Friday 30 December 2016

Update from Martinique 31/12/16 (sorry no photos - no decent internet connection)

Boxing Day

A late start again. Breakfast around midday which included toast and marmalade for the first time in weeks - wonderful - and then dinghy'd to town. 

First task was to check in which was the most painless one I have ever experienced - self service on-line in the Chandlers. You get a one page print out - they stamp it done!

Next job - a cold beer in nice surroundings. The nice surroundings turn out to be at a premium in Fort De France. French café culture was not in abundance. The nicest place we could find was the local Hotel over looking the park. It was fine but little competition. There we considered our options and decided that we would shop for a few immediate requirements then move the boat over to the other side of the bay to Trios Islets where we hoped we would not be so affected by the ferries that caused us to roll every time they went past. I need to get up the mast to fix the topping lift and retrieve the lost halyard.

Got back to the boat around 1730 local time having said a brief hallo to fellow OCC member Timber who had just arrived and will be joining the World Arc. Good luck to them. Also said good bye to Arvin our new Middle Eastern friend and ocean wanderer whom we had had over for Christmas dinner.

Arvin seemed to step right out of the pages of a Joseph Conrad novel. He arrived at the anchorage under the America flag at Fort De France on Christmas evening and as he seemed to be on his own I invited him over for dinner. Mick and I were just polishing off our first rum punch at the time so were already getting into the swing of a Caribbean Christmas and it would be fun to have some more company. Arvin (whom at that time we still thought was an American and did not know his name) turned up about half an hour later just in time for the next rum punch. We learnt of his name and nationality then. It's complicated but given the nature of that part of the world I won't explain further. Suffice to say he has a passport which without visas is virtually worthless therefore is barred from entering most countries. He has none of the trappings of 21st Century life and is to all practical purposes stateless. 

He left for Brazil in 2000 at the age of 17 to make a new life for himself and spent years exploring the country by land and taking on a whole variety of jobs to pay his way including crocodile hunting! He also spent time working on boats at various boat yards and undertook a number of delivery trips over lengthy ocean passages. The last of these such jobs was preparing a boat for sale. After he had done all the work the would be buyer pulled out. A couple of years later the current owner contacted him in desperation to try and persuade him to buy it. Being almost penniless he could not afford the knock down price being asked. The owner was truly desperate however, the boat was swallowing up money in mooring fees and he was unable to use it for some reason and therefore asked Arvin to name his price which he did and so became the owner of a 35 foot concrete cutter.

He made his way north exploring the Caribbean and was able to land in those countries with less fussy immigration policies before deciding to head for the Azores. On arrival he was put under armed guard and confined to his boat. Fortunately his companion at the time was able to get ashore and provision the boat for the onward passage to the Canaries. On arrival there the same thing happened and he then had to return to the southern Caribbean. He's now spending some time around here to visit friends and undertake some work on his boat before setting off for the Cape Verde. A daunting enough prospect for most people because they lie directly upwind and as we have just experienced that distance is hard work even when the wind is right behind you. Unless one is a complete masochist that requires a big detour north to the Azores before heading south to the Cape Verde. Arvin will do that but will be unable to land in the Azores and so will probably be at sea for a couple of months. We wish him the very best of luck.

Anyway back to Boxing Day. After saying goodbye to Arvin we upped Anchor and headed across the bay under Genoa. The furling gear had started to get temperamental on our approach to Fort De France and that continued. On our arrival off Trios Islets an hour or so later in gusty winds in finally refused to work at all and we were stuck with the bloody thing half in/half out with our intended anchorage and the dark rapidly approaching. I manage to tie it up with bits of string for a while but then just as we started our final approach to the anchorage it burst out of its restraints and started flapping violently. The only option was to release the remainder of the lashings and let it fly which reduced the flogging some but which still formed a scene of some mayhem on the fore-deck as we came into anchor in what was very restricted waters. Whilst picking our spot we got down to zero depth beneath the keel and so must have been within millimetres of going aground only a few metres from another boat. We would have been popular. Any way we just  between mangrove islets and mud banks and the fairway (where you are not allowed to anchor). We got through by the skin of our keel and managed to pick a spot to anchor. Down went the anchor in about 4 metres with the Genoa flogging like a mad thing. The crew of the next boat departed in their dinghy shortly afterwards with us clearly in a bit of a state. Either they assumed we were competent enough to sort it out or they calculated that in the event of disaster striking their insurance claim would be far simpler if they were not on the scene! We now had to get the Genoa down. We attached a length of line to the clue and undid the sheets and started the job of manually unwinding the sail from the fore-stay foil on which it was half furled. About 45 minutes later we had a full sized Genoa flogging itself to death rather than just half a one. However we were then able to get the wretched thing down and secured and retired below for a rum punch and cold supper followed by coffee and Panettone (the only Christmas goody we had on board) and to consider our approach to the next day

Trios Islets – 27/12/16

Today was the day to do our must do jobs in order to sail round the coast to Marin/St Anne to join Lionel & Brandy and Chris.
We were anchored close to one of the three small Mangrove Islets. It was still blowing a very strong breeze but thanks to the very shallow water in front of us we were shielded from big waves. So up the mast it was for me. First job was to retrieve the jib halyard and send it down to the deck for Mick to secure. That was no problem. Next was to re-attach the topping lift block to the mast fixing. That was a little more difficult due to the need to get fingers into a small space. Anyway after 30 minutes or so that too was achieved and we were able to re-reeve the topping lift. I wasn't too happy about the strength of the block or the prospect of the same thing happening again in more critical circumstances so I decided that I will need to rig a second topping lift before we do any more serious long distance passaged. Anyway down I came back to the deck.

