19 April 2018
We just had a surprisingly rip-snorting sail from Iles des Saintes to Deshaies, Guadeloupe. We expected the first hour to be rough, crossing the open water from the islands to the “mainland,” but once we were in the big island’s lee, we thought things would calm down. First there was the long period of wrap-around wind and confused waves. But then for a few minutes the wind dropped under 10 knots, and the waves flattened out. I almost went below to get my needlepoint. But then the wind picked up again, and I mean it really picked up—I saw a couple gusts of 42 knots. Another day of the forecasts missing the mark!
Deshaies was crowded, but we tucked into a great spot in the center of the mooring field. The moorings are free, and several boats seem to be abandoned on them—one is upside down and partially submerged! Yet somehow transient boats manage to pick them up, too; there’s a magic formula we haven’t learned. The wind was howling even in the harbor, so much so that we tried to time hoisting the dinghy up off the foredeck (its traveling position) during a perceived lull, and it still knocked Tom off his feet with a sudden gust! We went ashore later in the afternoon to check out of customs…unless there was evidence of filming for Death in Paradise season 8 having started. We walked up to the building we’d learned is used as the police station, and there was the sign declaring it Honoré Police! Tom took my picture next to it. Then we went down to the real police station, which is very modern and not nearly as spacious or picturesque, and asked when filming would begin. Not until April 23! Well, much as we’d love to see it, we can’t hang around that long. So we cleared out. French customs is so civilized—do it yourself on a designated computer in a shop, restaurant, or even a customs office, pay 2€ to 5€, print the form and sign it. Other countries, fill out tedious forms, go to the customs desk, pay up to $100EC, then the immigration desk, then often the port authority, pay another $40EC or so. Antigua does use eSeaClear, which is an online system where you enter all the boat and crew information once, and then just create arrival and departure information at the appropriate times. When Tom (only the vessel’s master can go ashore) goes to customs, all the information they need is in their computer. The other countries all take part in SailClear, and I dutifully file my arrival plans online, but invariably when I show up at the customs office, their computer is down and the forms are out.
Thursday, April 12, and we’re anchored in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. Today’s sail was a bit more like I expected, although slightly higher winds and seas. Maybe I’m just expecting it to be higher than predicted now! We sustained a speed over ground of 9 to 10 knots for a very long time, so we hardly minded the errant wave dousing us occasionally. Prevail, a 65 foot hi tech boat flying the Camden Yacht Club burgee (!), sailed in tandem with us, barely edging past us at the harbor entrance. Turns out they were just flying a jib—no main—because the mate was down below, sick with food poisoning. Arrived too late to get to customs, so Tom went in the morning. He also stopped at the sailmaker’s shop to see Franklyn Braithwaite, to find out how much it will cost to put new foam in our cockpit cushions, now that it’s finally arrived. The price is good, and he arranges to be picked up at the dinghy dock at 8:30 in the morning with the cushions. Because we fly our Ocean Cruising Club burgee, a man came by to invite us to an OCC cocktail gathering at the Antigua Yacht Club at 1700 hours, so we enjoyed a bit of sociability that evening.
Saturday, April 14, Tom headed to shore with the floppy old cushions and I stayed on the boat to recaulk some seams in the forward head—there’s no end to the fun of living on a boat! When Tom returned with the cushions, our comfort level increased a hundred-fold. We went from sitting on Wonderbread sandwiches, where our butts really felt the fiberglass underneath, to sitting on a luxurious three inches of sturdy foam. Bliss! (We didn’t do it sooner because the foam wasn’t available anywhere we went; Franklyn ordered it last November.)
Sunday we had an easy motor to Jolly Harbour, dead downwind. We were fortunate to pick up mooring #2, close enough to the marina to pick up the WiFi signal. Once again we were invited to an OCC party, by a roving rear commodore of the OCC, Jonathan Lloyd, where we met a young family from Sweden who have sailed around the world. Their boys knew almost no English when they left home, but are quite fluent now! Following that we went to dinner with friends Jerry Mashaw and Anne MacClintock, authors of a wonderful book about their first experience sailing offshore to the Caribbean—Seasoned by Salt.
Monday, April 16, we were at the fuel dock before they opened at 8:00 to fill up on diesel and water. Then back to the mooring for a pancake breakfast, then in to customs to clear out, and to Epicurean—the grocery store by which all others are judged—for a provisioning before we face the unknown (the Virgin Islands). We had a final dinner at Melini’s, where I warned Adrian, the public half of the team—Mark is in the kitchen, that we’d be using up the last of our EC dollars. And I did: I was left with one EC nickel and a Visa charge of about $14 US. Sweet Continental kisses from Adrian, and one more final goodbye. This final leave-taking is hard when we’ve made so many endearing relationships.
We were off the mooring at 0615 headed to St. Barth’s, hoisting the main in the calm of Jolly Harbour. The wind was too light and too far aft to really sail, and although we did roll out the jib and try, we motorsailed the 10 hours. Tom had to put a preventer on the main, because it kept slamming back and forth with the flukey wind. The seas were a bit rolly, but I managed to work on my needlepoint by looking down to place the needle, then looking up for the follow- through. I wasn’t going to just sit idle for ten hours! The anchorage at Gustavia was horribly rolly, but we had no choice. In the morning we had to do everything slowly and carefully, holding on to protect ourselves against the roll. Getting the motor on the dinghy to go ashore in between rain squalls was a real challenge. It was about 11:00 am before we finally managed to get to the customs office. The man in charge there is terrific—Jacques. Unlike the computer system at the other French island/departments, where you have to type all the information when you enter and again when you leave, and when you re-enter, etc., in St. Barth’s you enter it once, enter a password, and you’re done. Our boat information was still in there from two years ago, but Jacques had to remind me of the password—with the French keyboard, it wasn’t my usual password. We spent some time there using the free WiFi, then lunch at a nice café on the harbor, a few groceries at a great store, then back to the wildly pitching Bravo. We decided to up anchor and move to the marine park moorings at Colombier, where we found lots of available moorings, no roll, clear turquoise water, lovely sand beaches, and quiet. A lovely night.
Bequia, St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique...
10 April 2018
When people send me emails, they often include phrases like, “Enjoy your sailing!” And yet we’ve not had a perfect 10 sail. The inter island passage-making tends to be rather boisterous and our coastwise transiting in the lee of these tall islands is more often motorsailing. But Wednesday’s sail from Carriacou to Bequia (March 28) was five-and-a-half hours of lovely what-it’s-all-about sailing. Ahh.
Back in Bequia, and it happens to be Easter Regatta Week, so it’s crowded. It’s a strange experience being in the midst of a regatta that Tom’s not racing in! A wide range of boats, from J-24s to traditional Carriacou wooden hand-built boats, and hot racing boats of all sizes. We spent time with Harriet and TL Linskey, the founders of Hands Across the Sea, debriefing me on all the school visits I’d made and me asking questions—as a new board member of Hands, there’s so much I want to learn. And we made several trips into town, getting fresh produce from the market stands, other provisions at Doris’s incredible store, and using the WiFi at the Whaleboner (a bit of lunch, an iced tea, each day something different to pay our way). But night after night of the regatta brought ear-shattering amplified music from one restaurant or another, until we just had to get out of there.
I’m writing on Easter Monday now, which is a holiday in the Caribbean, and we had another gorgeous sailing day from Bequia to Marigot Bay, St. Lucia—62 miles at an average of 8.4 knots. For about 3 hours we were “racing” a 72-foot ketch, Celtic Spirit, flying Genoa, staysail, mizzen, full main, and professional crew of four running around trimming sails, while we had a main and our little #3 jib, and I was down below sleeping off a headache. After 2 ½ hours they finally pulled ahead of us, but when the wind turned flukey and Tom started gaining on them again, they furled their jib and started motoring. Tom called them on the VHF and said, “That was fun! You’re the only boat that’s beat us all winter!”
“You didn’t make it easy,” they replied.
While I was checking into customs, Tom walked down the dock to where Celtic Spirit had tied up, transferred his pictures to them, met the owner and crew, and had a good chat. Meanwhile, I was filling out the long customs form with Mr. Grumpy who was working on a holiday (but watching a video while he waited for me to fill out the form!). There was no one at the immigration desk or at the port authority office, so I’d have to come back in the morning to take care of those.
