Monday, December 21, 2015


For the last month or so, I have been aware of an awful smell, whenever Al started pumping the head, even if just for water. As well, while sitting at the fore, I saw that refuse was coming out of a discharge hole above water. When I mentioned it, of course Al did not believe me, how is that possible? The discharge for head is under water. Well, I saw what I saw, and then, he saw it too! Odd, is it not?

It took us almost two months to put two and two together. First day free of commitments, Al sat on the toilet and started gazing at the system of valves which connect the discharge. The main discharge valve, which allows the flow from the head as well as from the holding tank through the sea-cock, was closed and stuck; that is to say, the pipe connecting it to the tank was full of refuse.

Last year, when Al opened that valve after the summer season, he had indicated that it was only half opened, but he had been afraid to force it open, lest he would brake the through hull fitting. This year, he said that he had no problem opening it, it was even too easy, and he thought it odd. Apparently he had not opened the valve, he just broke the handle and jammed the valve on that first day. After that, unbenownst to us, every time we used the toilet, we were pumping the discharge into the tank, without ever emptying it. When the poor thing was full, the refuse was over-flowing out through the aspiration line, the bulk of it getting concentrated in the holding tank.

First thing to be done was to empty the tank. So we looke in the Ti' Ponton (the register of  all cruser related businesses in Martinique for easy access to sailors). Nothing about sanitation, pump out even no mention of plumbing. The only mention was of plumbing parts sale at Le Ship ( a chandlery in Le Marin). Even Doyle does not mention a plumber.  However, a pump out station in St Lucia is advertised in his guide.

We discovered the problem late on Friday, and had to endure the week end contemplating and speculating. Should we buy a pump and long hoses, to clear the tank? They usually priced around 250.- to 300.- Euros. Go to St Lucia to use the pump out facility in Rodney Bay?

It was a long two days. Lucky we have another toilet on board. Early in the Monday morning, we set out to Le Marin from St Anne. First we took water from the fuel dock, and anchored at our usual place. Al started with Le Ship, and Marianne (the nice sales attendant who can speak English) who suggested that we should contact Le Marin marina. After a couple of calls, we were told to speak with the marina dock master through VHF, channel 9 (they do not bother with listening to channel 16).

The dock master told us to stand by, they were to get back to us as soon as they were able. Listening to channel 9 for two hours showed that they were really busy, so we waited patiently. Around 11:30, Al tried again, and was told to come to the fuel dock at 12:00. We did, and told to get tied to the slip at the back of the dock and wait. There was hope, so we sat there, looking around at the activity.

It took them two hours to get organized to operate the pump-out, which had been installed new during the extention of the fuel dock this year. Now four yachts can get tied at the same time, a big improvement, because the dock is always busy (except when the oil/gas workers are on strike, a few time as year).

Anyway, Al helped the agent, to use it the fist time. The twenty meter long hose, and it connectors were brand new, so Al had no scuples to assist. After waiting so long, the actual pumping out took ten minutes, the vacuum system being quite powerful. We pumped in some water, and were confident that it would be possible to dismantle the stuck valve without having a black shower in the bilge.

Next step to find a plumber. Our advisor in Le Marin, Levent the kebab man, asked around, and found out that there was one nautical plumber, Jean Claud, but he decided to hang his hat lately, and refused to work.

We went to the Carenage boat yard, thinking that they should have some technicians handy for the boats stored there. We talked to some people, and learned that only Caraibe Marine would have access to the repair guys. Caraibe Marine it is.

The attendant there, whom we know from our constant visits, indicated that he knew one plumber, and he called him. It turned out to be Jean Claud, who still refused to work.

What to do? I suggested Le Ship, since they sell plumbing parts. Lo and behold, Marianne listened to our plight, and declared that she knew one guy, who might help, but he was always very busy. When I asked if his name was Jean Claud, she said no, just Jean. Oh good, another plumber exists in Martinique!

