Nigel North
Mon 18 Feb 2013 03:33


Position: N 16:13.45 W 061: 32.09 POINTE A PITRE, GUADALOUPE

We left Martinique at 1130, struggling a bit to get the main up whilst heading straight at the towering back end of a huge ship, but then enjoyed pleasant winds along the lee side of Martinique, Force 3/4 mostly. I had full sail up except the mizzen by the time we were abeam Mount Pelee' - the volcano that erupted in 1902 killing nearly 30,000. But then we lost the wind and motor sailed the first 3 hours just to keep the impetus going. I killed the engine around 1300 but started up again an hour and a half later briefly, and briefly again a bit later. The 60' Italian boat with the rounded gunnels that had dogged up from St Lucia started with us, but with just half a mainsail up, nothing else, and he took the inside passage and very gradually left us behind.. We had met the skipper several times already, in Customs etc, a tall swarthy Italian with long matted black hair which looked like it had never been washed, and a slightly haunted look on his face. He only spoke a few words of English. I helped him with the Customs computer.

Mt Pelee' was tall enough to send some serious gusts our way but looking up at the clouds I reckoned the 2000' wind was only about 15kts, so risked full sail. I was right. We had no dramas with the wind.. Neither was it particularly nasty rounding the northern tip - as it had been in St Lucia on leaving - and only a slight adjustment to the right was needed to make good the windward coast of Dominica. directly to the north.

But as we approached the high ground ahead, after dark now, the wind backed to NNE which put it dead on the nose, so once again the Yanmar took over. I took the first watch starting at 2100 and K went below to sleep, but I'm not sure she got much. It took 2½ hours of motoring to get past Dominica's unhelpful winds which tended to follow the coastline, but finally I could kill the iron sail and put real Dacron ones to work again. It was a gentle F3 by then.

Midnight came and K was already up, ready to go for her watch until 0300. All was well throughout for her.

0330: we were making around 4 kts in this gentle wind, and sailing fairly close to it, and as I came on watch the dark northern coastline of Dominica was abeam us. 'It seems to take forever to get past this island' was K's comment.

We were now on course to pass up the windward side of Marie Galente - the rounded Guadeloupe island south of the main island. Once again the coastline veered the wind as we approached but this time we could continue under sail. Pinball sails well in light winds.

By midday we were approaching the low lying coastline of Grand Terre (sarcastically named as it is flat. Basse-Terre (Low Land) to the west is mountainous, being the newer of the two halves of the island. French humour I guess.

It was difficult to recognise any features along the flat low lying coastline of Grand Terre, but the GPS brought us in nicely to our chosen landfall. I was nervous. Sainte Francoise is a small harbour with recently rebuilt marina, outside of which are two small anchorages in amongst considerable coral reefs. A narrow, shallow passage connected them all. I was hoping for there to be just a few yachts anchored, but was to be disappointed. As we entered the buoyed channel - as shallow as 2.5 metres at one point - all we could see were moored and anchored yachts. Tentatively we turned into this crowded reef looking for a gap, but within a few yards, inching along into wind, the depth was down to 1.7, which is Pinballs draft! That was enough for me, time to go. I tried to reverse out but risked being blown into the boats either side, so had to risk turning in front of the one on our right. But we made it without touching... Phew!

There was a French boat that had just entered the channel from seaward, coming towards us now as we powered into the wind and growing waves outbound again. To pass correctly we should both be to starb'd of the channel, passing port bow to port bow. But he was right over on 'my' side and as far as I could see, heading straight for the dangerously shallow reef that bordered the channel. After a minute of aiming at him hoping he would take the hint, I gave up and turned away to motor up the other side of the channel, well clear of him. Rules of the road are only any good if both parties obey them! Just as we were nearing eachother in this narrow 100m wide channel, he suddenly turned hard to starb'd - straight at me! It looked like he was intent on ramming, and I immediately gave it full throttle to try and avert the disaster, but Pinball weighs around 9 tons laden and takes time to accelerate.