Next job was to get the old mainsail off the mast and boom, stow it and replace it with the (relatively) new mainsail. That took a couple of hours in the strong wind. Somehow by the time we finished all the above it was 1600 and so we hurried ashore in order to have a look around before dark and to get our first evening meal ashore.

Trios Islets was a pleasant quiet town in amongst the mangroves with hardly any tourists. There was a small mangrove tour boat that past us at anchor which was based at the quay but that was about it. There were probably about 20 boats in the anchorages off the town but most looked like long termers anyway. As far as we could make out we were the only visiting boat.

We rowed ashore to the public slip next door to the town park/activity area where the locals were playing a variety of ball games. A quick look around the water front revealed two bars that were open so we had a beer in one and then went to explore the town. It was very quiet except for a constant stream of traffic passing through. Our main objective was to find somewhere to eat. At one point we were venturing down a quiet track when approached by two fairly excited local ladies. We thought they were after our custom at what looked like a very pleasant quite restaurant but it turned out if was their private property and they were asking us to go away!!

Eventually we found a the main restaurant, closed until 1930, so we continued on exploring and found a couple of other cafés and takeaways etc. Back to the water front for another bear and then back to the restaurant. We we were their first and as it turns out only customers for food. It appeared to be run by one harassed individual and given the time it took to get served we concluded he was doing everything! We enquired about wifi and received an affirmative reply but after more than an hour of reminders he eventually confessed to there being no such service. The food was mediocre and very expensive and the cocktail disgusting!

The beat through Hell and High Water – 28/12/16

We upped anchor at around 1030 and sailed out of the bay. At first we had very pleasant sailing in the sheltered waters but once back into the open ocean we had strong winds – 25-30 knots and large seas and after a couple of hours were on a beat to Marin. Reefed down to two reefs in the main and with the jib in place of the Genoa (due to the faulty furling gear) Arctic Smoke plugged gamely on at around 5 knots which was pretty good given the conditions but it was a hard slog. We got absolutely soaked and took several waves into the cockpit one of which burst through the spray hood and down below where chaos on steroids ruled. Imagine doing this on an ocean crossing I thought! Suddenly the awful rolling of our Atlantic crossing didn't seem too bad after all. See the Yellowbrick route page for an idea of our track to Marin.

We eventually got in at dusk but could not find Lionel anywhere. He had said he was anchored off the beach near the marina but was nowhere to be found. He was the reason we made the trip and so the skipper was heard to mutter some uncomplimentary words along the lines of “first he says Fort De France and he goes somewhere else, then he says come and see us at the beach and he's not bloody there and we have just been trough hell getting here, etc, etc.”

Then a message from Chris comes through with sad news. Brandy's mother had just died. O of course they were pre-occupied. However, later that evening we link up in one of the beach bars and swap stories of mountainous seas, high winds and scary moments. Talking to someone else who made the passage at around the same time as us and who also found it very demanding (Lionel was on his own except for Bodie his dog which made his achievement all the more impressive) was re-assuring. It wasn't that we were just to oldish wimps who found the ocean a bit over awing – others did too. The most satisfying aspect of the yarning however was to discover that Lionel entered Marin at around the same time we passed it in the early hours of Christmas Eve. We had left two days after him and had therefore caught him up! Of course there were two of us but nevertheless we secretly felt quite pleased with ourselves.

Marin (1)

The next morning we met Chris who came in on the bus from St Anne and repeated the whole process of yarning again. I think it helps us all come to terms with the magnitude of what we've just put ourselves through, which, even in these days of GPS and electronic charts, is still a bit different from everyday life at home.

The following evening after having explored the town – quiet and done the laundry – tiresome and had lunch in the Marina (good) where we were entertained by a Counsellor to the Mayor (!) and a Crepe supper on the beach (good) we had late night drinks aboard Aristophanes with Lionel and Brandy. More tales of daring do and this time accompanied by videos Lionel made during the crossing. It was clearly a seminal 'moment' for him. He proposed to Brandy on his arrival. We also heard stories of others who undertook the passage at the same time and immediately put their boat up for sale on arrival!

So we made it more or less in one piece and are still going. More self congratulatory pats on the back.

Tomorrow – New Years Eve - we are going to explore the Island by car with Chris. Today my main objective is to find a local SIM card. On arrival at Fort De France, Vodafone texted to say we were in their Europe zone (a nice surprise but Martinique is part of France) and therefore I was paying £3 a day to use by local plan. Then a couple of days ago they text to say it's in the rest of the world zone where the charges are exorbitant!

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