Sunday, January 11, 2015

SAILING TO DES SAINTS - CHRISTMAS EVE TO NEW YEAR'S EVE

We had seen our friends Sid and Peg of Liming Time, in St Anne a couple of days earlier. Sid and Peg are from BC, Canada, and store their mono-hull in Grenada Marine. They  come and go to Grenada at the same time as we do (being snow birds like us) and stay at La Sagesse while dealing with the boat at the marina. We had mentioned the anchorage of St Anne earlier, so they decided to take a look. Not being French speakers like us, they stayed away from Martinique before. Sid and Peg showed interest in travelling north with us, and promised to meet up at St Pierre on Christmas eve.

We started from Le Marin around 7:00 hours, and made good time up to the Diamond Rock at the south western corner of Martinique, having the wind on our backs. After turning the rock, we were in the lee of the mountains a bit, so helped the sails by engine for a short while, and picked up speed a little later while passing the large bay of Fort De France. Long story short, we reached St Pierre around 2:00 pm and anchored at the south shore of its bay, across a small beach, a little away from the harbour. We jumped into water first, and then called Liming Time on VHF. They responded, and came over from the harbour,  to anchor by our side.

We spent Christmas Eve together at Ruyam II. I cooked, they brought wine and beer, and we had a really merry time.

Sid complained, that they missed the customs guy at St Pierre by ten minutes to clear out, and would have to wait there two more days for the office to open. Al felt awful, for not having mentioned the possibility of doing it at St Anne (like we have done). He forgot that it was Syd and Peg's first time in St Anne, and we had showed them around the area when they came. Damage was done, and they stayed on, while we started our passage to Dominica in the morning.

It was a choppy passage, but we almost flew, having brisk winds. Especially near Scott's Head (south west corner of Domonica), the meeting current and wrap around winds were a bit frightening, but short-lived. We made to Rousseau, and called for Pancho on VHF. He was not answering his telephone. His wife responded, and promised to send him to us. I was a bit apprehensive, that day being Christmas, and him being prone to party a little too much.

He came and helped all right. Then he started to giggle, and declared that he kind of remembered Al and I. Then Levent called to him, announcing himself as the Kebab-man from Martinique. Pancho immediately expressed recognition and delight. Apparently Levent had sent a number of Turkish sailors to Pancho, during the year.
Al invited Pancho aboard, and fed him some more booze. It was a good thing that there were no more incoming boats in view. After a short visit, we sent Pancho to his family.

Next morning we took off quite early, as we were to reach De Bourg, Terre de Haut in Les Saints from Rousseau, about 40  miles. Most of the trip was in the lee of Dominica, the crossing being only 18 miles. We motored up, and hoisted sails around Porstmouth, Dominica, which is almost at the northeast edge.

The crossing was over in about three hours, but it was quite bumpy. When we reached the narrow crossing between two smaller islands of Les Saints, we were welcomed by the fishermen's nets, everywhere. It was like a maze, so all of us were on the lookout. We could hardly find some space to go, in order to pull down the sails before proceeding further.

We had to go around the south shore of the Terre De Haut, the main island of Les Saints, to reach Bourg Des Saints, the small fishing village, where we had to clear in. We passed by two anchorages, which seemed to be full of boats. When we reached Bourg, we saw that its harbour (if it could be called that) was also almost full, only a few mooring balls left in view. Bourg was situated at the west shore of the middle of Terre en Haut, where the island was quite narrow. It was overlooking the small island called Ilet Cabrit,  and the channel between them was open to the north. The east wind was coming from north, wrapping around the island and beating the harbour. Waves also. After we took a mooring ball and secured ourselves, we went into the village. The dingy dock was nice, but the first thing one noticed was the stench coming from the open sewer beside the walkway onto the street. All over Martinique, we saw water treatment plants, no open sewers.  In the other islands of the Caribbean, they do not seem to have the means or feel the necessity oftreating the sewage. We were surprised that Les Saints were quite behind the times. On the other hand, the village was very quaint, very European. It even reminded me of Marmaris, before it was discovered by tourists.

