More of Martinique…

As I have said before we love these French islands.

Upon our arrival to St Anne anchorage in the southern shores of Martinique we notice the incredible number of boats here. More than any other anchorage we have seen on our travels. AND there are actually 2 anchorages in this area one near the large shipping and boating bay Le Marin and the one we are in near the village of St Anne. There are every size and shape of cruising vessel..catamarans from 30-60 feet, monohulls with cutter, sloop, and ketch rigs, cruising motor yachts, and mastless, portless, washed up and apparently abandoned boats in all parts of the anchorages.

It was a nearly 4-hour trip from Anse Chaudrie around the large Diamant rock (where the British actually set up a fort during the wars to fight off the French!) If the picture comes through you can see this was a feat next to building the pyramids in getting cannons and equipment up this rock!)

Sunset with Diamante Rock

We feel a bit at home here as we have stayed a few times. We know where to get our groceries, The Le Marin market we use has a huge dinghy dock! We can even take a grocery cart out to the dock and load right into the dinghy…this is a luxury that only a cruiser can appreciate. Well, imagine that you head off to the grocery and have to bring enough bags (they don’t give them to you here) to load up your groceries. You have to make sure that you don’t buy more than you can carry that day without a cart sometimes 2-3 blocks ….in the hot sun…if you are not smart enough to go shopping early in the morning or late afternoon…thus I digress), we know where the chandleries are for our boat parts and supplies, and where we can check in and out of the country the easiest. What we are looking forward to is seeing more of this part of the island from a hiking standpoint. We look forward to a walk to Grand Anse, the  most beautiful  and idyllic beach on the island.

Day 1 – We must tend to our windlass.

We think that we may need a new motor and possibly a new windlass. So, we go shopping. We make our rounds to several of the specialty marine stores in Le Marin and price them out. We also look for new and used motors that could work as well. The last place we stopped, we inquired about availability of a motor and the nice fellow (that is there to sell things ) actually said, “did you take the motor apart and clean the brushes?” Well that was all we needed to hear, maybe it can be done. A little elbow grease and she can be repaired. We made a few other stops in that sailor’s paradise of equipment, looking at new chain for our dinghy, Patch’s anchor, chaps (or cover) for her, and a few other odds and ends.

We also met one of our sister Caliber boats anchored just ahead of us, Honey Rider. We introduced ourselves to Tom and Sabrina and actually got more information about the “goings-on” in St Anne. There is such fun in meeting folks with the same boat, you just feel like family.

Day 2 – St Anne – Windlass Repair

This piece of equipment has given me fits for the last few months. I literally need to have a hammer at the bow to “tap gently” on the motor housing when it slows up a bit. According to the resident windlass and motor expert, Mike, this loosens up some of the debris that is causing the “brushes” to fail. (lesson #1 small motors….brushes do not have bristles..they are pieces of metal that brush against a rotating cylinder in succession to make the thing work!) So, when I am letting out chain or bringing it in and the windlass slows or comes to a halt, a few taps gets her running again.

Mike removes the motor and the moving parts of the windlass and literally takes it all apart to find the “brushes are coated with debris, barely making contact” and there is oil in the motor thicker than black strap molasses. He polishes the brushes and drains the oil and replaces it with fresh clean 90 weight stuff. Once the housing is back together (nearly 5 hours later) he decides we might need a gasket or 2 to finish the project….we need to go back to Le Marin for this.  We had seen the repair/maintenance kit for $80. Which is quite a savings over the price of a new windlass at $1200!

Day 3- St Anne- Windlass Works!

After a nice morning with our new friends on Honey Rider, talking everything Caliber and more. They were a wealth of information on sailing the Caribbean, communications and gave us information on other Caliber boats in the Caribbean.  We left to get a few things accomplished like cleaning the boat and getting the windlass back together, with great hopes it worked better. It was a glorious moment when, after just a few slang words, Mike had the motor and housing back in place and it pulled the anchor chain up and down like a child with a new yo-yo! It is times like this I am thankful for the small motor knowledge and ability to tackle and fix many things that my husband has acquired from his dad and his experience! For it is truly vital that we are able to put down and retrieve an anchor successfully. Whilst Mike was busy at the bow I spent a few hours of scrubbing the boat with Dawn detergent, I had the fiberglass hull cleaned of the salt accumulation and the green hair-like algae growth at the waterline. We were happy with the accomplishments that day.