What the hell was he doing?

Just before impact he turned back on course and we passed eachother; clearly he had not been looking out at all but just heading for the buoys as the dark line of the reef is clearly visible just a few feet below the surface, and then had suddenly woken up and had a heart attack, passing one on to me too. For that lack of awareness he very nearly took us both out. We glared at eachother.

Away from the reefs I relaxed, and set course for Pointe a Petre, in the centre of this butterfly shaped island and the hub of all things maritime. We were downwind, so set just the genoa and mizzen, giving us 4.5 knots.

The island is split by a 'river' - actually a seawater mangrove channel that cuts right through the island's middle - and it was in the broad approaches to Riviere Salee that we finally dropped anchor amongst a dozen other boats, outside the Marina de Pointe a Petre. It had taken 30 hours.

K had done well. I don't think she slept much and was always up before her watch started.. She slept in the port cabin bunk as her usual port quarter berth under the cockpit can be a bit noisy when sailing - the block on deck for the genoa sheet makes a right racket.

We went ashore, found the Captainerie (marina office), cleared in on the computer just before it closed, then came back for food and bed after some wifi work in the entensive marina complex.



Ah the life of a sailor! Harbour routine on a tropical island! Yes and whilst the crew trotted off happily with a good looking local surf coach to surf the local waves, the Skipper took on the heads.

The heads (sea toilet) had blocked en route from Martinique. This is not funny. Its not the end of the world either, as there is always the bucket. But buckets don't tend to go down well with new crew, especially new female crew, so running repairs were made at sea but achieved only partial success ie the pump was very hard to work.

For those of a weak disposition, you can skip the next paragraph or so. The curious, read on. A heads works by suction, pumping out the toilet and sucking in fresh seawater at the same time to flush it. It works well. Trouble is, the pipes and pump get covered in limescale from the seawater and gradually foul up. Too much paper finishes the job. Its blocked.

Thats where the Skipper comes in with his bucket, hammer and screwdriver. Despite the fact that the manual pump is made in Bangor N Wales, it disassembles very easily. Rubber valves can be removed and cleaned up, as can the diaphragm. But the pipes are not so easy.

Harry the Oz in the next boat along the anchorage, who's on his way back to Oz via either the Panama canal, or overland on a truck somewhere in N America, he hasn't decided which yet, chugged over for a chat. 'There's only one way to clean a heads pipe', he said dramatically with the air of one who knows...' on concrete'. My less satisfactory method had been beating it off the back of the boat, leaving the debris scattered all over the place. Tip: don't do it at night.

It was this action rather bizarrely that had convinced Harry that I wasn't actually a potential boat thief when I came back to Pinball at night arriving on the wrong side with my headtorch on, all highly suspicious activity in his book. 'No thief would clean a heads pipe' he added. A real philosopher.

Having made a thorough mess, I then decided to buy new piping as it was the devil's own job to get the plastic pipe off the hull fitting, and it sprang a small leak with the effort, having split. This is a real hazard as the hull fitting is a good foot or two below sea level, so if the pipe fails the boat would soon fill. Yes, you can turn off the cock to stop it, but would you find the leak in time? Would you even be on the boat when it happened! So... new pipe, or sink?

The chandlers didn't have any. Go to the dockyard they said. I did, and they did have some, which had to be got down from the attic. 'But only see-through pipe' the feisty Madam explained, having measured my example with a micrometer. Ok. See-through pipe then. The nice white non see-through pipe was the wrong size by 2mm. Six metres of plastic pipe, a snip at 109 Euros. But see-through piping is not really what you want on a heads, do I need to explain why? So now all the visible bits have been bound with white electrical insulation tape, to hide the blushes.