Marigot Bay in St. Lucia is one of our favorite places, with a quiet inner harbor that’s so nicely protected there’s never a swell (in our experience). The marina is well-run, the harborside restaurant is decent, the pool is lovely (although I didn’t have a chance to swim this time), and we have a friend there, Laney (see previous blog about being at Marigot), so it’s a sort of homecoming when someone’s there to wave hello. Tom and I both got haircuts at the Sea-Side Barber (see the picture gallery), and he did a great job! I heard a long story about the local dog who kept “making little dogs” right there on the beach, and people would come along and take them as soon as she “made” them, and she’d be lonely. She finally figured out that if she made her little dogs underneath the restaurant, no one would know. But of course when the “little dogs” wandered out, people would take them. There was one dog left when a woman from a boat fell in love with it and asked people whose dog it was, and she was told it was no one’s. She really wanted that cute dog, but her husband said no way were they having a dog on the boat. But she really wanted that dog, so she paid someone to bring it alongside in a dinghy and help her smuggle it aboard as they were leaving. She was going to tell her husband after they were long gone; she figured, “What could he do then?” Tom and I pictured that poor puppy getting offshore swimming lessons, but hoped the poor husband sucked it up and accepted the hassle of going through customs with an animal. An animal with no veterinary papers. Anyhow, I got a great haircut.
Tuesday, April 3, we expected delivery of a prescription Laura sent from Boston via DHL, and my email notifications showed its arrival and clearance through customs. We checked out of customs (actually forgetting that we had the package arriving that day), but had a 24-hour grace period before we had to leave. The marina office called DHL to see when it would be delivered…tomorrow morning. Oh, dear. But still okay, as long as it’s early. Ten a.m., nothing. Ten-thirty, the marina’s agent has picked up the package from DHL, but has no transportation for getting it to the marina. What? Marina office asks him to please take it back to DHL, because they’ve already said they’re going to deliver it…but that was supposed to be this morning. By 2:00 p.m. with no package, it’s too late for us to depart for Martinique. We’re informed that the package will be delivered in the morning. I have to face Mr. Grumpy and tell him our sad tale. I include the fact that the prescription is for headaches, and this kind of stressful situation gives me a headache. He doesn’t quite smile, but he does simply change the date of departure, tell me to take it easy and not worry about it, and let him know if we’re not able to leave the next day. One hurdle successfully cleared! When I get back to the marina office (next door), I learn that someone will indeed be able to bring the package this afternoon, maybe in an hour. We pay for another night on the mooring, and go back to the boat to wait, not really expecting to see the package until morning. But wait! What’s this we see? Someone walking to the marina office with a large envelope tucked under his arm! “Bravo! The package is here!” squawks the radio. We’re in like a flash, pick it up without giving them a chance to try charging us for their agent’s work (they didn’t try), and hustle the precious ($12 prescription, $95 delivery, $30 extra night) pills to the boat. Added bonus: Laura has enclosed six photographs of Charlotte! As my late mother would say, “Pictures you can hold in your hand!” We had an exquisite sunset to end the day—I posted it on Facebook and got lots of nice comments.
Thursday, April 5, we set off for St. Anne, Martinique. Laney had someone bring us a boxful of luscious pastries before we cast off, and he and Ford, the dockmaster, were on shore waving goodbye. Boy, if that don’t bring a tear to de eye! The forecast was 13-16, gusts to 21. The reality was 15-20, gusts to 25, building to 20-25, gusts to 30, for a 30 nm beat. Quite a bouncy slog, with some gully washers getting both of us drenched. Partway across our VHF radio started emitting a high-pitched beep that increased in volume. I looked at the radio, and saw the word FLOODING, with two choices below, one of which was OK. I pushed that to get rid of the awful noise. A torrent of French language followed, and continued for a while. After some time, the high-pitched beep started again, and as I pushed the OK button, I saw that this time the message was SINKING. More French, and once again I rued not knowing the language. We arrived in St. Anne early afternoon, found a wonderful spot to anchor, and were delighted by the breeze that would ensure a pleasant contrast to the previous few hot muggy nights. We went ashore to check in on the customs computer at Snack Boubou, then on to Cherie Doudou for pastries and WiFi. That evening we heard an announcement on the VHF, finally in English, that a person was lost overboard when a boat sank between southwest Martinique and St. Lucia, and would mariners keep a lookout for debris or any sightings that might be relevant. If only they’d made an announcement in English while the person was in trouble and we were out there…
Friday morning we go back to Doudou for more WiFi to check the weather forecast (and, yes, to download more pictures and videos of Charlotte). The wind and waves are going to increase in a few days, so we decide to start moving north today. We check out of Martinique (back to Snack Boubou—love these names), and hoist the anchor. It’s so calm we don’t even stow the cockpit table or take down the awning—it’s a pure motorboat ride up the coast to St. Pierre, where we arrive at dusk. Being there reminds us of the volcano victims, especially with a large area marked with buoys to prevent anchoring over the shipwrecks. Only two people survived. It’s a classic story of political ineptitude—google it.
Saturday, April 7, we were off by 0630, headed for Dominica. Again the forecast is wrong, predicting lighter winds than we encountered, so we ate up the 52 nm in good time. Our previous PAYS guy, Anthony, was stationed at the southern edge of Prince Rupert Bay, and came zooming out to greet us, but didn’t follow us into the harbor. As we approached the mooring field, Eddison’s boat, with Ken aboard, greeted us and helped us with a mooring, took our laundry, and took me to check in at customs. Customs is closed on Saturday, so Ken walked me over to the agent’s apartment (same distance, opposite direction), where he’s ready to conduct off-hours business on his porch while his toddler watches a learning video inside. The nice thing about Dominica’s customs—we wish all Caribbean countries did this—is they give you a two-week in/out clearance, as long as you’re in one port. There’s a rally for a charity onshore, with loud music interspersed with talking. Ken says it will end by 6:00 or 7:00, but of course it goes until 10:00 or so. Sunday we go to a beachfront restaurant that’s closed, but the owner is there, preparing food, so we’re able to procure the WiFi password and a Heineken for Tom, and spend some time online. Once we’re back at the boat, Anthony stops by for a chat. It’s sad that Dominica still has a bad reputation with some of being a dangerous place to stop. These men are so nice, helpful, and trying hard to earn a living in a devastated economy.
April 9 began with several rain squalls, but we got going about 8:15, headed for Iles des Saintes. Yet again, the wind beat the forecast, blowing mostly 20-25, gusting to 30, and we probably averaged over 9 knots. I saw a surfing speed of 12, with lots of 11+, and we arrived at Bourg Des Saintes at 10:30 a.m., a prime time for finding an empty mooring. Indeed, someone was just dropping their mooring as we approached, and waved us over. We went into town after lunch to accomplish four things: ATM for euros, check into customs, WiFi time, and groceries. There’s an ATM machine in the heart of town, and we inserted Tom’s card. You know how sometimes it’s hard to line up the text with the button you should push? When it asked which language to use, I pushed French instead of English. Oops! Well, nothing to do but try to figure it out by context. Next thing we know, it’s sucking in Tom’s card, and saying something about not finishing the transaction, but we can’t grab hold of his card, and then…it’s gone. Eaten by the machine. CARTE RETENUE. CONTACTEZ VOTRE AGENCE. Uh oh. Our next stop is LSM (Les Saintes Multiservices) for customs, which is also where you get WiFi, pay for the mooring, do laundry, and ask for help when the ATM has eaten your card. But it was 1:30, and they were closed until 2:00, so Tom went off to check out the new supermarket while I had a dish of gelato downstairs from LSM. (Yes, dairy disagrees with me, but not as much as having an ATM eat our card, so while I’m still suffering the effects of it today, it was just what I needed yesterday. Chocolate and cinnamon.) At 1400 hours, when Dabriou Ludovic had reopened LSM, I did the customs clearance, we paid for an hour of WiFi, and he called the bank that operates the ATM. When can we get the card back? April 13. No, we need it now, tomorrow! There was no reason to take it! Our bank says it’s fine! (I’ve had an online chat with Camden National, who’s put a temporary freeze now on Tom’s card.) The bank person was just here, and returned to Pointe à Pitre on the 1:00 ferry. We used the machine at 1:23. Aargh! We’re now in a time crunch, and don’t have the leisure to stay another four or five days. Tom and his crew plan to leave St. Thomas May 9 or so, and we want time to sail the relatively deserted Virgin Islands before the crew arrives on the 8th (and I fly out). And before we get to the Virgins we have Guadeloupe, Antigua—both Falmouth and Jolly Harbours, St. Barth… We have less than a month! I may have to go ashore for more gelato.