Day 4 – St Anne – Sunday Funday

We celebrate the day by doing laundry in the morning. We had a few loads of bedding to get done from a few weeks ago and knew this was a good place to get that done…well so did many others. The little laundry just up from the beach at Anse Caritan was busy! We waited for a couple of machines and spent 2 hours getting this done. We also met a couple that we had made acquaintance with last year, and come to find out he was a telecommunications specialist. He knows HAM radios! In fact, he was THE person that installed the radio on our boat when it was with the previous owners as Sea Kite! We arranged through his wife to talk at some point about my concerns.

Our afternoon was spent with several other cruiser couples from Canada, US and Germany playing bocce ball and swimming at the calm Anse Caritan beach. We joined the German couple, Isla and Stefan, for the evening on their boat Sabir to discuss their world travels through the Pacific and East. Many thousands of miles later they encourage us to head to the Pacific, head west!

Beach Bocce

Day 5  – St Anne

We rarely stay 5 days in one location unless something needs fixing. Our fixing is done and we take a rest day. We look at the weather and find that there is a window in the next 4-5 days for making a trip further south on our journey to Grenada. It is a Monday and our plans are to make the move by Friday.

Day 6 – St Anne -Hiking Day

Trailhead

We join some of the same bocce ball clan for a hike up a mountain. We get on a bus for $2.50/person and ride for 15 minutes. We exit and have a good 20-minute walk up a country road before we arrive at the trailhead. We hike about and hour to a gorgeous overlook and then descend back to the hot country road and the bus stop for our return.

Honey Rider and Lost Loon

We reward ourselves with cool drinks, beers and roti. Mike and I share one of these unique wrapped delicacies. They are meat and vegetables in a thick sauce wrapped by a dough. They are usually made of beef chicken or fish. The thick sauce is spicy with turmeric, garlic and other herbs.

Upon our return to the boat, we are lucky to have Denis over to look at our HAM radio and give me a few tips and he helps us set up a connection so that I can send position reports to WINLINK.org. If you access this site, look for N9ANC (my call sign) and you can see our latest position in the Caribbean! (you will find out that we are just a few steps ahead of this blog!)

Denis the HAM master at work

Day 7 – St Anne – just another day

We find other things to reorganize, defrost the freezer (because the door won’t close properly), and work on the HAM radio. We continue to watch the weather for that “window” to head to St Lucia.

Day 8 – St Anne – Really, we are here 8 days??

We awake and feel the need to make a move, but not today as the weather is still a bit unsettled with showers and squalls. Winds are up in the 20’s and seas quite high with 7-9 ft waves. It is not impossible to make the trip we need to, but we are looking for more pleasant conditions. And, unless we were getting paid for the trip its not worth the grand hassle. So, we decide to get our hike to Grand Anse des Saline accomplished. It is nearly 4 km there and 4km back, so we start out after a sufficient lunch. We enjoy the hike around the southern tip of this big island and appreciate the wind and waves out on the open ocean. We swim off the white sand beach and rest under huge palm trees in the stiff breeze. We swim again after returning to the boat and our hot hike back. After which we head off in the early evening to stock up on the last of the French wine, Belgium beer, pate and cheese we will be able get in the islands.

Saline Beach

Day 9 – St Anne – Friday the 13

We awake to squalls and heavy rain showers that frequent the morning. After listening to the weather report from Chris parker and perusing our other reliable weather sites we make a decision to leave in 24 hours.  There is an old sailor’s wives’ tale that you never leave for a passage on a Friday, and this being Friday the 13th we postpone the trip. Nah, we needed to check a few things we had forgotten to and need the day to check out with Martinique customs.

We spend our last evening in the French West Indies at a local bar listening to local music with our new friends Isla and Stefan on Sabir.

Day 10 -Time to leave!

Retiring the French flag for the season

We are awake to get weather, make coffee and have the anchor stowed by 0815! We hastily motor by and say our goodbyes to Sabir and Honey Rider and we are off to St Lucia. We have a 20-mile run to Marigot Bay. We max our speed at 7.5 knots in 18 knot winds with 22 knot gusts with a second reef in the main and partial headsail. We see frequent waves 5-7 with a few to 8 or 9. It was a nice sail and it seemed to feel so good to be back out in the water after so long at anchor.