When we returned to Ruyam II, Al was adamant that we should leave immediately, to find a place in the anchorages in Ilet Cabrit and the south west corner of Terre en Haut, which seemed to be much calmer. However, we needed water, which was only available in Bourg. It was getting late, so I made  an executive decision to stay the night. Nobody was happy in the morning, however. All night we rolled like crazy. East waves were turning around the north point and hitting us from the side, all night long, with no letting on.

In the morning, we tried to contact the water man mentioned in Doyle, but got no answer. Guylaine and I also wanted to take the ferry to Guadeloupe, to do some shopping.  So, before 9:00 am, we were at the ferry dock, inquiring about the Pointe-a-Pitre ferry. To our dismay, we learned that the ferry that was terrorizing us every three hours starting from the dock of Bourg during the day was only making a round trip to Riviere Sens (south west Guadeloupe), and also going to Mary Gallant and the other three small islands around. The only ferry to Pointe-a-Pitre was the main one coming from Martinique in the evening. If we wanted to go to Point-a-Pitre, we wound have to spend the night there. Forget Guadeloupe. I had been to Riviere Sens before, not impressive.

We decided to ask about the water at the place we registered our boat. Apparently it was the right place, they gave us a key to turn on the hose at the end of  the main ferry dock. The nice lady at the office gave us instructions to tie the boat to the lower deck attached to the end of the dock, and bring the water key back after done. She asked us about our estimate for the volume of water needed, and charged us in advance. It was obvious from the operation, that there would be nobody to help us tie the boat to the dock when we came. So, Levent and Guylaine stayed behind, and we rushed to Ruyam II to bring it to the dock.

Taking water turned out to be one of the easiest, thanks to Levent giving us a hand at the dock. If they had not been there, I guess, I had to stay behind, or leap onto the dock from Ruyam II with the lines. None of the prospects seem easy for us.

After we finished, we thought of trying our luck at the anchorages around the area. We went to the south west corner, which was quite calm, but so full of boats that, we could not risk squeezing in. We checked the Ilet Cabrit, but all the mooring balls were occupied. It was the week-end during holidays, all Guadeloupe and who-knows-what-else sailors were there. No hope to have a quiet night, and a decent swim!

We went back to our previous mooring at the harbour, but went further north, which seemed a bit more protected from the waves. Another sleepless night waiting. After a couple of hours, we saw that some people who came to the harbour late were hard-pressed to find a mooring. Imagine, being left high and dry (or wet) in the middle of the ocean, because anchoring in the harbour is not possible.

In the meantime, Al was checking the weather forecast, and was concerned that strong winds were being mentioned for the new year's day and beyond. Our initial plan was to spend four days in Les Saints, and return to Martinique on the 2nd of January, 2015. Levent is interested in spear-fishing, and has the gear for it. After seeing the anchorages, which seemed to be full of all kinds of fish, Levent was really disappointed when we could not stay.  However, the forecast dictated that we should return to the safety of St Anne, Martinique on New Year's Eve. No dilly-dallying in Les Saints, we had to march back.

After the second night, we started mid-morning for our trip back, but only up to Portsmouth, Dominica. The passage was only three hours, but wind was on the nose and hefty, waves similar. However, everybody agreed that, the waves on the way were not much harder than the rolls of the previous two nights. When we reached Portsmouth, we could not believe the calm waters of the harbour. (It could be rolly there too, in northerly swells). We were on the look-out for our friends, Liming Time and Balikcil. We spotted the former, and got a ball close by, but Balikcil was not there.

After we got settled, we saw Sid and Peg whizzing by in their dinghy. Apparently they were having a great time, taking part in a dinghy poker run organized by PAYS, Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security. There were a few other boats, and ther were several check points at different places around the bay,  US$40.- per hand. Sid raved about the prizes to be won, which made the fee worth while. We are not "gamblers" so we let them go, while we swam in the somewhat murky waters. I wanted to eat out, so we got ready and rode to the small dinghy-dock of Purple Turtle for dinner, which was the only restaurant open on a Sunday during holiday season.