To Grenada and back
30 March 2018
It’s Palm Sunday, and we’re back at Carriacou, where I last worked on this blog entry on March 5. We’ve had a busy three weeks in Grenada. First I’ll backtrack.
Don’t tell anyone, but we followed the advice in Doyle’s cruising guide and went to Petite (“Petty”) Martinique from Union Island in order to take advantage of the “great prices on wines and spirits” in the two stores there. We had checked out of SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and had 24 hours to leave, but we were going to spend them in Grenada. Illegally. But Doyle says “everyone does it,” so that makes it okay, right? (This from the woman who worked at the Institute for Global Ethics for many years and not only knows the difference between right and wrong, but how to choose between two rights!) Petit St. Vincent is part of SVG, and it’s right next to Petite Martinique, which is, I repeat, part of Grenada. They practically share the same anchorage, and are merely a dinghy ride away from each other if you have a much more powerful dinghy than ours.
The guide said the holding there can be iffy, but if you eat at the Palm Beach Restaurant you can use one of their two moorings. I called and made a reservation for dinner. We found one of the moorings and went ashore. I was expecting megastores with magnificent offerings, but instead we found two normal-sized island grocery stores with normal-sized (for a small island) selections of wine and spirits. Nothing to write home about (and yet here I am, doing just that), and certainly nothing worth breaking the law for! And dinner at the Palm Beach Restaurant? Well, access was obtained by walking along the beach from the town dock to their gate, avoiding particularly aggressive waves. We seated ourselves at one of the two tables and greeted the men at the other table. The four of us were it for that evening’s clientele. Fortunately, they were good company, because, again, the food was nothing to write home about.
We had a hot, rolly, airless night, and stayed there until Sunday afternoon so we wouldn’t arrive at Carriacou until after customs closed on Sunday, allowing us to check in Monday with no overtime charges. I remember Tyrrel Bay as a sleepy village where a few boats were anchored (in 1989) and we ate at a simple beach restaurant that served basic Caribbean cuisine—peas and rice, chicken, and probably pumpkin and greens. Now it’s a bustling town with a modern supermarket lit by a big red neon sign, scores of boats at anchor, and in addition to a profusion of modest homes since ’89, many palatial homes as well. The windless day becomes a windless night—hot and muggy.
Monday, March 5, the big swell arrives from the storms up north. Even though this bay faces west, the northern swells are significant enough to wrap around corners and make most anchorages miserable.
Heard on channels 16 and 68 (the calling channel used by cruisers in most of the islands): Attention all stations! Urgent announcement on channel 69!” We switch to 69, of course. “Urgent announcement! Because of the high surf this morning, there will be no noodling exercises on the beach at 9:00!” We’ll, if that isn’t a sign of dangerous weather conditions, I just don’t know what is.
But the swells really are significant. There are huge breakers on a reef near us, and as boats surge toward us, surfing on the swells, we hold our breath until we’re also picked up by the swell and carried forward. You hope your neighbors set their anchors well. After a very rolly Monday night and a quick breakfast, we rely on our past experiences to quickly move the outboard motor from the dinghy to the stern rail, hoist the dinghy to the forward deck, and get the anchor up without surging into another boat in the process. Whew!
We sailed down the windward side of Grenada to Mount Hartman Bay, which is next to Prickly Bay on the southeast coast. Entrance to the bay is protected by interwoven reefs, which means one must weave through the reefs to enter the bay—its most appealing and least appealing feature. Most appealing when you’re nestled inside in calm water while those anchored in neighboring bays are rolling in the swells, but least appealing when you’re navigating through the reefs for the first time. We made it in with no misadventures, unlike a few other boats over the course of the next few days! We anchored and spent a few days scoping things out, as Secret Harbour Marina and Hotel is where we’ll be docking Bravo and putting up Mary’s family the following week. There’s an active community of cruisers here, as many seem to live here all winter. Shopping buses to the big IGA twice a week pick up at the various harbors along the southeast coast—Prickly, Secret, Hog Island, etc., for $15 EC round trip (taxi is $40 one way), and Island Water World, a marine store in St. George’s, takes people there for free at least once a week. Social events are announced on the Cruisers Net every morning at 7:30 (“First, are there any emergency announcements—medical, safety, navigation? Please come now.” Then they move on to give the local weather. Then, are there any new arrivals? Boats that have been away and returned, or never been to Grenada before and coming for the first time? Departures? Then social events. Yoga, poker, Mexican train dominoes, pot luck lunch on the beach—you get the idea. We used to cringe (ok, Tom still cringes), because it sounds like a Kampground of America (no, we’ve never been to one), but there are also volunteer activities, such as the reading programs for local kids that I’ve helped with in Grenada and Bequia, and some other efforts that are announced periodically. A significant percentage of the boats in Grenada never move. You can spot them because of piles of gear on deck and abundant growth along the waterline—clearly in no condition to go to sea. As they will all store their boats on land for the hurricane season, there is great apprehension about the cost of insurance renewals coming up soon after the huge losses in the Leeward Islands last year.
Thursday, March 8, I visited some schools with Olivia Phillip, the Hands Across the Sea Literacy Link for Grenada. It was my first time visiting schools as an official board member (oh, yes—Harriet invited me to join in Antigua, but it took me a while to be sure I could devote the appropriate time and energy to it, given my migraine problems. However, the more time I spent visiting schools and seeing the results of their work, the more I realized I couldn’t stop helping.), and that helped Olivia rationalize our visit to a couple of the schools at the last minute, I think. Our day involved good surprises, one bad but not unexpected encounter, and two tiny automotive mishaps that really weren’t Olivia’s fault. Sort of. Handsacrossthesea.net. There’s a DONATE button at the top right.
The next day we departed Mt. Hartman Bay for St. George’s, in anticipation of Mary, Kyle, and the boys’ arrival on Saturday the 10th. It was a wild, windy ride, mostly dead downwind, around Point Saline and into St. George’s to Port Louis Marina. For a fancy marina, it’s got the most backward way of offering WiFi—they give you a modem and coaxial cable, and you have to find a place for the box on your boat and run the cable to the nearest electrical post, which in our case was over a hundred feet away and over a bridge connecting two docks. It was ineffective, so we returned it the next morning, but others maintained theirs worked great!
Saturday, March 10, was the arrival day for the Majchrowski (ma-KROW-ski) family! But, no. Their midnight flight out of Denver was delayed two hours, then cancelled. Now they’d be arriving Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday—one less (fewer?) day to play in paradise. But now I was glad I’d agreed to help with a morning reading program for local kids, so off I went to a house on Mt. Airy with a van load of other volunteers. Jeanne and Everest converted their garage into an amazing library/reading room, and run a very well-structured weekly program for a couple dozen or so kids. I was assigned to help Casey, one-on-one, and she did quite well on the reading, but I faced a dilemma. Was it up to me to correct the local pronunciation of “th” as “t”? Everyting and Tursday bumped up against my correction trigger, and I pictured the scene in Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, when he’s teaching his sexy French neighbor to pronounce the “th” sound. I decided to let it go. Meanwhile, back on Bravo, Tom was left with a nonstarting engine, and when he went into the marina office asking about a mechanic, their best one was standing right there. Patrick was still working on the problem when I returned mid-afternoon. He installed an emergency switch, but had yet to solve the root problem. He says he’ll be back Monday at 9:00. Turns out we needed an electrician, not a mechanic. Tom works over an hour cleaning greasy tools and putting everything back in order before we treat ourselves to a mediocre meal at the marina restaurant.
Sunday, March 11, really is the day Mary and family will arrive! Over breakfast we discussed the lack of progress Patrick made on the engine starter, and Tom decided he should try to find an electrician…but at 9:00 Patrick showed up! He says he’s a mechanic, not an electrician, and he’s going to work on it another two or three hours, but if he can’t fix it he’ll bring an electrician friend on Monday and pay for him to fix it! Two hours later, it’s fixed. While that’s happening, I hop a bus to the big IGA and do some provisioning for our week with “the kids.” With the engine starter repaired and groceries stowed, we clean and organize the boat, get the bunks made for their one night aboard, and shower. About 4:00 the Majchrowskis arrive, we get them stowed and off we go to the pool. Well, most of us—Kyle and Tom stay on Bravo and have a beer, but the boys can’t get to the water fast enough after two days of travel. Spaghetti dinner in the cockpit, some strolling the docks to feed fish by flashlight, and sleep…although their Mountain Time Zone bodies had no idea what time it was, landing in the Atlantic Time Zone after two days of travel.