Marianne called him, and indicated that he might pass by the shop the next afternoon, and she would call us as soon as he showed up.  She reiterated that he was extremely busy, and did not speak any English. We assured her that we could manage to understand him, being armed with our reference book " French for Sailors". It is a must have for everybody.

Another day to wait, but we had other errands to run, and our place at the anchorage was not too bad. What else do we have to do. By the way, did I mention that the lock for the second head door was broken? It locks from the inside, but does not keep the door closed. Al dismantled it, and saw that one of the springs was broken. We had to order it on line.

The next afternoon, Marianne declared that Jean was not coming that day, but was going to come to the boat 8:00 am the next morning, and asked about the location of the boat. Had she mentioned how busy he is? It seems that one has to beg for service.
We had little hope that he would show up, but started to be on the look out around 7:30 am. He did come almost on the dot, he was a small but very intense man, and very agile. He took a look, and declared that the job was not easy. Thank you, as if we did not know.

The first thing to do was to clog the discharge hole, which was under water. He jumped into his dinghy, and tried the multitude of wooden clogs that came with the boat. He found the one that almost fit, and used a piece of "chiffon" (cloth) to make it tight.

Then he tried to unscrew the valve. No can do. He said that he needed electricity to cut the outer ring, and hopped into his dinghy to bring a portable generator, which he borrowed from a friend.

Since the work area is too tight, by the time he finished, he looked like a veteran of combat. He had multilple cuts on his forehead and arms, his white t-shirt had blood stains and black marks. It was a good thing that Al had the foresight of placing a garbage bag under the connection to the valve. As soon as the valve was dismantled, the refuse in the pipe came wooshing down (some of it to the bilge, but not much). Al used the other head to get rid of it, which had half filled the bag.

Al told him to close his eyes, and covered his face with antiseptic spray. But he refused to apply bandage to his cuts. He was a very humble and nice man, and lived through a tragedy in his life. Ten years previsously, he was a father of two, living as a jeweler in Bordeaux, France. Then his son died, and he, not abe to continue the status quo, started a new life in Martinique. He also mentioned that he was generally working as an electrician (much cleaner work), but since there were no plumbers available, he was taking that on as well. Well I tell you, it is a much needed service, and we were grateful.

Poor Jean fought for 4 hours, and asked for 160.- Euros. With some parts that he had to buy in the meantime, Al gave him 200.-. I think he deserved much more, doing such a dirty job, so we did not grudge him for it. God bless him.
Jean gave us his telephone number for any problems, but did not want us to advertise for him. He did not even made any business cards, fearing about more calls. He also made it plain that he would never work for the charter companies (who would need his services regularly).


Forecast was 15 - 17 knots east-southeast, with gusts up to 20. A friend of ours had cautioned us that at least 5 knots should be added to the forecast in making the sail plan. Well, we had our reef in the main sail, and we boldly started at 7:30 am from Rodney Bay, two days after our guests had left.

Al was adamant that we should motor-sail  along the north shore of St Lucia, before heading north, in order to gain wind advantage, sailing north east to St Anne. So we braved the choppy waves, going east, parallel to the shallower shelf underneath; however the wind was south-easterly, so helped a lot to motoring. We made record time reaching Al's way point before turning north. After turning, of course our speed increased as well, even with the reefed geoa. While sitting next to Al at the helm, the waves looked too unnerving, so I went (with difficulty) to my usual spot at the cock-pit table, looking out the back of the boat, which steadies my stomach (doesn't help if I am scared).

We made and average of 7 miles/hour, while flying through three rain-storms, and reached  the calm of Saline Point  in les than three hours. First time in our lives, we saw the eastern portion of Saline during our approach, so Al got his wish of getting the wind advantage, but set us into a mine field of the fishing traps in the shallows of Saline beach. I was on the look-out, to slallom our way into the Buccaneer's Beach, our usual anchoring spot.

Oh, home at last, but not for long, another visitor is expected on 3rd of January, 2016.