Sid and Peg promised to join us there for drinks later on. However, when we got there, we learned that they did not have any fish or meat. Chicken did not seem attractive (after eating Levent's chicken donair, nothing compares). Guys had a round of beer, we purchased a bag of ice, and we returned to Ruyam II. We cooked what we had, which turned into an excellent meal with the help of raki. Moreover, Levent expressed his relief, for not being forced to eat there "Have you seen that kitchen?" He was saying. I had never eaten at that restaurant, but had been to some others at the area. It had not been bad experiences in the past, but it seems that everywhere is going down in the Caribbean lately. Sid was mentioning earlier that all the anchorages on the way to Martinique being empty, even Admiralty Bay,  Bequia. (We had not observed any change there, when we passed a month earlier than them.) St Lucia was deserted. For good reason! The crime updates mention St Lucia everyday, criminals getting more daring, probably more desperate every day. Armed robberies, assaults on sailors. They must be out of their minds, people will pass by them in the future, if they do not shape up.

Next morning, not very early, we motored to Rousseau. When we got close to Pancho's moorings, we saw Balikcil, and got tied next to them. We went into town for some essentials, and got back to get ready for another party. I am amazed by our ability to accommodate seven people at Ruyam II's cock-pit. If we had a chair, maybe eight could squeeze around the table, but that would be pushing it. Goes without saying that it was another very merry night, with lively conversation, fuelled by raki, and some goodies from Turkey (like pastirma (spicy pastrami) they brought, and pumpkin dessert that Elif cooked. Hmm, excellent.)

 We were anxious to get back as soon as possible, but poor Levent wanted to do some fishing before the end of their only holiday. He proposed to sail as far as Anse D'Arlet, after making the passage from Dominica, and skip St Pierre in Martinique. It was a 50 mile trip, most of it under wind. Lee of Matinique is almost non-existent, thanks to the large gap of Fort de France.

We started around 7:00 am, and reached Anse D'Arlet around 3:00 pm. It was a rough and long passage, and we were grateful to be able to relax at last. Levent jumped into the water, in pursuit of fish. I was counting on him for the New Year's Eve meal. Our supplies were shrinking, most of all bread completely gone. But I knew an excellent bakery at the village of Arlet (not Grand Anse D'Arlet mind you, that is a bigger anchorage, next door to Arlet, but most of the strip of small buildings at the shore are occupied by restaurants, no grocers. However it is possible to clear in and out there.)
We were looking at a restaurant at the shore from the place where we moored. I recognized it from the other time we had been at Arlet, and suggested having dinner there. Guylaine had been craving for lambi (conch) for some time, which is my favorite too; and I had eaten it at that restaurant. We called the telephone number advertised on the face of the building. Can you believe it, they were closed on account of exceptional circumstances for that night (Tuesday). Damnation!

Early in the next morning, we went to the dinghy dock, and headed to the bakery. I was thinking of buying fish as well, and have breakfast at the shore, while we were at it. What was I thinking? The French restaurant owners were not prepared to wait on customers so early in the morning. Fish market would only open around noon time - who would want to shop at that ungodly hour as 8:00 am?

We bought some amazing bread, and returned to Ruyam II. Al was anxious to get underway. Around 9:30 am, we started motoring. Sailing was out of the question, waves huge, wind 20-28 knots on the nose, as soon as we peeped out of the corner. Al and I debated about passing through the channel between the Diamond Rock or not. I remember from our last  attempt, that there was such a strong current at the narrow channel, it took us as long as going around the rock. However, this time the waves were so high, Al did not want to go around. I was secretly hoping for some other boat to show the way. While we were struggling the wind and the waves at 3.5 miles an hour, we saw more than one sail boat hugging the main coast and passing the channel. Despite being close to the rock, Al turned towards the channel, and we made our passage. Thankfully, the current was in the right direction, and helped us pass the rock, which seemed to me as long as an hour.  I could not understand how people were hugging the coast, since the water was like a mine field with the fishermen's nets. The mono-hulls do not seem to mind them, which we are quite frantic to avoid. Who knows?