In 1989 we took a tour of Grenada with Henry’s Safari Tours. A young man named Carl was our guide, and not only did he know everything about the island, he also seemed to know every pretty young woman we passed. We’ve never forgotten that wonderful tour, so with Mary choosing Grenada as her favorite place to revisit, I called Henry’s Safari Tours the week before the kids arrived.
“May I speak with Mr. Henry, please?”
“The older or the younger?”
That gave me a brief pause, but I confidently said, “The older.”
I had a delightful conversation with Mr. Henry, telling him about our tour 29 years ago and that our then-10-year-old was returning with her 10-year-old, Ethan. He loved it, and wanted to come meet the whole family. So Monday morning I told Mary I had a surprise visitor for her, and said, “Remember when we took the tour here…? I admit, it would have been more of a kick if the visitor were our tour guide, Carl, but apparently he’s now living in the States. Anyhow, I showed Mr. Henry the story about our trip in Cruising World magazine, including the picture of Mary and Laura feeding a donkey stalks of sugar cane in the rain forest, and we regaled him with memories of our long-ago cruise. Mary said the tour of Grenada was the reason it was her favorite island. He’s a delightful man, and we had an enjoyable discussion for a little too long, since we needed to check out of the marina and get going to Secret Harbour. But we roughed out the high points of our tour for Thursday (“No charge for the kids,” he said.), and got a picture of Mr. Henry and Mary.
Tom and I had as rough a ride returning to Secret Harbour as we’d had going to St. George’s, so everyone was relieved that the Majchrowskis went by taxi. Their room at Secret Harbour was beautiful, just like the website (secretharbourgrenada.com) showed, and Kelsean, the man in the office with whom I dealt, was very accommodating regarding extra dishes, a bigger table for the patio, etc. We arrived on Bravo and settled into the marina, and when everyone had chilled for a bit, we all had dinner aboard the boat.
The next four days were spent at beaches, doing a little snorkeling (the hoped-for snorkeling excursion didn’t happen because the northern swells made the seas too rough and the water too murky), and the day-long Henry’s Safari Tour. That was really too long for the kids, but it was a fabulous tour of the island, and Mary got to revisit the nutmeg cooperative and one of the waterfalls (where an exuberant Riley escaped our vigil and raced down the stone stairs toward Kyle and Ethan, missing the last few and scraping knees and elbows). Mary took lots of pictures, which you can see on her Facebook page (Mary Babbitt Majchrowski) because she tagged me (somehow that works). I managed to leave my phone/camera on the boat. They left on Saturday, and things were strangely quiet.
Because I have a WiFi-connected Hands Across the Sea board meeting coming up Tuesday evening, and Secret Harbour has the best WiFi we’ve found anywhere, we decided to stay until Wednesday. I spent a day making (WiFi) thank-you calls to Hands donors and writing thank-you notes, while Tom dealt with the engine nonstarting issue, again. Jenny’s Farmer’s Market brought her traveling produce assortment to Secret Harbour Monday morning, and I got a couple butternut squash, a cucumber, a bunch of fat little bananas, a couple sprigs off a clove tree, and a lime (orange in color, and about the size of an orange). All for $11 EC, which is about $4 US. A forecast for high winds through Thursday encouraged us to stay on at Secret Harbour, making use of the excellent WiFi to accomplish various tasks and being grateful for secure dockage in those high winds.
Friday, March 23, sadly, we left Grenada—still our favorite Caribbean island (but now with VERY close runners up!). It was a surprisingly rough and windy passage up to Carriacou! I had taken my seasickness meds, but this time it didn’t work, and the motion got the better of me. Not only did I lose my breakfast, but I injured a rib leaning on the cockpit coaming. Note to self: when experiencing mal de mer, have a cushion ready.
Tyrrel Bay was much more calm than when we left, with no northern swells causing boats to surf on their anchors. We tried calling a taxi recommended in the guidebook to arrange a trip to the northeast side of the island, to a town called Windward. I had seen a great documentary (Vanishing Sail) about the wooden sailboats still being hand built there, and we thought it was worth a pilgrimage. No answer from the taxi man, and no call back. But I moved wrong and twisted the rib that I’d only bruised the day before, so now I was really hurting, and we decided a bumpy ride probably wouldn’t help. Then, to clinch the decision, on Sunday evening the propane solenoid failed, and Tom was unable to unscrew it to finagle a bypass. Salad for dinner, and Tom went ashore early Monday morning to find Manny, the mechanic at Carriacou Marina, to fix it. Most of the day was back and forth—looking at the problem, going ashore for parts, going back ashore for the proper-size parts, creating a working bypass! The new solenoid is ordered, and should arrive around noon the next day, Tuesday.
Tuesday morning Tom and I take the #10 bus to Hillsborough ($3.50 EC each), then take the #11 bus to Windward ($3.50 EC each). We walked a short distance, and saw a hand-painted sign pointing the way to “wooden boat building.” And there’s a partially finished boat, so I go in the open gate to take a look…and there’s Alwyn Enoe himself, coming out from under the hull and wiping his hands on his shorts! Whoa! I said, “Are you the movie star?” and he chuckled. We had a great conversation. When I asked if the film had made a difference in the number of visitors he got, he rolled his eyes and made an exclamation. What a charming man, with a real twinkle in his eyes (must be the Scottish heritage). The boat seemed to have a long way to go (look at pictures in the gallery), but he said he expected to launch in August. As we retreated down the path, another yachtie-looking couple was just arriving. I hope they put at least as much in the donation box as we did, because he’ll never get any work done at that rate! We caught the #11 bus back to Hillsborough and the #10 bus to Tyrrel Bay. A $28 EC excursion ($10.37 US) rather than the $100 EC the taxi tour would have cost! We were back at the boat well before Manny arrived with the new solenoid, which he installed by keeping the bypass in place, so we have a backup for future failures, which of course won’t ever happen again. Tom went ashore to check us out of Carriacou and Grenada so we’d be ready for an early start Wednesday morning.
St. Lucia, Bequia, Union Island
08 March 2018
February 16 there was a break in the weather, with the wind down to 17-20, gusts to 25, and seas 6 to 10 feet—not too bad for an inter island passage. We hauled anchor at 8:15, which was a bit tricky with boats anchored so close to use, but no hits, no fouls! At least five other boats took advantage of the improved conditions to head south, but we left them behind and were in Marigot Bay early enough to get a mooring (“first come, first served”) in the inner harbor. The customs, then immigration (next desk over), and then port authority (next office over) were all very congenial, but because their computer isn’t set up to handle SailClear processing (where I’ve already entered every detail about the boat, including documentation number, gross and net tonnage, year manufactured, length, width, depth, horsepower, etc., etc. and us, including date of birth, passport numbers, date of issue and expiry, etc., etc.), I have to fill out a long form with three carbon copies. Tom doesn’t like to do forms.
Having a marina mooring entitles us to WiFi, use of their showers if we wanted (no), and use of their pool, which was gorgeous. I’ll post a couple pictures of it, and my new Facebook picture was taken in the pool, not in the open ocean, although the water really does look the same! The marina has several mega yachts, and they come and go with great frequency. Tom recalls that he was here on business several years ago, to photograph a client’s boat for listing it. The client’s captain, Laney, was from Marigot.
Our second morning there, Feb. 17, a colorful native boat rowed up to us during breakfast and asked, “Are you Tom Babbitt?” Tom admits he is. “My brother gives this to you.” Laney had sent us a palm frond basket filled with an assortment of fresh baked goods! Tom went in to thank him and have a chat. Laney has a craft table right at the dock, and apparently knows everyone. He arranged a taxi to take us to a big inland supermarket that afternoon, and we were in English-language shopping heaven, with products we recognized and labels we could read once again. The taxi ride alone cost $40, but if we think of it as a mini tour of the island, it’s not so bad! Our haul pretty much filled the dinghy, especially when we added the two bags of laundry we’d picked up (no smelly fabric softener! Yay!). The young couple we met in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, Jenny and Steve from Camden on the Swan 77 Aquila, came into Marigot. You tend to see people over and over as you leapfrog down the island chain.
The inner harbor is tight with moorings—it’s a wonder the boats aren’t bumping into each other, because they seem to assign them to moorings randomly as they arrive. So when the megayachts need to maneuver into a slip, as the 200’ Sea Lyon did at 8:00 pm, it’s a show worth watching! They were going in next to the 180’ Silver Shalis, and there was a sailboat on a mooring that appeared to make this impossible (in fact, the next day the marina tied a line to that sailboat and pulled it aside while another megayacht maneuvered past it!). From our point of view, a collision was unavoidable. But there’s a reason those captains earn the big bucks!