Upon arrival we make 2 crazy anchoring attempts (because it is mostly rock and rubble on the bottom unless you find a small spit of sand), but the most rewarding part was the excellent performance of the windlass!

We watch the relatively small anchorage fill up at dusk and I finally make a radio contact with my uncle in Kentucky!

Next up Bequia…a small island that is really a Caribbean secret!

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Martinique travels

We are practically Martinique citizens now! Just kidding! We have actually been in the country 2 weeks!!

We arrived in St Pierre, one of the oldest french cities on the island on March 28th in the shadow of great Mount Pele.

As the story goes, the governor and a science teacher headed a committee who knew of the impending eruption of this great volcano. It had smoldered for days, giving off ash and gasses frequently. They failed to adequately warn the people fearing a mass exodus from the city and harm to the local income. On Ascension Day May 5th, 1902, the mountain let forth with an eruption that has been likened to an atomic bomb , covering the city and taking the lives of nearly 30,000 local inhabitants. The only survivors were a cobbler and a man in jail who survived because his cell faced the opposite direction of the lava flow. It is said he became a legend and finally joined the circus after his fame waned. Ships anchored in the bay were destroyed as well. People from far off cities climbed hills to see the incredible destruction.

We arrive at the dinghy dock and in typical French fashion as the St Pierre church bells are ringing 4 pm. We make our way past Rue de Victor Hugo on to the tourist office where we quickly check into customs on the computer. Our next stop is the ruins of a grand theater which is next to the ruins of a prison.

We can see throughout the city what has been left of the volcanic ruins that have not been rebuilt on.

The village was an elegant city in its day, one of the finest in the West Indies. It was a center of commerce for Rum, sugar, cocoa and spices. We see old structures that line the narrow cobblestone streets and imagine the beautifully dressed townspeople strolling to dinner or the theater.

The bougainvillea hangs from everywhere. The real voices of children calling in their native french language fill the air. For a brief moment we are transported back to French Martinique in the early 1900s.

Our stay here is 2 days because we want to have a meal at Tamaya restaurant, rated one of the best in Martinique! There are 6 tables at this small restaurant, all set with white table clothes. We are the first arrivals of the evening and it’s 7pm ( most French dining establishments don’t open until 6:30 or 7) We are greeted by one of the owners, Peggy, who thankfully speaks English. She takes our order for a bottle of wine. We peruse the menu and see her husband the chef peeking out from the kitchen .

He waves a ‘hello’. We are instructed on the specials and other menu items and she interjects her preferences. After she returns from the kitchen, we hear her story of starting the restaurant, the ups and downs of the business and sailing. She spent many a day in her life on a boat as well. Our dinner is delightful. I have dorade with vegetables and Mike has a delicious veal, all truly French… with Easter chocolate eggs from France as a kind gesture! We stroll through the lamp lit village back to the boat on a full moon night and decide to stay another day and hike.

We make our way in typical Mike and Nancy fashion ( late hot morning) to the statue of Virgin Mary. She overlooks the anchorage and the sailors coming and going. It is a nice street that takes up high above the water and has a great view of the city and Mt Pele

St Pierre, Mt Pele in background

The afternoon is spent making water and looking at the map for the next day’s short motor to Fort de France, the capital of this island.

Upon anchoring and with the engine off we can hear mass being said this Good Friday from the speakers of the Catholic Church that looms over the city. It is enchanting. The bells ring upon conclusion and we remember all the Good Friday masses we have attended, the soberness present in this beautiful bright Caribbean city anchorage.

We get reacquainted with a neighbor boat from Canada we met last year in Guadeloupe and enjoy an evening with them taking sailing and travels. We spend time along the waterfront watching the people and listening to the local music that afternoon.

Saturday morning we attempt to take a bus to the shopping center and get on the 421 instead of the 420 bus. We have been told of a great sports outlet store and enormous grocery here. When it is clear our bus isn’t going the way we intended we ask to get off and have a 3 km walk to our destination. Good thing for phones with GPS that we used to follow the bus route!!!

The shopping was magnificent. We found a real mall with clothing, jewelry and electronics stores. The Hyper U is one of the largest in the Caribbean. And being the day before Easter, it was packed with shoppers!! We like to check out the French wines… they are quiet grand and , well cheap!! The sports outlet store Decathalon we find great deals on some nice performance clothing. Coincidence, but we arrive at the bus stop to return to the boat and unbelievably the gal who spoke English and told us bus 420 was standing there, she laughed heartily when we told her of our mistake!