Our first guests, Laura, whom I know from the gym at MCMASTER UNIVERSITY, and her mother Nina was to arrive in Vieux Fort, St Lucia on December 3rd. In order to get ready for them, we left St Anne, Martinique on the 1st, and made the passage in four hours to Rodney Bay. It was quite pleasent, with moderate winds and small swells. We spent more time trying to anchor in the bay; it was a record of three times that we pulled the anchor in a row to find a sandy patch to keep us in place. The bottom of the northern part of the bay is very uneven and full of weeds and rocks. From 30 ft of water, all of a sudden you hit a shelf of 8 ft, and if you are not careful, the anchor gets pulled out with a jerk. Although there seems to be a lot of space, all the good spots were taken by a number of yachts, hense our struggle. Anyway, the fourth time we went quite close to the sandy beach, and dropped the anchor into a turquoise pool among the weeds, which seemed to hold. Afterwards, Al dove and saw that the anchor was barely holding, half covered in a thin layer of sand over the rock bottom. Oh well, it was not very windy, and we were to tie in the marina on the morning of the guests' arrival.

What was important at the moment was to find transportation to and from Vieux Fort, which is at the diagonally opposite end of the island, about an hour of driving. We had done it last year, by taking two busses, first to Castries, then to the airport, at the outskirts of Vieux Fort, on the way. We had engaged Elvis, the taxi driver, who was the neighbour of our Canadian/St Lucian friends Ken and Diane, to take us back to Rodney Bay with the guests.

Of course, the first person to contact was Elvis, to see if he was available. However, Al did not think that he was very keen on taking us on, so we thought we could test the numerous taxi drivers stationed at the gate of the marina. I figured that it is always a two way ride for the drivers, whether they start from the airport or the marina. Elvis lived in the vicinity of the airport, which was the reason for us to get there on our own. If we engaged a driver from the north, we could tag along for free!

We went to the taxi stand, where most of the drivers were playing cards and having a good time, but one driver, Linus was loitering around the parking lot. We approached him, and haggled down to the price of one way (US$80.-), our ride included.

The guests were arriving at 3:30 pm, and we started at 2:00 pm. Linus gave us a story about his sister coming on the same flight, and we had space for more people anyway etc. I had anticipated that he might try to squeeze more people in the car, which had a third row at the back, so we did not argue.

We arrived in good time, and welcomed Laura and Nina into the car. Linus was agitated and constantly on the phone. He first  mentioned that  his sister had one friend who could still fit, along with the luggage. After five minutes of waiting, Linus appeared with a long face, and declared that the sister became a party of four people, so they engaged a local taxi.

On the way back, of course Al had to deal with Linus' complaints about being deprived of his extra cash, which had to be compensated by us. Al was kind of firm, but ended up giving US$100.- instead, but I was not  impressed. Compared to Elvis, who was a gentleman, Linus was too vulgar and greedy. Note to self, do not engage people off the street!

After arriving at home, the visit went on famously. As far as we were concerned, we had a very good time, constantly talked for five days, while doing some sailing around the island for short periods. Both mother and daughter were adventurists, but Nina was not a sailor, or even a good swimmer. So she had been a bit apprehensive about our sailing agenda. We put her at ease, and assured her that we had always been fair weather sailors, and we were to keep moving in the lee of the island anyway.

We spent two nights anchored in the bay after leaving the marina the first morning. Since we were close to the shore, she was able to swim around the boat  without getting scared. Laura was an athlete and trapeze artist, so she was at home in the water.

The third morning, we put up the main sail, and headed to Anse Al Raye, a small fishing village, situated at the south of Marigot Bay. We reached the bay in a bit more than an hour, and approached the anchorage, which was close to the dock. However, Al found the bay too small, without much swinging room from the reefs at the sides; and turned around. Our rule is, if one of us is not comfortable with any place or situation, we change our plans. So we ended up in Anse Cochon, which is a favorite snorkelling spot, with mooring balls. It was a small bay, half of which was shallow with reefs to the north, south side deeper, where a few white mooring balls were installed. We took the last one, and stayed the night. It was a bit rolly, since Coshon is not as protected as La Raye, being a small indentation on the shoreline which is jutting out. These pear-shaped islands transport the swells along the shore.