Sunday, Feb. 18, I got to haul Tom up the mast so he could try to repair the steaming light. He was up there a long time, but no success. Then he checked the breaker…and that’s the culprit.
Monday I visited schools with Clara Paul, one of the Literacy Links on St. Lucia for Hands Across the Sea (http://handsacrossthesea.net/ If you haven’t been to their website yet, please take a look!). We went to six primary schools, seeing quite a variety of libraries, ranging from one that has put every book in a baggie due to the issues of termites and mildew, to one whose library is a corner of a third-grade classroom, yet the school just won the regional reading award and is determined to win the national award! Monday evening Laney introduced us to a hidden restaurant among the mangroves, behind the shoreside restaurant, connected by a long walkway, where we had a delicious dinner (we put bug spray on before we left the boat!).
Tuesday I took a cab up to Gros Islet (where Rodney Bay is located) to meet the other St. Lucia Literacy Link, Khrystal Lucien. I arrived an hour early and Khrystal was delayed because her dog dislocated his hip (emergency trip to the vet!), but that was terrific for me, however, because the principal put me in a third-grade classroom, where I got to introduce myself, give a big promotion for Hands and classroom use of the library (because libraries are new to them, it can be a struggle to get the teachers to understand how to utilize all the library can offer their students) and then each and every student introduced themselves to me at a barely audible whisper (after I announced that I was hard of hearing and would need them to speak loudly!). Then the best part was the teacher, Ms Franklin, asking if I’d like to read to the children. Well, my day was made right there. But after reading, I tore myself away from that happy experience and found the principal, who took me to the library to await Khrystal. We went to four schools, with completely different library experiences. In my report to Harriet and Tom Linskey of Hands Across the Sea, I remarked that both Clara and Khrystal would make excellent Le Mans race car drivers, as they had superior skills at driving treacherous mountain hairpin turns at breakneck speeds, as required in St. Lucia. Tuesday evening Steve and Jenny invited us aboard Aquila for drinks, and as is our custom in Maine, we brought our own drink and an appetizer, our usual bowl of popcorn. Well, of course, Aquila IS a charter boat, and Jenny IS the professional chef, so we shouldn’t have been so surprised to see the magnificent board she brought out, with little filled pastry cups, a cheese and bread selection, slices of lightly broiled star fruit, scatterings of pistachios and cranberries, fingers of wahoo coated with coconut… I wish I’d taken a picture, but I guess I’d left my phone back on the boat. Steve raved over the popcorn, saying they can’t ever make it on board because of the lingering smell, and it did get snarfed down, but it was a poor cousin. Lou and Astra came over from the boat next door, which turned out to be Palawan, from Maine. They’re the crew, scoping out places the family and guests might enjoy when they come down to join the boat during the winter. So we had a lovely evening of sort-of-Mainers gathering in the tropics.
Wednesday, February 21, we cast off the mooring shortly after 8:00 and got a vigorous farewell wave from Laney. We motorsailed to the southern end of St. Lucia, as the wind was too light and variable, but as usual the inter island conditions were much different. But we had a speed issue—our SOG, speed over the ground as opposed to speed through the water, was way lower than normal. The reason was a really strong current or tide on the nose, dropping our speed by a couple knots. Once we were halfway down St. Vincent the current abated and the seas were so high that we were surfing! Our average speed was back up to about 9 knots, and we were surfing at 11 to 13 or more, even seeing one ride at 15.1! Approaching Bequia I called Fitz, the man Earl MacKenzie recommended for moorings, and he said his son would meet us in his boat—Blue Sky—and help us pick up a mooring. That’s a big relief, arriving so late in the day (about 4:45). Turns out the mooring is right about where we’d anchored—and dragged—when we were here in 1989. We were ashore at Mac’s Pizza—it’s still there—when we looked out and saw lots of people on and around our boat. The reason that spot was open is because it’s hard pan, and anchors don’t set there. Our only dragging experience.
Thursday we went ashore and found an ok grocery store and the incomparable Doris’s Provisions, which is a place you have to know about in order to find. It’s on a side street, and the sign, which is inside the fence, is as darkly varnished as the fence and the building containing both their home and the store. Doris has an assortment of gourmet chocolates to tempt you as you enter, and and wonderful big Red Riding Hood baskets to use while you shop for gluten-free mixes and pasta, specialty items that you’d never expect to find in a small Caribbean shop, nice fresh vegetables and frozen fish and meat, and charter-boat-worthy size roasts of meat that we don’t eat (v**l). Then we bought some fresh, unrefrigerated tomatoes at a market stand before heading back to the boat. Almost back to Bravo we have a dinghy meeting with Jerry and Anne from Magic, a black Valiant 42 from Branford, CT, that we first saw in Jolly Harbour and have crossed paths with again in Marin. They invited us for cocktails, and we had a great time. We discovered that they’re going to be looking at one of the villas at Jolly Harbour that’s on the market, and lo and behold, it’s OUR villa! Well, it’s the one we grew very fond of when we rented it for a week in November. So we gave them the low-down on it, and the fact that the neighbors are terrific, it’s got a good dock, great location, but very slippery deck tiles that must be replaced.
Saturday morning back into the village to the Digicel store, in between vegetable stalls, to get yet another SIM card and phone number! Now you can call us at 1-784-530-0853. From 2:00 to 4:00 I went to the Fig Tree Restaurant on the beach, where there’s a reading program for kids every Saturday afternoon. There are bins of donated books arranged roughly by age group, and as the kids come in the pick a book they want to read. I was given the table with two kids in the 10/11 age group, and I coached them through reading a book about minerals. We didn’t get to the second book. It was a struggle for them, so I’m really glad this program exists. There was also a woman there doing face painting, with an incredible array of theatrical face paint. You’ve got to look at the pictures in the gallery!
Sunday the 25th I went to the Anglican Church service while Tom picked up Tyrone, a diesel mechanic (again, someone recommended by Earl MacKenzie) to fix a starting problem with the engine. The service was almost two hours long, partly because the passing of the peace was at least 10-15 minutes long, and after the choir came down from the balcony to hug and greet everyone, they went back up and sang a rousing song while everyone else kept hugging, greeting, and sharing God’s peace. I must admit I took a short video of it to share back home!
The priest for the service, while theirs was off somewhere else, was The Rev. Canon Angela Ifill, who recently retired as the Episcopal Church Missioner for the Office of Black Ministries (no, there are none in Maine—I asked her). She was very engaging, and I got to have a short chat with her afterwards. Other congregants were from Bass Harbor, Maine, and I saw them again at the dinghy dock being picked up by Lou, of Palawan.
Monday morning I took the ferry to Kingstown, St. Vincent, to meet with one of the Literacy Links there, Chris Ashton. The ferry ride was very rolly, but then it was a tall, narrow ship, not like the squatting wide ones in Maine! We visited four very different schools, two of which were literally right next to each other. One is considered the better school, and parents finagle to get their kids in there. “The poorer kids” go to the other school.
Tuesday the 27th we got water from Daffodil, one of the water/ice/diesel/laundry services that comes to your boat. (See the picture gallery.) That evening we went to Jack’s beachfront restaurant, which was highly recommended. It was their buffet night, but there was a good assortment of food that even I could eat! As is often the case, there was quite a surge at the dinghy dock, and we had to be very careful timing our transfer from dinghy to dock. Although the meal was enjoyable, partway through it the live music started—one roving singer with a wireless mike and someone controlling his backup electronic symphony. It. Was. WAY. Too. LOUD. We talked to our waitress, who sent the hostess. She spoke to the musician, and came back presently asking, is that better? We said, “Did he change anything?” We’re obviously too stodgy for live music.
