POSITION: 14:33.20N 61:03.39W ANSE MITAN, MARTINIQUE
Saturday 4 Feb 2017 SAIL St LUCIA TO St ANNE’S BAY, MARTINIQUE
Check out with Customs, so often that microcosm of concentrated malignancy, but no ‘overtime’ charges this time, for once. They must be slipping.
Purchase a harness in the marina’s on site chandlery to simplify the lifting of the new outboard on and off the dinghy, in the hope that, with no one now to assist, I won’t get clobbered by 57 kilos of propellor in the process. Colin - cheerful, honest, switched on, excellent company and crew - left Pinball as of the end of January, to be reunited with his beloved ‘Hels’ in Antigua.
A good time then to get going, set course for French Martinique, a piece of Europe in the Caribbean, and catch up with the crew of BALI who have beaten me to it by a few days.
Lips quite badly blistered by the sun from the trip up, so no one is kissing me.
Left quietly at 0700, so so easy in Rodney Bay, and headed out turning North round the bluff headland that is Pigeon Island, now no longer an island after the gap was filled with the excavations from the marina site, and currently a nature reserve. Seen from the marina, Pigeon Island always looks to me like a back view of King Kong.
Winds were initially modest but increased 20-25 kts and backed a little until Pinball had to be brought hard onto the wind if we were to make St Anne’s in Southern Martinique, where I expected to find BALI. For hours Pinball enjoyed a fighter escort of Brown Boobies or maybe North Atlantic Gannets, they are similar, dive bombing the fish in parallel right next to Pinball, yet always keeping up. I wondered why they did this, and thought perhaps Pinball was scaring the hell out of the fish making it easier to spot them. Some flew just a few feet away port side in echelon. You are never alone at sea thanks to the birds, except perhaps mid ocean, and even then the occasional pelagic loner appears . Some white terns joined in after a while too, and seemed more successful with their fishing. Being considerably smaller, they are perhaps more easily pleased, but their technique is different too, sea-skimming and plucking prey on the wing. No wet wings for them!
I was lucky; a big wet squall went through St Lucia not long after we’d departed, but left us in peace - ‘us’ being Pinball and the old guy inside.
Five hours later having sustained impressive speeds of 6.5-7.0 kts, PW arrived off the attractive coastal village of St Anne, on the southern side of the estuary like inlet leading to Marin . I was thinking of going in for a ‘flyby’ of BALI, but a damnably cheeky little French yacht was paralleling Pinball and gradually closing, effectively blocking any possible turn into wind, so I had to abandon thoughts of a turn and just hold course, out of bloody mindedness as much as anything and force them to slow down and pass behind. This was a bit naughty of me as they had the right of way technically, but my attitude was that they had made the situation, not me, so they could sort it out! After ‘I’d won’ I dropped all sail and motored east the couple of miles up the marked channel into MARIN, where the guide book says one must go to check in with Customs.
Marin is just a massive boat park and marina (700 berths, 1500 boats in total) - much of it for those horrible chunky charter catamarans, like floating apartments - but on arrival and after a good look round, found nowhere at all to tie up so I could get off, and finally did the only thing left - came onto the fuel dock.
I’m singlehanded right, but no one makes any attempt to assist with mooring lines, so have to nose in very slowly, jump off and ‘walk’ Pinball up the dock in gear at tickover to assist, like he’s on a lead, in quite a strong wind, then get back on to sling the stern line ashore, and tie that. The things they make you do.
But the good thing now is…PInball has full reverse thrust! Fixed that in Marigot Bay by hacking the excess rubber off the throttle handle so it can now be pushed to full astern. Not that we needed it in that wind.. But we did shoot out of the berth in Marigot in reverse, as much to my surprise as anyone’s.
Took on diesel - the nozzle, for once, small enough to fit in Pinballs diesel tank so didn’t need the funnel - but even so the fuel was blowing back up in great belches of trapped air until, with a little experimentation, found that if I kept a smallish stream going down vertically without touching the sides, it didn’t belch. But a right fiddle even so. Using a funnel, which I normally have to, the only way that works is to get the fuel spinning in the top of the funnel so that as it disappears down the hole you get an air gap in the middle, courtesy of centrifugal force.
After paying - just like in a car garage complete with vacant girl at the counter - I approached the pug-faced attendant and in my best Janet and John French asked if I could leave Pinball on the dock for 20 minutes whilst I went to Customs.