The cliff on the south edge of the bay was taken over by Ti Kaye Resort, with numerous bungalows and two restaurants. We had lunch at the lower restaurant, which was serving Sunday brunch buffet (the spread was not what one expects in North America) for US$25.-, which did not include any drinks (not even water) and VAT and service charge. The food and ambiance were not bad, but was not worth the price, especially with our weak dollar. However, it was an experience.

This was our first time in Anse Cochon, and I liked it. However, our encounters with the locals are losing their charm. Especially the boat boys, who seemed to be younger this year, and they appear to have no scruples or sense of fairness. In the past, getting their help to tie to a mooring ball was 15.- EC. This year, the first time Al had to argue with an insolent boy who wanted 30.-. Now, Al declares that he is not giving a cent more than 20.- EC up front, and they say OK, but demand other absurd things when they finish; such as gas for the boat, or beer or smokes etc. It seems that sailors spoil them by complying, and they get greedier.

We were low on bread, and asked one of the boat-boys to bring us two loaves. He demanded 50.- EC, arguing that a loaf was 15.- at the market. No sense of propriety! I would rather make pancakes everyday, than give $25.- Canadian for bread.
The next morning we motored to the Pitons, which is a must see in St Lucia. The weather was overcast, and the mountain of the Petit Piton generated its unusual winds and currents, so it was a different experience for our guests. Laura ventured into the water with me, and we had a life-line in hand, so that the current would not carry us into the ocean. Let alone swimming, staying put was a workout, so we had a good time.

The visit was short, five days passed quickly, and it was time for them to return to Canada. Early in the morning of the 8th, we started the last leg of our trip, from the shouth west corner (Pitons) to Laborie on the south shore of St Lucia, halfway to Vieux Fort. Our guests saw the open ocean the first time, and experienced the waves coming at us, while we were struggling towards east. It took us 2 hours to cover 8 miles.

Another first; we had heard about Laborie from Ken and Diane, but had never ventured to get there. Other than being a safe place close to the airport, it is not a yacht destination. It is a small fishing village, but the people are nice and friendly, unspoilt by the outsiders.

The west side of the small bay is covered with high reefs, almost visible, but the east is sandy bottomed and shallow. The entrance is marked by two buoys, so navigating in is not hard, however staying there is debatable, since it is quite rolly in easterly swells, and untenable in south easterly. Best time for it is northerly swells, but this year they had not started yet, probably due to El Ninjo.

The only other yacht in the bay was a catamaran tied to a private mooring ball. So we anchored next to it, and went to shore to find a taxi, to take our guest to the airport later. There was a high dock, with a lower portion for the dinghies, but it was not well maintained, and seemed flimsy at places, and exposed to a lot of surge.  Getting out of the dinghy was a bit tricky, but our guest had become pros by that time.

We walked on the main street, peeked into the church, which had a commanding view of the bay on an incline, and the door open to the east, taking in the constant breeze. Natural air conditioning.

On the main street, there was a line of minibuses awaiting customers for Vieux Fort. If we could not find a taxi, minibus could be an alternative; but a separate bus was to be had from there to the airport,  which is at the other end of the town.
While walking around, I stopped at a clean looking eatery/bar called Mama Rosa's. It was not yet lunch time, so deserted, and a nice looking young islander was in attendance. I told her that I needed some information, and asked for a taxi driver she could recommend. She told me to follow her, and found Wilson, probably a relative of her. He promised to pick our guests from the dock at 2:00 pm, to reach the airport two hours before departure.

Wilson turned out to be a nice guy, and punctual, who charged 50.- EC for the drive to the airport (40.- EC is the minimum). Wilson is our future driver if we get to Laborie.