stunning! Heather has done some racing with her, and apparently Scotiabank must've been a sponsor, because it's emblazoned along the side. This boat's cockpit (the outside part where you steer from and spend a great deal of your time) felt bigger than our whole boat! We had rum drinks and shared life stories. She showed us a picture of her boyfriend, which I discovered Curt and I had seen the night before at the Floating Bar. It led to an invitation to a party there tonight for her boyfriend's father, George. Neither of us ones to turn down an invitation, you can guess where we'll be tonight ;)

Back on shore, we trekked over to the Chinese restaurant next to our old hotel. We found ourselves in the same seats we had been last time we ate there, and chatting with a new character sitting in the same spot where we had met "Mr. Baker" on our last visit. "Mr. Baker" distributes Sutter Home on the island and says he'll sell us cases of red wine to provision the boat… leave it to Curt to sniff out a guy like that.

And then there's our new dog. Did we forget to mention him?! Malvin the Anti-Calvin. He's everywhere here… kind of like that cartoon character Jeep from the old Popeye cartoons. Malvin is somewhere around a foot and a half, to two feet tall and a light brown color. His muzzle and toes fade to black and he's got light eyes. Sometimes when you see him he's got a white spot on his chest, and sometimes he weighs a little more than others. We'll be driving along and see him resting under a tree, and then a few yards later he's running along the side of the road, and 20 minutes later we'll be on the other side of the island in Phillipsburg and he'll be sitting in front of a restaurant waiting for scraps. It's the craziest thing! Last night we finally decided we should start documenting this elusive dog to see if he'd actually show up in a photograph and share with you all places we see him.

So we're tooling along on our way home and Malvin the Anti-Calvin is running down a back alley. I start hitting Curt in the arm, "LOOK! There's Malvin! Quick- take a picture, take a picture!" So Curt nearly tips the car on two wheels as we skid to a halt and he jumps out of the car to snap a shot with the digital. "Did you get it, did you get it?" Curt is running back to the car, "I think I got it, I think I got it!" The next thing I know Curt is tumbling toward the ground buns over ears, and totally eats it in a pot-hole! His knee is bleeding and is all scuffed up and he's claiming he didn't fall, the dog bit him. So if you meet any of our new friends here, that's our story- not that he tripped running back to the car.

(Note: Quick break here as we just glanced up to see the rain has let-up and the sun has turned the sky the bright orange color of sherbert ice cream)

We just got back from the beach where we watched the most amazing sunset. We took a picture to capture the moment and ended up taking about ten because it just kept getting more and more beautiful. Now that we've finally had a moment to reflect on the past few weeks, and moreover the last few days- we agreed that we must report back that this is so much better than we had hoped and could've ever even imagined. I'm sure we have some rough and scary times ahead, but for now, it feels like heaven.

So now we're off to George's party at the Floating Bar. Heather tells us he made Goolash for this special occasion. We'll have to keep it tame since we have Force Five's test sail scheduled for tomorrow morning at 8:30. Sean and his wife will be taking us out to sea to show us the ins and outs of what will soon be our new home.

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