A torrent of mainly undecipherable French came back, indicating that no, I would have to go to the Marina having first anchored and dinghy in. However, I persisted. Flinging the window open next to us which overlooks the channel, Pug-face hung out and began bellowing to I presume his superior, who happened to be passing in a small motorboat, whether I might be allowed to stay for ‘vingt minuit’ . Watching the body language on the boat, much arm waving, a Gallic shrug or two, and I’m none the wiser. But the answer was, astonishingly, ‘Ouis! MAIS JUSQUE VINGT MINUIT’, fixing me with a hard look.
Well it took all of ten minutes just to walk there…no longer handily in the nearby building next to the fuel dock as marked in Doyle’s ‘Guide to the Windward Islands’, but moved to a swanky office above the grandiose new marina building, to which I was finally escorted by a roly poly but kindly French madame after flip-flopping around the head of the inlet. Surprising how much noise flip flops make in a hurry.
Inside the airy office stood a queue at the desk showing no discernible movement, heart sank. But then some self-help computers in an adjoining room caught the eye, and I was on it! In all the French islands, Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Barts and St Marten, they have the astonishingly obvious idea that you clear yourself in and out with Customs and Immigration on a computer of theirs. This single systemic advance makes a visit to a French island so much better than anywhere else. Mind you, its not a perfect system.
Out of kindness no doubt, some of the instructions are in English, but mostly in French. I was ok with that. What slows you down is the French keyboard; c’est different! The M and another letter I forget is in a completely different location to the rest of the world, so if you are a touch typist like me, you will spend some time re-typing with one jutting finger at snails pace all the bits with M’s in. But then there’s the itemised lists of answers. You can’t just type the answer, oh no..you have to find it on the drop-down list, then click on one of the approved answers. Sounds ok doesn’t it? So the question is: Where was your passport issued? Ok, lets try Great Britain? Nope. United kingdom then? Nope, not there either. Ok, maybe its ‘England’? Nope. Now I’m struggling. Only one thing to do..laboriously go through their itemised list one by one and see if I recognise anything…Its a LONG list. Its got every country in the world in there.
Except mine. We don’t exist.
Finally I settle for the only possible solution - ‘Europe’! You’ve got to smile haven’t you. So when we’ve finally Brexitted (2027?) they’ll just have to amend all their computers and put the UK back on. The French won’t like that much.
The young lad at the Customs desk didn’t look remotely like a Customs Officer, more like a archeology student on a gap year, but as I approached the desk he asked if I was ‘Peenball Wizarrd?’ This was encouraging, as I’d pressed the ‘PRINT’ button not really knowing if that’s what we were supposed to do. But there in his pale hand was my Customs clearance form, which he quickly perused…and stamped.
Then found a problem with it. I had put a departure date of a month hence, and for some reason this was not acceptable. His explanation was incomprehensible until the expansive Dutchman next to me translated, in perfect English - ‘You have put a departure date in. You should leave that blank and return when you want to leave’.
‘Ok. Well can't you just cross it out?’ I said looking to the young man in the desperate hope I wouldn't have to do it all again.
‘Don't worry' reassured our genial Dutchman 'He has stamped it!’
Wednesday 8 February 2017 ST ANNE’s BAY ANCHORAGE, MARTINIQUE
Went off exploring in the dinghy, south along the heavily wooded coast then carefully left around the headland looking for shallows and into open ocean swell. Experimentation with speed on the swell persuaded me it wasn’t the greatest of ideas, unless you like being airborne, which I do of course, but with wings attached. Further along the wood-lined shore was another sandy beach, at the far end of which some real breakers were roaring in - clearly shallow waters. I was surprised there weren’t any surfers. Apart from a small family group further down the beach, I was on my own, and thoughts of what I might have to do if the engine packed up focused the mind sufficiently to turn round and run back, playing in the swell. Get the power/speed right and you can surf a wave nicely - and save fuel too.
Thursday 9 February 2017 EXPLORE MARIN
Off in Barbara again, with a full tank (3 hrs to go to end-of-run-in period) to explore MARIN a bit more, and try and find the ‘dinghy-only’ river in the guide book that leads into town. I succeeded, but it had fallen into disuse.
Went into the expensive looking CARENANTILLES Boatyard with all my laundry, of which I was relieved by a wiry nut brown woman behind the counter in one of those shanty shacks you could put up in a weekend, that also passed as lounge, bar, library and general store for the mainly idle occupants of boats in the yard. Outside stood the Marina's massive, brand new travel hoist boasting 440 tons of lift standing sentinel over the launch ramp like something from War of the Worlds, with its younger brother - a mere 80 ton’er - close by. I wouldn’t like to think what their charges are. Surprising really, as the boatyard is not that big.