It took us four hours to reach Le Marin, bobbing in the waves at a snail speed. But like everything else, that too passed, and we got tied to the fuel dock at last, to fill our water. Levent and Guylaine left Ruyam II on foot, promising to come back for the New Year's Eve celebration. All of us were exhausted from the week long excursion, the last leg of which was the hardest.

When we left the fuel dock, to motor to St Anne, Al heard some noise from the starboard engine, and turned it off. He mentioned having seen a plastic bag, bobbing in the water near the boat. Thankfully, the wind was pushing us west most of the way. After turning towards St Anne, Al refrained from going all the way to the beach with one engine, and decided to anchor somewhat in the middle of the anchorage. Although it is a wast area, the number of boats already anchored was incredible. It seemed that everybody was following the same weather news, and seeked refuge at St Anne.

We anchored in the middle of two Canadian sail boats, and had a sigh of relief at last. Now it was time to get ready for the celebration, with whatever was left in the pantry and the fridge. It turned out sufficient for the night. Raki supply was gone, but we had some Lebanese arak from last year, Selcuk's gift. As well, a bottle of champange, also from last year, since we had drunk Selcuk's Don Perignon for celebrating the beginning of 2014.

We ate and drunk (mostly the latter), watched several shows of fireworks, in St Anne, Club Med and some distant small village. We were so tired, we hardly stayed longer than half an hour past midnight. Levent and Guylaine spent their last night at Ruyam II, and left the next morning, anxious to be back at their home at last, to rest before the grind.

BALIKCIL IN LE MARIN

About a week before Christmas, we learned that Levent was thinking of closing the restaurant for about ten days during the holidays, since his major clientele (high school students) would be staying home. We immediately suggested a sailing trip to Les Saints, the group of small islands between Dominica and Guadaloupe. Everybody raves about them, but we had passed them by during our initial  travel down. They agreed. Guylaine was pleased that she would be able to explore a new place in the Caribbean. She was born in Le Marin, Martinique, but was raised in Paris, France. During the last eight years of their stay in Le Marin, after their return to Martinique, she had several sailing trips with friends, to St Vincent and Grenadines in the south, and to Dominica with us, last year, but not to  Guadeloupe.

All of us were excited, and planned on starting our trip early in the morning of December 24th. The only concern was the notorious Christmas winds, although the weather had been unseasonably calm for more than ten days. The forecast for the holidays was brisk winds (mostly dark blue in the color Passage Weather charts) and low seas. No problem, we needed some wind to sail.

We did our provisioning together,  and almost demolished Levent's old car in the process. On our way back from the discount stores, the engine started to billow smoke. Levent immediately stopped in the middle of the highway, and sprinkled some water on the burning exhaust insulator. We waited for Guylaine's sister-in-law to give us a ride home, leaving Levent with the car. I felt awful, and wondered if it was a bad omen for the up coming trip. We learned afterwards that Levent was able to start the car and reached home.

We planned to motor to Le Marin on the 23rd and anchor, so that Levent and Guylaine could come aboard that night, for an early take off in the morning. Poor guys, they were to  work all day, close shop in the evening and come aboard in the dark.

Befor every trip, we fill our water tanks, period. Around noon on the 23rd, I was sitting at the front of Ruyam II, filling the starboard tank from the fuel dock, which is literally in the middle of the Le Marin marinas, and about the end of the channel leading there. The sea around is quite lively at all times, with the boats and dinghys whizzing by. While I was looking around, I saw one big mono-hull almost stationary beside Ruyam II, idling. I first thought that they wished to come to the fuel doc─Ě, but realized later that they were waiting for the dockmaster Gustav for assistance. Then the name of the boat attracted my attention; Balikcil. Sounds like Turkish, but without the cedille. Lo and behold, they had the Turkish flag, as well as the insignia of ARC (ATLANTIC RALLY FOR CRUISERS between Grand Canary and St. Lucia). Wow, they obviously had crossed the Atlantic. So I hollered "hosgeldiniz - welcome" and they looked, but were too busy with their lines to pay attention. A little later Gustav came and led them to a berth around the corner from the fuel dock. So that Al was able to walk over and greet them.