February 28 we departed beautiful Bequia for Saline Bay on Mayreau, and there was absolutely no wind. It picked up to about 10 to 14 knots, but was way aft—a very slow angle with our tiny jib— so we motorsailed. An easy morning, with small seas, sunny, and so calm that I was able to do needlepoint while underway! As we approached the anchorage at Saline, I looked at the long stretch of white sand beach lined with palm trees and the bright turquoise water, and exclaimed, “This is what I’ve been waiting for!” Tom went forward to get the anchor ready while I weaved among the boats trying to find a sandy spot where it wasn’t too rolly (all the boats did seem to be rolling a lot), but then he came aft shaking his head. The windlass wasn’t working. No windlass to haul up the 65 lb. anchor and 125’ of 3/8” chain, no anchoring. We were only a few miles from Clifton, Union Island, so I called the Anchorage Yacht Club there and, after explaining our predicament, asked, “Are there any moorings there?” The woman replied, “No, we don’t have any moorings.” So I arranged dock space, and said we’d be there shortly. When we arrived in Clifton, the first thing we saw inside the barrier reef delineating the harbor was several moorings. A local man with “SAM” painted boldly on his boat offered to help us pick up a mooring, and zoomed ahead to stand by until we arrived at his chosen mooring ball. I was on the wheel; he and Tom handled the mooring lines. We gave him a tip, he gave us a ticket to give to the park mooring management people, and we were in that beautiful spot whose picture I posted on Facebook that day. The park mooring people followed close behind, and with slick salesmanship talked us into four nights for the price of three. I think they collect the money quickly, before you realize that you’ll be surrounded by yahoos on their chartered catamarans among a web of crisscrossing speedboats run by local entrepreneurs just trying to make a buck, offering fish, bread, whatever. (We only stayed three nights.)
Tom took both his electrical and mechanical tool bags up to the anchor locker and settled down for what could be a long, frustrating afternoon trying to fix the windlass. The second wire he touched came loose in his hand. He reconnected it properly, and Bingo! Windlass fixed. We were entertained by kite surfers zooming past us, some of them on foils like the new America’s Cup Boats. How do they do that?
Thursday morning we went into town and found the dinghy dock at Bougainvilla (yes, “villa”), which you access by going under a stone arch. It’s a novelty the first time you do it, but it’s hilarious once you’re in there, watching others trying to negotiate the small opening from the small enclosure packed with dinghies, sometimes with other dinghies coming at them from the outside. A dinghy with two women whom we’d helped cast off, because our dinghy lines were entangled, went at the opening full tilt and rammed the stone wall like a bumper car, bouncing back into the the enclosure, with all four of us laughing hysterically. That was the best among many funny episodes at the dinghy arch. We continued into town, which has grown tremendously from the lazy village of Rasta fruit & vegetable stands I remember from 1989. We found an upstairs café with WiFi, a place to deposit our trash, and I found a beautiful shop where the owner made jewelry from a local precious stone similar to turquoise, but less green. I complimented her, but said I was at a stage of life when I was limited to admiring, not acquiring. Since she seemed to be about my age, I think she understood. Back to the boat for an afternoon of reading (Tom) and blogging (me, obviously). The next day we pulled into the dock at the Anchorage Yacht Club, a tired-looking place, and I stayed in the dinghy while Tom walked to the airport terminal to see when we could check out without incurring overtime charges of $50 EC per person, and there are both immigration and customs officials. We cleared out of Grenada there in 1989, and the airport was slightly different—one had to cross the runway to get to the terminal. Tom blithely started across the runway and a woman rushed out of a market stall yelling at him to stop! Just then a little plane came swooshing out of the sky and landed right in front of him. We noticed when we checked out the next morning, because you can check out with no overtime charge Saturday morning, that the new airport was dedicated in 1993–four years after some idiot almost got killed walking across the runway and they probably decided, “Okay, enough of this foolishness. We’ve got to redesign this place before someone ruins a landing.”
And thus we leave Union Island without taking advantage of the four nights for the price of three. We would have lost it on the customs overtime.
Martinique part 2
02 March 2018
Day 4 in Martinique began with the aft head (toilet) getting jammed. We have two heads on the boat because two heads are better than one—so if one is out of order, we have a backup. But the forward head is a vacuum flush, and requires a bit of fresh water for its electronic cycle. That reminds us that we’re getting low on water; Tom’s been trying to call a water delivery boat that we’ve seen, but no response. Now the new first priority on the day’s agenda is to fix the head, so Tom gets right to work (yes, I’m very mechanical, but the aft head is his head, so clearly the clog is his to fix). After 3–1/2 hours he conceded defeat—the plug must be in the hose that runs to the exterior, and we don’t have a snake or other means of attacking the problem, so we’ll need to go ashore to find help. I suggest we turn off the fresh water pump while we’re ashore, just in case our tiny leak causes it to kick in and the tank runs dry and the pump keeps running. Meanwhile, I’ve used the forward head and flushed, and whammo! The water tank ran dry and the pump kicked on and We Are Out Of Water! And now both heads are unusable, so it’s time to cast off the mooring and go in to the fuel dock for water…and fuel, while we’re at it. We tied the dinghy to the mooring and hustled to the fuel dock, and were only second in line, with three boats on the dock. You never know how long you’ll be waiting; some big boats might take upwards of an hour to fill huge tanks, especially if they let their passengers wander off in the meantime. But we were lucky, didn’t have to wait long that day, and were back on our mooring fully fueled, watered, and with a suggestion of where to try for the head repair—Caraibe Marine.
We went back to the marina building, to the tourist office, to pick up the laundry. While Tom was on the upper level doing that, I was on the lower level at a small laundromat doing one more small load of laundry. An English-speaking woman was there, talking to the washing machine about its inadequate instructions. Together we figured out, more or less, where to put the detergent, where and how to pay, and how to set the temperature. We got to chatting, of course. She’s on a friend’s boat for a couple months, and before this adventure she was in the Philippines doing humanitarian work. She grew up in East Germany, and realized after the fact that her best friend’s father was spying on her family. She was told as a girl that she wouldn’t be able to go to high school or travel the world—two things that she desperately wanted to do—and then The Wall came down. She became a software engineer, traveling the world to meet with, as she said, geeks and nerds. After 17 years she left that job and is now doing more traveling; when I suggested she probably wouldn’t have any trouble getting another job, she said google and amazon are possibilities in Berlin. I suggested she write a book about her fascinating life, but she said she’d rather tell her story one-on-one, because everyone hears it from their own place. A man in India said, “We’d heard about this, but didn’t know if it was true.” And to me she explained that those who spied did so because they were threatened—do this or lose your children. She felt like she’d lived the life of a refugee. “Not like the Syrians, or others of today, but still…” Her voice trailed off and she looked away. It was a compelling story. Worth doing laundry!
Tom and I rejoined upstairs with our bags of laundry, and went to Numero 20, a nice tapas bar, to relax and use some WiFi time. We got a FaceTime call from Laura, wherein Charlotte grabbed the phone and gave us a racing tour of the ceiling of her bedroom, the bathroom, and Laura’s office, interspersed with Laura’s face. We managed some conversation, but cut it short because, after all, we were in a restaurant (even if it was pre-dinner hour). Shortly thereafter our 1G of wifi runs out. I switched to the ½ -hour of daily free WiFi we get as marina guests while Tom goes over to the Simply Market to see what provisions he can find. He returned, reporting that it’s much better than the Leader Price, and certainly much closer! We decided to grab a quick dinner at the Cocoarum Restaurant there at the marina before heading back out to the boat, but when the waitress came, she said, “Kitchen closed. Only drinks.” We’re so provincial! We think 6:00 pm is a reasonable dinner hour!
Back at the boat, we realize the laundry service has shorted us one bath towel and they used an awfully fragrant softener, and I’m nauseated by the smell of everything. Thus ends Day 4.
Day 5 in Martinique, Sunday, February 4. We reconnoitered the waterfront by dinghy, and found the Bichik Fuel/Snack/Laundry business that the Doyle guide said was the place to go for snacks, drinks, and conversation. Yuck! Not at all appealing. It was tucked in a corner of a large yacht yard/haul-out facility, Carenantilles. The yard had 80-ton and 400-ton travel lifts, several shops—rigging, electronics, fiberglass, etc., plus a restaurant, but it was all shut down on Sunday. Fortunately another couple was coming into the yard, as entry and exit was restricted by a locked gate. They told us the code, and we walked up to the Carrefour grocery store, which was very nice. The natural food store adjoining it was closed, but I had high hopes for it when we returned Monday.
We returned to the Carenantilles yard the next day, and while Tom talked to a mechanic (no, they don’t unplug heads, but they could change the oil... in another week), I proceeded up the hill to the stores. The natural food store had a meager selection, with the only gluten-free bread being individual rolls for about 4 or 5 euros each. I passed on those! Back again to Carrefour, next door, then we dinghied back to Bravo to deposit our purchases. Off again, this time to Caraibe Marine, but alas, they also do not fix toilets. They sent us to another person, but he only fixes outboard motors—he can’t even change our engine’s oil. Finally, Tom went to RM (a general services place recommended in the Doyle guide that I had suggested we try right off the bat…), which stands for Roberto Maxera. He says come back in 45 minutes—we have our man! He can do it all. Tom will meet him at 9:00 am, see the slip we’re to enter, then we take Bravo in for repairs. While Tom went to RM, I went to the tourist office to report the missing towel, intending to ask for the laundry’s phone number so I could call them. But the extraordinarily kind person in the office immediately picked up the phone and called the laundry. They’d look into it; I’ll check back.