Took in Leader Price SuperMarche on the way back, handily with its own dinghy dock, right next door to the boatyard. Then a great downwind whizz the several miles back down the inlet and round the corner to the anchorage. Downwind means down-sea, and down sea is ten times more pleasant my backside tell me, than fighting upwind in a 2’ wind chop.
Friday 10 February 2017 DAY SAIL ON BALI
Offered and accept a day sail on BALI, on a sunny, Force 3-4 day, to Diamond Rock and back.
Les brings BALI in alongside perfectly, I hop aboard like the teenager I'd like to be, and we're away with no paint or tempers lost. Steering BALI on the helm was a joy, so well balanced is she. Rounding the Rock we had a few minutes of fun with a wind reversal in the lee just as a catamaran was approaching to compete for our sea-space, but all was resolved. Two more tacks and we were home, as BALI sails really well hard on the wind. A pleasant day. No tea though. A few days later BALI set course south to return to Grenada, with a new employer in prospect for Les.
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 UNUSUAL WEATHER
In accordance with the forecast, the winds are most unusually going round clockwise from East to South as of last night, and now SW’ly which is bringing in a short wind driven sea down the estuary. Some boats have left, others are running in looking for shelter or a break. Not much shelter here now! How about none.. The ‘normal’ wind is the Easterly trade wind, plus or minus a bit. There is now no shelter between the anchored boats and the wind driven waves i.e. open sea. If anyone’s anchor drags, they’ll be on the beach/rocks.
1200: Barbara, with engine attached, is currently hauled up starboard side, mainly for overnight security, but the dinghy is abrading against Pinball as he pitches in this rising sea. Sit on deck and try and figure the best way to get the engine off in this chop, without injury, as it’s all getting a bit wild. Consider hauling Barbara up to deck level (as its not far short of that now) and attaching another halyard to the engine to lift it off the back. After much thought, abandon this idea as there would be a point at which I would have to let the engine go whilst I hauling it up on the winch, and it would then be swinging around bludgeoning all in its path, me included. So it would have to be the usual method - drop the dinghy in the water, undo it, walk it back and re-attach at the stern alongside the mizzen boom. Get in without falling in. Tie the dinghy’s stern loosely to Pinball’s stern (going up and down like a jackhammer), and attach the hoist on the end of the mizzen boom to the engine harness - hoping it was long enough to not snatch the engine up in this swell. Barely!
Accomplished, no bruises, engine did bash around a bit but not too bad. But at least the outboard is safe now and not going to invert on Barbara if a big swell comes in. Some crew would be nice in situations like this.
1600: up to check all’s well. Barbara is looking ok on her long lead. Pinball is pitching around quite a lot, with a 3’ wind driven chop continuing to build from the SW. We are now facing West in about 20kts, with the SW’ly wind funnelling up the estuary turning it Westerly - the very opposite to the normal Trade wind direction. There are a lot of boats bobbing around hanging off their anchors…hoping they don't drag tonight! Quite a lot of boats have come beetling in looking for protection, and not finding it here. I have two boats upwind of me, which I’m keeping an eye on in case they drag into me.
Not the only thing upwind; big black clouds promise strong winds and heavy rain. Close and lock the forward hatch.
My anchor drag alert app has just gone off for the second time, although it is set up quite tight, but a check reveals no dragging - probably just went outside the ‘alert ring’ in the stronger wind which will stretch out the chain. Might have to lengthen that soon..
1630: no sooner said than… went on deck to run out more cable, had to disentangle the snubber (which takes shock loads off the anchor rode), then run out another 15 metres of cable just as it starts to rain, and Skipper in just knickers. Boat in front is kicking around in yaw a lot, as some boats do, putting additional strain on their anchor. Pinball doesn’t except in very strong winds, in which case I would set the mizzen which helps keep the boat straight and reduces the tendency to ‘sail’ left and right. Snaking would be a good word. Some boats are really bad for it and veer around wildly turning through 90 degrees or more.
The big black cloud is now right with us. The wind has veered even more clockwise to NW (we started this heading East) but thankfully died back a bit - at the moment. Called ‘clocking’ in the Caribbean, where the wind goes right round through 360 degrees usually due to the presence of a Cold Front arriving from the North, blocking off the Trade winds temporarily.
There are quite a few catamarans anchored just off the rocks who are - if there is anyone aboard - probably regretting dropping anchor quite so close to that nice pretty beach as it is now a lee shore in this strong NW’ly wind and they will be in big trouble if they drag.
1700: Wind died right back. Good.
Still very grey and overcast, with a choppy sea running.
1705: Wind’s back again.