Easter Sunday

After being awakened by glorious church bells at sunrise we have coffee and decide to head for another anchorage along the western coast of Martinique. We check out anchorages of Anse Mitan and Anse Noir, and decide on Anse Dufour for an afternoon of snorkeling and hiking in the rain. We are amazed at all the locals on the beach for Pacques( Easter) swimming, barbecuing and dancing even in the rain!!

April 2

We chose to move anchor a few Mike’s to Anse Chaudrie. A grassy bay where we must find a spot of sand to successfully set the anchor. The snorkeling here is great, but in getting to the snorkel reef I feel I have observed to many sea snakes below for my liking. That afternoon we meet up again with fellow cruisers on the boat Tasman. They sail our sister ship a Caliber 40 as well. In fact, their boat spent the summer cuddled right next to Lost Loon in Clarkes Court Marina!!

We find some great seashore hikes here several hundred feet above the water with great views. We found another spot to snorkel this was for the hot afternoon.

That brings us to our current location at St Anne, Martinique. Currently the Mecca for hundreds of sailboats moving North and some moving South, as we are.

Will post this and get writing on that update !!

Merci d’arreter! !

Anatomy of a Great Sail…from my perspective

It has been great to be back on the water for the winter. That feeling when you have put some sail up and headed in some direction propelled by the wind with the engine off is heaven. There is a yearning for that gentle ocean lull and wind that sings through the sails that we have come to love. The clear blue skies and ocean to match or revel that becomes addicting. We have grown to adore the part of our lives on the ocean. It is however wonderful to spend time with family and friends in the Summer off-season

We are by far not as experienced as some of our acquaintances on this vast ocean, but feel that we have accumulated some liquid miles and continue to accept the lessons from the sea.

Our boat is built and outfitted for heavy ocean conditions and we like to think that we are becoming better at adjusting her to tolerate and sail these different situations. “She”, Lost Loon, teaches US as well. Nevertheless, we have developed some qualifications for a great sail.

First, we have intent. This meaning that we have a destination in mind but rarely a time frame. (This season is a bit different with guests coming aboard, time was of the essence, but it is not typically the case. For when they have come and gone we will be left to decide on the journey). We have limited our travels within the waters of the Leeward and Windward islands of the Caribbean and our eventual goal is to be in Grenada in May.

So, this means that we can travel as fast or as slow through the islands as we chose in a given time period, with the goal of exploration. We have done quite a few “overnight passages” some great and some we would rather forget, but we enjoy the daylight scenery when we can make it from anchorage to anchorage before the sun sets. However, all that being said, we are quite compelled by settled seas, good winds and the phase of a full moon to set sail!

Mike and I would agree in the nearly 2 winters here in the Caribbean we have had a handful of REALLY GREAT sails. On leaving Antigua for Guadeloupe 2 weeks ago we found such conditions. Previous to this we had time to spend with visiting friends on and around the beautiful island. We also met up with “old” cruising friends from last year for a few sweet days of boat talk and sea slang, and were fortunate in just a few days to meet new cruising couples.

We had said our temporary good-byes (as they always are for seafarers) the evening before the sail, and settled in early to preparr for our day ahead. We had not made many day sails in the last couple of weeks and were quite anxious to get back into the open water again.

In our sail plans, we usually calculate our motoring speed at 5 knots as worst conditions. We had hoped to have and were rewarded with favorable easterly trade winds for our 70-mile rhumline South from Hermitage Bay, Antigua to Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

With coffee brewing in the press, we had the trusty 25 kg Rocna anchor up and secured on a very calm morning by 0530 and had begun our daysail on an early moonless morning, still with darkness. And to demonstrate how clear these waters were, with just the light of my headlamp I had enough visibility to see the anchor coming up from 20 feet below.

We were soon quietly motoring through the anchorage as other sailing acquaintances were finishing the last of their dreams for the night.

Once we were out of the anchorage, we turned into the little bit of a 9-knot breeze to raise the mainsail for the day. We insured we had 1 reef in the sail, despite the call for 12-15 knots of wind. This decreased the footprint we would use to propel the boat in the event we found some spirited winds over the 20-knot range. The sail is sometimes difficult to raise quickly due to the presence of lines that hold up the large sailbag on the boom (aka: stack pack lazy jacks) and the batons that firm up the body of the sail get caught here from time to time. But on this day, the first sign of our good luck, the massive sail went up without a hitch. We eased off on the sheet as we fell off the wind, heading more in the direction of our destination.