While we’re ashore, we use more of our paid WiFi time (2G for 8€), have lunch, then head back to the Leader Price store, but this time by dinghy rather than the mile(s)-long walk. LP seems to have made a great effort to attract boaters, with a very nice dinghy dock, a paved walkway up to the store, and a covered cart return area by the dock. Before grocery shopping, we searched for the Digicel store that people said was right by LP, and sure enough, up the path to McDonalds, across another parking lot…we found it. So now we have an international phone number that we bought before we left home (372-8143-2119) and a Martinique phone number (0696-53 97 22). Back to LP for grocery shopping (it seems to have improved since we had to walk 20 miles to get there), and then home (a.k.a., back to Bravo).
Tuesday , February 6, Day 7 in Martinique, is the Unforgettable Day of Repairs. As arranged, Tom met with Roberto Maxera to reconnoiter the Med-moor slip we’re to back into. He warns Tom to be aware that the mooring ball is pulling from a concrete block, and we’ll need to swerve around that…in the 30-knot wind blowing broadside. We rig docklines and fenders and proceed to the appropriate marina channel, backing down it against the 30-knot wind, with me on the bow holding a line ready for a guy in an inflatable to slip into the mooring ring and hand back to me to secure. When we get to the head of the channel where the slip is, no one’s there to help us. Tom whistles, knowing they’re on a catamaran across the channel. No response, so we motored out of the channel and backed in again—with that amount of wind there was no way to remain stationary and just wait. Another whistle, but still no response. Back out, back in, this time with a blast from the air horn. No response. Back out. Backing in yet again, another air horn blast rouses the workers from the catamaran, but they’re not in position to help, so we have to exit the channel again. Final approach, the guy in the inflatable is still bailing furiously—he’s ankle-deep in water, and has to keep restarting his finicky motor, but he finally takes the line from me in the nick of time. Meanwhile, to quote Tom’s log entry, “So here’s the challenge—the ball (Med-moor ball) is roughly in the middle of our entry space. And that ball’s anchor line stretches farther across our entry—so I have to back into 30 knots of stern wind, overshoot the approach between two boats while having 30 knots on the beam as I aggressively power back into the slip with the RM guys shouting directions at bow & stern in French! Whew. A nice young man named Valentine and Tom worked together for several hours and the oil and filter were changed, the fuel filter changed, and then the big one…the head was declogged. Meanwhile I was on shore uploading a blog post and lots of pictures and blowing through another 2G of WiFi , so I bought another 2G. I also went to the tourist office for an update on Tom’s missing blue towel, since they’re now the official go-between. The towel can’t be found, but they’ll give us another one.
When the repairs on the boat were completed, Tom went up to the office to pay and requested a couple people to help us get out of the slip. They discussed the exit strategy, lines were adjusted, everyone was in place, and Tom hit the throttle so we could rocket out of the slip without getting blown sideways into the neighboring boat. Zoom! Slam! We went firmly aground in the mud. The depth sounder showed 5’2”. We draw 6’2”, as we told Roberto. Inflatable dinghies tried pushing and pulling. Bravo’s 76 horsepower won’t budge us. One of the RM people called the harbormaster, who zoomed in, took our spare halyard, pulled the boat on her side, and we were out of the mud. It sounds so easy in the retelling, but it was a nerve wracking experience. Back to the mooring, and fortunately our dinghy is still tied there!
Day 8 follows yet another windy, squally night—one after another, and this is the dry season! We go into the marina building for some WiFi time, and I checked the two car rental agencies, hoping we can get a car and drive to Genipa, where there’s a big shopping center including a big Carrefour supermarket, which I’m hoping might have gluten-free bread. Neither agency has cars—totally booked up. We go to the tourist office, and I said, “I have a real tourist question today!” They were pleased (still waiting for the blue towel replacement). We asked how to get to Genipa by bus, and they brought up several bus schedules on the computer, but not only is it not an easy thing to do, it’s apparently too late in the day to begin such a trip—one must start at 9:00 am. We went back to the boat and read.
Thursday, February 8, Day 9. Another windy, squally night. That means frequently being awakened to open or close the hatch over us. If we leave it closed, it’s stifling; if we leave it open, well… We go ashore to catch the 9:00 bus for the first leg of our trip to Genipa, but we’re confused as to where to go. There are different types of buses—community and regional—and they stop in different places, and I wasn’t sure which bus we were supposed to take first…or second. So we went into the RM office and asked the very nice lady in there, and she convinced us it would be very complicated, many stops, and many hours of travel. She called a taxi, but that would cost 120€ there and back, with a wait. Neither mode of transportation is easy to use here, which is why all the rental cars were gone! Nice Lady then called a friend who sometimes taxis people (while she’s on the phone Roberto and others come in, greet us warmly, much chattering in French and some English about our experience leaving the slip), and the friend can do it for 40€ but not until the next day. We decide this has become too much bother and abandon the plan. One last run to Leader Price for groceries, then back to the boat where I color a greeting card to give as a merci/thank you to the tourist office the next day. They’ve bent over backwards trying to get our missing towel issue resolved!
Day 10 in Martinique. Another night of open hatch, close hatch, stifling, raining. We go ashore to deliver the card to the tourist office, and the woman who first helped me and whom I consider to be the boss is there, and is touched by the card. But no replacement blue towel! She calls them again. We shrug and move on. Check out of the marina, use up our WiFi time, Tom got some antifogging spray for his snorkel mask, another run to the Simply supermarket, and Tom went back to the tourist office one last time. They tried calling the laundry; he waited; they called again, and just as he was about to leave, the young man came in with a bright turquoise towel…reeking of fabric softener. We let it hang on the rail through a couple rain showers, and it calmed down.
We departed Marin for the long voyage ( a mile? Two?) to Sainte Anne, where we anchored, went ashore and found the boulangerie, Cherie Doudou, with free WiFi. We found a 2015 Salty Dawg compatriot and had a good chat. Passing the church in the center of town, it looked like there might be a pre-carnival event, because everyone looked so festive in black and white, but it was a funeral. A festive funeral! Back at the boat, although the water here is clean enough for swimming, a rain squall was threatening, so we showered below, as we’ve had to do while being in Marin. Again, it was a wild night of squalls, but now we listened to the sound of the anchor rode groaning and squealing.
Saturday, February 10, Day 11 in Martinique was so windy and rainy we stayed on the boat all day. We’re surrounded by boats from France, of course, Brazil, Germany, Sweden, UK, USA, Canada, Switzerland, and others. Many have small children—more than in 1989 when we had our kids aboard. We’re delighted to see them, because we believe it’s the best learning experience you can give your kids.
Monday, February 12, we tried to find the man who delivers water to boats. He’s got a bright yellow craft with a big tank, and although we’ve seen him motoring through the anchorages, we’re unable to reach him by radio or phone. We walked a very long way to his place of business, but he’s not there. We’re too low on water to mess around any longer, so after one more rain squall we up anchor and head back to Marin. The fuel/water dock isn’t busy, so we’re able to tie up promptly, and because there are no dock hands to help, a fellow sailor, Tony Burn, gives us a hand. Turns out they’re from Buffalo, but are members of and hail from the Youngstown Yacht Club! I grew up at that club, my father was commodore in the 60s, and Tom and I sailed out of there. And their Oyster 53 is named Spindrift, which was the name of one of my parents’ boats. Back to Ste. Anne, and an even better spot to anchor, a bit closer to shore. We had cocktails on Pandora with Bob and Brenda Osborne, our 2015 Salty Dawg compatriots, and had a great time. Brenda is a fiber artist (my friends will appreciate that—her blog is www.argoknot.com).
February 13, Day 14. Yet another squally, windy night, but the anchor is holding fast. It’s Carnival, and around 4:00 pm a band on a truck—with great amplification—went back and forth through town, playing nonstop for three hours.
February 14, Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday—what a combination! At6:30 the drums start in town. We went into town to the boulangerie for WiFi, and the place was mobbed with people having lunch—the space is shared with a restaurant. We found one unused table, worked until our batteries died, then back to the boat. Tonight is the end of Carnival, with a battle of bands, a bonfire, and big crowds along the shore.