1720: With a wind just north of West, we are not going to get any protection from the Northern side of the estuary. In an hour it will be dark, and could be a long night; an anchor watch is probably going to be needed. I would feel happier if I could haul Barbara back on board, but some of the waves are breaking now, and it could be hazardous. However, better to do it in daylight that in the middle of the night. So what to do?
Quite a few bods on deck, peering anxiously down at their anchor rodes.
Glad I’ve got the outboard on board, and not on the back of the dinghy, like most still have. A breaking wave can easily flip it over.
This sea is giving quite a ride. Its not big, but very short i.e. one wave following another immediately, so pitching continuously. Its the pitching that can wrench an anchor out, and one reason why more chain out is better.
1750: A small French aluminium yacht thats was on my starboard bow is now nearly abeam, and not far off, about 30m, so pretty sure he’s dragging his anchor. It has an open transom so is constantly taking water up the back into the cockpit. The Skipper stands there fiddling with the painters for the two dinghies hanging off the back, and has like me lengthened them to reduce the snatching. The problem here is, if the wind continues to veer - as it is forecast to do - then he will at some stage be right smack bang in front of me, dragging, and very close.
Considering upping anchor and leaving this crowded anchorage…but where to go?
A strong blast, probably around 30kts (at a guess as the anemometer had decided not to work again) associated with the rain storm currently going through here, has just subsided, setting off the anchor alarm again. Have taken a transit sight with a mast ashore to assess for dragging, but will prob lose it in the dark, which wont be long now.
1830: Dark. The wind has settled down a bit, with a consequential moderation of the seastate.
Good time for supper. Decide not to cook, but have a lunch instead; pork slices, tomatoes, salad, French cheese, mayo all in a tortilla. Keep it simple stupid..
No sign of any dragging. Good boy Pinball.
The wind has backed to West again after that rain storm, so hopes of some protection from the land if it goes Northerly fades away. Now on a lee shore. Last time this happened, in Turks and Caiscos Islands, Pinball very nearly ended up on the rocks. I try not to think about that.
2300: Wind has calmed right down, and seas are reluctantly following suit. Go up on deck, climb in the dinghy - still hanging on behind Pinball - and attach the lifting halyard, climb out and hoist it out of the water alongside the mast. Without the weight of the outboard on the back it’s quite lively with all the ship’s movement, so lash it tight to the nearest stanchions fore and aft, then padlock its chain to the deck.
2400: Pinball, confused now, is slowly turning circles in light airs. Almost back to East again, but rolling, rolling, rolling.. Wind generator has stopped. Outside in the estuary, its a forest of anchor lights waving to and fro rather bizarrely as they roll with their ships, which remain unseen beneath. The French have very liberal ideas on how to light their vessels at night at anchor, and clearly think any old light will do; blue lights, red lights, two or even three white lights in odd places, flashing white/red/white lights, you name it. None of them legal, and hard work if you’re trying to get past.
Anchor watch gratefully scrubbed. The worst is over..
Saturday, 22 April 2017
Brightish start but raining by 0900. Forecast is for a week of rain, and light winds except midweek. Catamaran called ALEXIC slips in quietly to anchor abeam Pinball, youngish couple, waved. No flag so French.
Morning spent reading all the news on the Net. Trouble is, so much of it is false, especially from TrumpLand, and every word from Russia a lie. But, reports of Russia moving heavy military equipment to the N Korean border, and China getting twitchy there too make for uneasy reading. The saga of Trumps much trumpeted ‘Armada’ is pure farce, with the carrier group still nowhere near Korea. Am grateful to have PM May at the UK’s helm and not someone as unpredictable as the unguided missile currently running the USA, apparently.
MONDAY 24 April 2017 SAIL ANSE MATIN BACK TO ST ANNE, STILL IN MARTINIQUE
Bright, gusty day.
Knackered. Bed last night at 9, and tried hard to stay there for the full 12 hours but only made 0830, overcome as I was by curiosity as to where we actually ended up last night after Pinball’s black-as-pitch night arrival amongst swaying anchor lights. Aiming for the least light populated black hole towards the southern end of Martinique’s yacht haven, with a row of dazzling sodium lights on shore right in the eyeline, it was a slow nose in looking for any rogue boats with no lights on. But it was ok, and anchor dropped a good 100m from the vast catamarans moored upwind.
It was not my best planned trip. Casually anticipating a 3 hour pleasant toodle south and then east back to St Anne, during which I promised myself en route a nice salad late lunch followed by a nice solar shower with some of that salvaged rainwater, it started well enough. Setting sail exactly at midday Pinball, under just a genoa and later the mizzen too, followed the wind west along the coast until, after a few blasts from high ground, it died almost to nothing. But heh, no hurry, I don't hurry do I. Leave all that to the racers, no not for me. Two knots. So maybe its time for lunch?