We spent the next 20 minutes going further offshore to see what the winds had in store for us that morning. As much as 20 degrees and sometimes 10-15 knot differences in the wind direction and force can be found offshore. Once we had a feel for the general, and consistent direction of the wind which was more like 45 degrees off the bow of the boat, we released the giant genoa. As I cranked on the winch to pull this sail in off the starboard side of the boat, we first felt the slight surge through the water and then the gentle heel to that side as Lost Loon gained speed.

Once the diesel was turned off, we heard the familiar sounds of first gurgling and then rushing water coming off the rudder behind the boat as we gained speed. This 13-ton vessel takes a bit to get going, but within minutes we were moving at nearly 6 knots in 12 knots of wind as the first sign of daylight became apparent over the mountains of Antigua. We set the staysail, to give us just a bit more lift before we felt we had maximized Lost Loon’s potential.

We were the only vessel moving that morning and felt we owned the ocean for a time, passing anchorages of sailboats sitting or rocking calmly until others became apparent on the horizon several hours later. We moved through the crisp, salty sea now with intent to make anchorage in DeShaies, where the space can be limited, by mid-afternoon. The water made several color changes as we headed from shallow to deeper waters between the islands. The waves we had expected to be in the 4-6 foot range, barely made 1-3 feet. This allowed Lost Loon to move as swiftly as she could without the backward push of the waves or swells.

As the morning became brighter, winds increased up into the 15-17 knot range propelling the boat into the 6.5 to 7 knot sailing speed! We were two pretty happy sailors. After just 3 hours we had covered nearly 20 miles, far out-reaching the conservative 5-knot per hour speed we had anticipated! We watched as sailboats in the distance came closer and passed making their way to Antigua and the outline of Guadeloupe appeared on the horizon.

We lunched on sandwiches and cokes, enjoying the easy motion of the boat. We were able to use the autopilot steering with someone at the wheel to monitor direction and speed. We rested in shifts as Lost Loon moved up and down the waves and through the wind. Nearly half-way between the islands of Antigua and Guadeloupe, in the early afternoon, I was at the helm watching for on-coming traffic or obstructions when I immediately spied water spouting right in front of the bow. I had seen a days-worth of flying fish skirt the surface as they so gracefully can. I took a second glance, and then realized that roughly 200 feet off the bow were a couple of whales moving very slowly across our path. It wasn’t immediately obvious, as sometimes small breaking waves can look like spouts, but it was definitely a whale. This would require quick action to avoid a collision. I quickly called to Mike and simultaneously took the steering off autopilot and made a redirection to starboard enough to clear these enormous fish. We passed within 40 feet to see 2 (likely humpback) whales just enjoying the sun-drenched afternoon.  Many whales inhabit the Caribbean, finding the warm currents perfect fishing and spawning grounds. Pictures? They will forever be ingrained in our memory, as I barely had time to avoid hitting them let alone get a good picture with the camera while Mike took over the navigation.

As we continued on toward our destination, the one-dimensional grey outline of Guadeloupe slowly developed into two and three dimensions. The colors also changed from the grey to blue and hues of green and brown became apparent as the mountainous outline appeared to take shape.

Our approach to the island from the north also provided us with some nice winds to carry us close to DeShaies anchorage before starting the engine. Since we have been at this location several times we know the good places to set anchor and tried spying with the binoculars to see if “our spot” was available. It wasn’t until we were much closer that we would need to find another sandy spot.

We have worked out a procedure for taking down the sails. Once the genoa and staysail are safely furled, we wait until we have room to turn in to lighter winds and lower the main into its sailbag for the night’s rest. We can now concentrate on where to anchor. We have the advantage with an early arrival that the sun is still nearly overhead and we can see sandy spots easily. We are anchored easily today, as our luck continues. Once we have the lines tidied and equipment stowed, its time to relax, rest and watch the others of the sailing world come to find a place of rest for the evening.

It was a great day of sailing. It erases the memory of the “not-so-great” sails (with that eraser that has sat in the drawer for years…they become blurry) and so we chalk it up to experience. It is from whence we can appreciate the good days. We watch the sunset and are thankful for each one.

Sorry for the missing pictures! Must be a data problem.