That night, after Guylaine and Levent came aboard, we went to visit the trio; the owners Elif and Mustafa, and Meric, who did not make the crossing, but joined them in St Lucia before they made the passage to Le Marin. We learned that they were also thinking of travelling north, and decided to keep in touch. We gave them the name of Pancho in Rousseau, Dominica, to get help; and made our farewells, hoping to see them again.

WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS

As soon as we anchored in St Anne, we had realized that the UV protector on our genoa had some rips again, and the whole thing should be replaced. Le Marin has a two marinas and a boat yard, and as many chandleries while half its population is somehow employed in the support industries; but the myth is they work for European remuneration standards. We had never before been in a position to get work done  there. The parts an materials for the boats are the same price as American, but in Euroes, that is at least 30% more expensive for us Canadians.

Long story short, we decided to ask around for the work to be done, and also check with Martin at Grenada Marine to decide. The only price we knew was the patchwork we had got done in Rodney Bay marina in St Lucia last year. We had paid about $60.- Canadian for less than 2 meters long of a patch. On the other hand, we needed our genoa for sailing, even to St Lucia; so bite the bullet and see what they had! We checked our French For Sailors guide to learn the terminology in French, and armed ourselves for the ardous task of communication.

First we went to a sailmaker accross the street from the main marina and the chandlery (Caraibe Marine) in Le Marin. The owner/operator speculated that the two edges of our genoa to be covered would be around 18 meters, and he would charge 37.- Euros per meter. A rough calculation was $1,000.- Canadian. Hmm.

Next step, we discussed the issue with our friend Levent (who is also the main advisor - muhtar of Martinique). He mentioned a big sailmaker outfit close to the boatyard in Carenage, and the other big chandleries, further down in the town. Levent indicated that our friend from last year, Selcuk had used that outfit, and was impressed. Levent  gave us directions to get there.

We started according to the directions, but got as far as the boatyard, and a little beyond, where there were several strip malls gathered together, but not the big building he had talked about. So we returned to the boatyard, and asked about the sailmaker. The attendant showed us the one operating there. We talked to the nice guy (Michel) working at Voile Assistance (who spoke some English), and gave the price as 30.- Euros per meter, and he was going to use blue Sunbrella (better than dacron according to the blogs on the web). Wow, right off the bat, more than $10.- Canadian less per meter. Al decided on the spot to bring the genoa there.

We went back to Ruyam II and brought the genoa down. Before we packaged it, we roughly measured and saw that the total length was 15 meters. Since the sail package is quite heavy, we arranged with Levent to give us a ride to the boatyard from St Anne.

After we dropped off the sail, Levent showed us the other place that he meant. Apparently down the road from the shopping centre (called Artimer), there was a dinghy access and a bigger chandlery (called Clippers Ship Sarl), where the sailmaker was occupying a hangar. When we looked from outside, Al decided that they would not charge less than ours, since all of the outfits there looked new and more prosperous than our boatyard. We consoled ourselves that we had made a mistake, but found the best place to fit our budget. Michel promised to finish the job in five days, but called us a day early, so we motored Ruyam II to Le Marin, and went to take the genoa by dingy, since access by sea to the boatyard is easier. In the end we paid 450.- Euros cash, everybody was happy. Oh, I forgot to mention that Martin would charge for the same work, US$800.- (more than $1,000.- Canadian now.) Grenada come to your senses!

We have a saying in Turkish, if God wants to make you happy, he first makes you lose your mule, and lets you find it. We were happy, that we saved about $400.- Canadian, and did not worry about the amount that we paid. We have yet to try our genoa.