I had planned to leave Guadeloupe yesterday 8 Feb 2013 for Antigua - a long day sail - but as I'd only seen the inside of the heads so far I delayed to Monday and set off on the bike to have a look around the town. Pointe a Pitre is a busy Caribbean style town of market traders but with typical French housing - great blocks of washing draped flats looking dismal and out dated, anything from 4 stories to 8 high. Here the Afro Caribs lived, and it was they that filled the streets lined with street vendors selling drinks or food. A large open fruit and veg market brightened by brightly coloured African dressed vendors, and the produce looked good. But it is expensive here. Guadeloupe is a part of France, and therefore European. VAT! Meat prices are high too, more than UK. But I did buy a piece of delicious looking hot roast chicken from a downtown supermarket, devouring it like a dog at the roadside. It was fabulous.


Walking up the sort of high street pushing the bike through the crowds, I passed a long lanky Afro local, all arms and legs, a good 6' 6" and lean as a toothbrush, strangely dancing in the busy road waving his arms around and jerking away to some hidden beat in his head. He was wearing red pantaloons and shirtless, and if it hadn't been for his colour, would have looked like something out of Knights of Arabia.

The marina outside of which we are anchored, is big, with over 1000 berths - all stern to, with a pick up buoy holding the bow out. It is very well served with facilities, cafes etc, and has a shower block. The trick for cruisers is to use the showers without paying for the privilege. To open the two doors you need a magnetic key thing which we didn't have of course, but first night in it was easy and we just followed others in. Yesterday I wanted to use the washing machines in there, so did the same, waited half an hour for a machine to be free, met a French redhead from Brittany who kindly talked me through the operation, went for a shower, recovered my stuff and folded it damp into the bag. It was amazing. Up until then there had been any number of people coming and going - you could hardly move in the foyer - right up until the moment I'm ready to go and there's no one. Just me, a locked electronic door, and the bag. And the surveillance camera of course.

I get my mobile out and fake a conversation for anyone watching, feeling a dick. Still no one comes. No one in the showers. Deserted. Five minutes - stretching it for a phone conversation - ten minutes comes and goes. My faking has dried up. At last! Someone outside, three of them. I am ready to pounce, to seize the moment, bag right by the door, phone at the ear, monologue in progress. The door remains closed. Strange buzzing noises, and clicks. Still no door opening. Seeing me inside, one of them calls out, 'Heh, monsieur! Ouvre le port!' Uh oh, just my bloody luck their key doesn't work. Of course they expect me to have my own key and want me to open the door for them. I pretend not to notice..turn away and increase the volume of my stupid monologue, but they are staring at me in disbelief. Why doesn't he open the door!? I press feebly on the door as it buzzes and clicks, impressing no one. Eventually I am saved from further humiliation by another punter arriving and opening up, and I escape like a trapped bird. But the washing's done!

The last night in Guadeloupe we met up with Martin and Max, two German guys on Martin's newly bought yacht, a 36' er, their plan being to sail around visiting surf sites - thus of considerable interest to Krisha. Their dinghy was hopeless ie deflates, so we'd ferried them in for a beer in Perky. Earlier that day we'd also welcomed Rebecca to PW having arrived lugging kite surfing kit, so she was their with us.

Rebecca's boyfriend pitched up too, and we took him out to show him the boat, and thats when I found the cockroaches.

There were three little ones, and one big one. Really big. Well fed sort of sized. Krisha said dont kill it as it lays eggs when you kill it, so they were all captured one by one and given a float test. Quite how a cockie manages to have the presence of mind to lay eggs when being battered to death was impressive. Another item on the list of things to get next day - acide borique, boric acid. But this was just one more invasion of our spaces by unwanted guests - a week ago Krisha had brought her bowl of cereal down from the deck one sunny morning and shown me the maggots in it. I couldn't show her mine as I'd just eaten my bowlful. Well it was quite dark below. 'All good fresh protein' I said bravely. Now, the cereal is kept in its sealed packet inside a sealed container, and is given a good look over first.