Then the wind came back. With a vengeance. If I’d thought about it, I’d have remembered just how strong the winds had been before between the two inlets - the one I’m leaving and the one I’m destined for. By now the mainsail was also up, three sails for the light winds that we didn’t have anymore. Heeling hard, we should have been up at 6 knots as we headed south, but nothing like that showing on the instruments. 4 knots, even 3 at times, with nearly 25 knots of wind? WHAT IS GOING ON! Maybe we had current against us? But a glance at the water and yes, that was 3 knots alright so its not a counter current. If it was a strong current we’d still be smashing along, just not going anywhere. Ok. We were towing Barbara. Yes that would slow us down a bit. But 3 knots slower? No way.
One look underwater at Pinballs dark brown fouled bottom revealed the answer. Time to scrape it all off. Scraped off first 3 feet of slime/barnacles. Shower, the water so hot from the sun it was almost too much. Feeling proud of myself for at least getting started on this unpleasant but necessary job.
Saturday, 29 April 2017
Having once again defaulted on my promise to myself to scrape the remainder of the hull, on the feeblest of excuses that I’m too hungry, and that you can’t swim after a meal can you, and just as I’m preparing to do something much more pleasureable like whizz off in Barbara somewhere, I have the brilliant idea to extend my reach with the hull scraping tool by attaching it to a pole. With the wooden handle of the soft deck brush removed from its business end, and a spare stainless steel clamp to attach the scraper, it is soon ready for trial. Driven by curiosity, I now renege on the defaulting in a not unusual volte face, and start preparing for a ducking. Out comes the shortie wetsuit as no matter the water’s 30deg C, last time I was cold afterwards, and anyway rubbing against barnacles is not healthy. Digging deeper into the diving locker, I unearthed a diver's knife to attach to a leg, in case of entanglement. Or was it to look good, like Hans and Lotte Hass? The wetsuit requires superhuman strength I haven’t got to move the plastic zip once on, but tying the zip cord to the compression pole above, and sitting down does the trick. The fins - ‘don't call them flippers!’ I can still hear the RN CD1 screaming - take a while, and once on are immediately regretted with the realisation that I haven’t yet used the inhaler that lies back in the cabin. No way am I taking them off again, so frog flop back down the companionway to spray my lungs. Finally I launch myself off the rail, not looking remotely like Hans and Lotte.
The scraper pole works. Now I can reach the deepest part of the hull whilst still notionally on the surface, even if not breathing. Breathing air through the snorkel, I discover, only works when properly face-down and concentrating. Any else and you're breathing water.
Later that night, whilst fiddling around at the bow adjusting the dinghy's bow line, there's a unsettling 'plop' as something drops in the water. Bugger! My wonderful three foot poking pole, just perfect for the job of shoving piled up anchor chain back down into its locker, had gone in.
SUNDAY 30 APRIL 2017 FIND THAT POLE! SCRAPE THAT HULL!!
Having taken the precaution of recording the heading that Pinball sat at anchor last night, so I could work out where the pole would be if the wind changed, wake to find we are some 50 degrees different today. I plot a likely position, struggle into a fiercely resisting wetsuit, splash and off I go in an attempt to search the arc the bow has swung through since last night. Looks simple from the deck. Not so when swimming face down. It was a fruitless search, covered many times, looking back at Pinball frequently to readjust the search pattern. No pole. Well, I found a pole, but not my pole.
Finally, almost resigned but not quite, I decide to change the technique; swim out to the anchor, add 50 degrees to the lie of the chain, and swim back down that imaginary line. Might even be witness marks in the sand where it lay, I thought brightly. There weren't. But what I did discover was that, being strewn with a fair number of rocks, the chain would not have swung uniformly through 50 degrees from the anchor, but more likely from the last big rock on which the chain would catch.
Found the pole!
Flushed with success, I return to Pinball as if carrying Blackbeard's lost treasure.
Next, no longer to be put off, was hull scraping. The pole mounted scraper had been good, but not quite long enough to reach the bottom of the fin. Modification No1: a second pole, lashed to the first, extending the reach to 9 feet. Soon the job was done, and another solar shower awaited, the sun-warmed bag hoisted up the mizzen mast in the cockpit. No one here bothers wearing clothes when swimming from the back of boats, all very French and a much better idea than our Anglo Saxon one.
NEXT: THE TRIP BACK SOUTH TO TRINIDAD