Almost right after we put the genoa up, Al found out that there was a bit of water in the starboard bilge (first time we ever saw it, probably from the waves that came in from the hatches on the way), but the pump was not working. Nothing to be done, but replace it. It must have been corroded from no usage. The only time it was used during the four years, had been when the other pump for discharging the water from the shower malfunctioned. Al had used the bilge pump to clear the shower, and replaced the shower pump.

What could we do, but go to the Carenage boatyard chandlery to ask for a new bilge pump. Carenage did not have the one we were looking for, they have an immense inventory of second had boat parts, but not much new. So we walked further up to the Clippers. They had only one in stock, for 300.- Euros. She gave us 15.- Euros discount after we cried about the outrageous price, and we bought the damned thing.
While Al was working away in cramped conditions in the head, under the sink, our refrigerator decided to stop working. When we saw that all our meat in the freezer was thawed, I cooked them all.

Al could not understand the reason for the erratic performance of the fridge, since it was not completely gone, but working and stopping for no reason it seemed. Al thought that the reason could be related to low amperage of the batteries, since it had been gloomy for the last couple of days - worst part of solar chargers. He started the engines, and the refrigerator started working; however, it was not regular, either working constantly for a long time, or not at all. Al checked the Budget Marine catalogs, and on line for some French suppliers; $1,000.- bucks to change the compressor system. Not good!

The compressor is located in the storage under our dining room seat, next to the fridge. Al was first spending time listening to the hum of the compressor, then decided to check the line running from the compressor to the fridge. Apparently if it gets cold, the compressor is working fine.

One evening, both of the engines were running (quite a lot of noise), Al was kneeling down in front of the seat holding the fridge line, and I was at the far end, reading. All of a sudden I heard a loud "PSST", and Al looked at me with some confusion, and let out "the line broke!". All the gas in the fridge was gone in a couple of seconds. Now we were really without a fridge, which contained the food that I had cooked a day before, several plastic containers worth. I begged Al to leave the fridge alone, and turn the engines off immediately. Peace at last! Early in the morning we will get ice from shore  and fill the ice chest with the food from the fridge!

Now, we were in need of a mechanic, and fast. What to do, but ask Levent of course. A smart decision again. When we asked him, Levent told us a story about the refrigeration specialist in Le Marin. Some time back, there was a Turkish sailor at the Le Marin marina, who needed the same service. He got the company located at the marina (Tilikum) to check his fridge, and learned that he would have to dish out 800.- Euros, to replace his compressor. The sailor could not believe it, and asked somebody else, who estimated half the expense. With the conflicting estimates, he turned to Pascal, the owner operator of Nautic Froid. Pascal asked if the mechanic at Tilikum had seen the fridge. When the guy confirmed, Pascal started laughing, indicating that Tilikum had asked to buy a compressor from him the day before. Pascal thought that he was going to charge double for the new compressor, and sell the old one, since it was working fine. In the end, Pascal charged the guy 50.- Euros for some minor adjustment. Pascal became Levent's mechanic for the restaurant fridges after that time.

We arranged  with Pascal to see the fridge around 3:00 o'clock on a Friday at Le Marin. So, we motored all the way, replenished our water and anchored. I was not very optimistic about our prospects, what could a mechanic do in a couple of hours, other than diagnostics? The next day being the week-end, I despaired that we would have to wait until Monday for complete repairs.

Well, I was wrong. He met us at Elite Kebab, and asked me to accomapny him in his dingy, to show our boat, while Al went alone in our dinghy. He checked the broken line, went back to bring his soldering and gas filling equipment and finished the work in about an hour and a half. He declared that the fridge was working fine, but our energy storage capacity was at the lower end, which created the problem. When Al mentioned his intention of buying two extra solar panels, he suggested adding two more batteries instead, indicating that the fridge was designed to shut itself off as a safety precaution, as soon as the voltage provided by the batteries dipped lower that 11.8V. The solution was to increase the amperage. Long live Pascal! The whole thing cost us 80,- Euros, and we learned something besides.