Thursday, February 15, Day 16 in Martinique. The wind has moderated a bit, and squalls are less frequent. On our morning trip to town we saw Carnival decorations and the stage being taken down, and the central square being swept. We first went to Snack Boubou to check out on the customs computer there, then back to Cherie Doudou for our WiFi fix. We had a farewell lunch there, which wasn’t worth the price, but we had sometimes used their WiFi for free. In the afternoon we took the motor off the dinghy; put the route to Marigot, St. Lucia, in the GPS; and mentally prepared for our voyage the next day. Bonnie and Earl McKenzie from Islesboro stopped by, and we invited them aboard for a good chat. They’ve been “doing” the Caribbean for 20 years, so they gave us some good advice about places and people. At 6:55 pm a fellow cruiser announced on channel 68 that the international space station could be seen overhead, and sure enough…we saw it! A great finale to our visit to Martinique.
Martinique, part 1
14 February 2018
We left Portsmouth, Dominica, about 7:00 am on January 31, and had a lovely sail down the coast, seeing hundreds of flying fish and several dolphins. Crossing the open ocean to Martinique again gave us some big waves and strong gusts, but we were ready—this time I’d even taken sea sickness medicine! We’d considered stopping in St. Pierre, the former capital that had been wiped out by a volcano in 1902 (google it—it’s a fascinating story!), but it was still early, so we continued on to Fort de France, the current capital. We’d been there in 1989, and I remembered it as a nice little Caribbean town. Now it’s a bustling city with industrial zones, cruise ship docks, and a small designated mooring area for cruising boats. We’d been warned by other cruisers that the anchorage is tight and subject to rolling from ferry boat wakes, but we approached it hoping there’d be room for one more. There wasn’t. Part of the difficulty was restricted areas because of underwater cables, and another issue was bad holding—the anchor would skitter through loose stones. One of our Salty Dawg friends from 2015 was anchored within yards of the beach, but at 3:30 in the afternoon we couldn’t find a suitable spot. The guidebook said there was a new marina with transient slips east of the city, so we headed there, even though it would put us beyond walking distance of FdF. As we approached the Marina Z’Abricots, which was sheltered behind a significant breakwater, we saw that it was wall-to-wall with masts and powerboat superstructures…but there were several moorings outside the breakwater, and it was a well-protected area. We tried calling on the radio, but they didn’t respond. There was one boat on a mooring, so we picked up another mooring. Shortly another boat came in and did the same. It was after 5:00, so we had to wait until morning to hope they had a customs check-in station at the marina office. We hoisted our Q flag and had dinner. Interesting location—on final approach to the airport and 500 yards from the container port. So much to see!
In the morning we were able to clear customs, pay for the mooring, and get some WiFi time. Late morning we set sail for Cul-de-sac du Marin, at the southern end of Martinique, which was recommended to us as a less crowded anchorage than FdF with better provisioning than its neighbor, Sainte Anne. When we’d reached the southernmost point and turned east toward Marin, we were heading straight into the wind, so down came the main. (See the gallery for pictures!) As we passed inside of Diamond Rock—a huge peak jutting from the water—tropicbirds swooped past us, and we could see St. Anne ahead of us, a solid wall of masts. As we got closer we figured there must be about 500 boats anchored at St. Anne, which didn’t bode well for what we’d find around the corner in Marin, “one of the Caribbean’s largest yacht centers.” Sure enough, Marin was chock-a-block with boats, from the marina docks at the far end of the harbor through the mass of moorings, to several separate anchorage fields divided by fingers of reefs—some marked, some not. After our experience trying to anchor in Fort de France, we decided to try for a mooring, even though the guide book said most of them were on permanent rental. We called the marina on the radio, and heard talking in French, but didn’t hear anyone say ”Bravo.” Once we got into the mooring area, I noticed that several of the boats were transients—they had dinghies tied off, and they were from a variety of countries—and there were empty moorings near them, so I suggested we just pick one up! We did. (It was one of our most awkward experiences as a cruising couple, and I’m not going to describe it. Don’t ask. Thank you.) We found the marina office on our second attempt—the complex is divided into two parts, reached from different dinghy docks—and checked in for three nights. We had a long list of things we might accomplish in “the Caribbean’s largest yacht center“ with all sorts of nautical vendors—get the engine oil changed (a cumbersome job that requires three arms), perhaps getting the cockpit cushions recushioned, getting the masthead light fixed, finding a laundry service—as well as provisioning, with three supermarkets here.
Friday, February 2 (the 45th anniversary of the day we met), we set out with great confidence that we would accomplish a lot on our list. While I went into the marina office to extend our stay to a week (too much to do in just three days), Tom took our two heavy bags of laundry in search of a drop-off facility. The place mentioned in the Doyle guidebook, across the road, is now only a self-service laundromat—no drop-off. A bedraggled Tom appeared back at the marina office, where I was finishing my negotiations to extend our stay to a week. We sat down in our favorite WiFi spot, around the corner from the office on a shady balcony, past a plastic chain that implied we shouldn’t be there (but security ignored our presence) and spent some time on WiFi (we bought it in increments—we’d already used up 1 gig for 5€, so we bought 2G for 8€) so Tom could rest up from shlepping laundry. Next we loaded the laundry and ourselves back in the dinghy and motored over to the other part of the marina, where there was supposed to be another laundry with wash/dry/fold service. We walked the length of the building without finding it, and stopped at a yacht brokerage so Tom could ask, as a retired yacht broker, if the broker there knew of any laundries. He made some phone calls, told us about the place Tom had tried; I asked about the one in the guidebook—Bichik. He frowned and shook his head. “No good,” he said. We thanked him and kept walking, ending up back at the other marina. Tom again checked the one across the street, but no, they really are just self service now. I found the little laundromat at the marina complex, but it was also self service. We saw signs for an office of tourism, so I left Tom with the laundry and went upstairs to find the office. They didn’t speak much English, but enough. Yes, they had the number of a laundry that would wash, dry, and fold. They called. The van came. Ahhh. It only took two hours and much hot, exhaustive legwork to accomplish that!
Next on the list was provisioning. We looked in the Simply grocery store next to the marina, but it seemed small, so we decided to go to the Leader Price, which didn’t look too far away according to the little map in the guidebook (I think I’ll post it in the photo gallery). So we started walking, and we walked, and walked, and asked, and kept walking, and finally passed a restaurant we thought looked good from its write-up in the guidebook. At that point we realized the sketch map was not at all to scale. But we kept walking, and reached a busy road with lots of businesses, including a McDonalds. A small group was standing outside, so we asked them, and one of them pointed, but that direction was just the enclosed McD’s parking lot, so we returned. One of the women in the group said, “Go with me!” and she led us to a muddy path lined with shipping pallets. The path curved downhill and around, but beyond we could see Leader Price rising over the weeds. She said, “Keep left,” waving her left hand. “Yes?Left?” I said yes. She waved her right hand and asked what that was, and I told her, “Right.” We got led to Leader Price and she got a little English lesson. Win win.
But what a disappointing grocery store! We found very little on our list, and certainly not gluten free bread. While I was perusing the freezer section, however, hoping to find some, a grocery employee spoke to me. I assume he was asking if he could help me find something, so I said, “Gluten free?” He looked bewildered, and we both shrugged. Then a voice behind me said, in English, “Any special dietary items will be on the next aisle over.” Wow! We chatted briefly, and I went to find GF spaghetti. When I saw him in the checkout line, I asked him where we could get a taxi, and he told me, but then asked where we were going. He said he’d be going right by and offered us a ride. He pointed out the dinghy dock behind the store. If only we’d known! The man is German, his wife is French, and their kids are being raised French, although the son with him never said a word. His wife had a water park, but apparently it was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. She also does eco tours—things to explore the resources of the island, rather than exploit them. He looked and sounded like a young Onne von der Wal (our South African marine photographer friend—if you’re not familiar with his work, google him!) our unknown new friend dropped us at the Marin yacht harbor with our meager provisioning and we discovered our dinghy was totally trapped by other dinghies. Fortunately one of them was merely tied, not chained or locked, so I untied it, pulled it aside, Tom backed ours out, I retied the other dinghy (Can you tie a bowline? Everyone should have that skill in their repertoire.), climbed into it so I could be retrieved be Tom, and off we went. A fitting end to our day of Nothing is Easy errands.
Thus ends Day 3 in Martinique, and Day 1 was mostly spent just getting here! I thought this cruising life was supposed to be laid back.