Dec. 18-31: Martinique
December 16-18 I guess this was one of our worst crossings ever. The wind was not even the problem - at least not its strength, but it was right on our nose, and the seas were "boisterous" as Jutta, our friend from South Africa, who sailed around the world over a ten year period and who had seen a lot of weather and seas during that time, called the Caribbean Sea. Well, when she wrote that to us, I was not sure I knew what she meant. Now I know... and even Juergen who does not get seasick said it was plain awful. Of course, I donated to the gods of the sea more than I had ever eaten - wonderful. Of course, I am saying now that I will never go on a long-distance trip again, not even back home... This time, it was so bad that I could not prepare any food for Juergen, nor could I really take my watches - at least not in full strength. I consider that a safety issue for our return trip.
Two positives on this crossing. I got to talk to the Queen Mary 2 in the first night. I had seen her at the horizon - thanks to our AIS (automatic identification system) I knew which ship it was and noticed that her course and ours could possibly interfer, and since they were going at 26.4 knots and we at about 7 at the time, there was not much time for me to do "radar plotting" to see whether or not we would get into trouble. So I called her, got an answer back in a second. I asked whether they saw us on radar and on the AIS. They confirmed that they had a clear visual of us and that they saw us on both radar and AIS. They also indicated that, based on their calculations, they would pass us well over 2.5 nm away. I was relieved. Thanked them for the information. They wished us a good crossing - from AIS they knew where we were headed. I returned the good wishes - though they would be in St. Thomas about five hours later, and we went on our way. She looked gorgeous as she came closer...
The second positive was that another sailboat called last night "the sailing vesser about 1 mile to their portside". I did not know whether they called us but I responded asking for their position. They were convinced it was us - maybe, they had the passive AIS which does not emit the information but received it from those boats and ships that have the active one (like we do). They came from St. Lucia, want to spend Christmas on St. Martin and thereabouts, i.e., in the Leeward Islands. They, too, complained about terrible winds (we did not think the winds were so bad- the max we saw was about 35 knots, largely as gusts, with low thirties a little steadier, but never for very long periods of time) and incredible seas. I confirmed that our experience had been equally bad. At that particular moment, we had a much calmer seas and less wind as we were protected by the island of Dominica, pronounced (domeneeka).
This morning, we finally arrived near Fort de France and decided that, maybe, we should just go on directly to Le Marin, the yachting capital of Martinique. We had hoped for a dock, lots of fresh water to wash off the unbelievable amounts of salt that encrusts our hull and our deck. No such luck, not even a mooring. But there are plenty or anchorages, and so we anchored not that much further away than the mooring field is - and can stay here for free. We could not get our water maker working yesterday, I hope we can do so today, just so we know it works. Then, I can even tackle our laundry which is a heap again - and don't have to lug it into town (by dinghy in heavy wind).
Our arrival turned out to be so late, because we waited for someone from the marina to assign us a dock, that we could not check into customs. Our French courtesy flag is flying under the spreader, followed by the flag of Martinique, followed by the yellow quarantaine flag - until tomorrow when Juergen checks in and we can finally go into town. We are wondering whether everyone who arrives here actually follows these rules. We know that when we arrived in Charleston in May (coming from the Bahamas), we were the only boat that raised the quarantaine flag until we had cleared customs. O well...
Our phones are "dead" so we cannot check yet whether Brit and Axel made it into Barbados yesterday. We think so but are curious. Hopefully, we can check this later on and contact them so they know we are here. They are planning on coming here on December 28, for repairs but also to meet with us, see / visit the island of Martinique, before they head South ... I know, you have read this before...
Tomorrow is Christine's 40th birthday. Karin gave a party for her last Sunday. I understand it was very nice and she loved it as well. Of course, we cannot be there with her on her special day, but we will make up for it and did so by our gift - we hope...
December 19 - we tried to call Christine - no answer, however, in the afternoon, she did call us back, and we were very happy to hear from her. She seemed very pleased with the party Karin had given her and the gifts she got. She also thanked us for ours. Tonight, she will be going out to dinner with Karin. She doubted that Stefan would come - he is working in New York City, Karin in Newark, logistically not terribly easy... We stayed on the boat pretty much all day, playing Backgammon, doing chores - Juergen checked our rigging and in the process, a couple of cotter pins broke, as did one screw - a good reason to go "into town" to do some shopping. We also enjoyed the quiche we had purchased at "Paul's" yesterday, read, watched other boaters, checked out their home countries (mostly, we could not make out their home ports). In the afternoon, we indulged in the wonderful chocolate cake we had also purchased at Paul's. Dinner turned into "just a sandwich" after all the goodies...
The night was rather windy, and a fairly heavy downpour made us smile, anticipating that most if not all the salt would be washed off our deck - finally. Well, it was, almost. Unfortunately, rain at night always means closing our hatch, then reopening it after the rain is over, to close it again when it starts to rain again - I generally am dedicated that task - and don't mind it, except it interrupts my sleep all the time. Last night I also finished "Berserk", a book about some crazy young Norwegian and an American film maker wanabe - they got rid of an even crazier Argentinian on their journey by letting him go back to Argentina by cruiseship - who went from Chile to the Antarctic Peninsula with the intent of going to Cape Town via South Georgia. I don't want to spoil the plot to those interested in reading the story, am not even sure that it is a true one, but it for sure is captivating. This, too, kept me from falling asleep.
December 20 - This morning, when Juergen woke up, all rested, I just could not get my act together. In the end, we had breakfast in the cockpit - a routine by now, I am sure you noticed, played Backgammon - I lost a bundle even though I keep giving Juergen a run for his money. Then we took the dinghy to the dinghy dock - we were lucky to find a spot close enough that we could even use our wire and lock - a must in the Caribbean, we have been told. We purchased the screws I talked about earlier, bought some other paraphernalia for our dinghy bridle, wandered towards the unisex hairdresser - Juergen wanted a haircut. No such luck until December 24 at 1230. Fine with us. We made the reservation, then sat down in a small street restaurant, ordered lunch - Juergen a planter's punch with the local rum which is not made from molasses but from actual sugar cane - a specialty of the island - he loved it. Then we tried to rent a car for tomorrow and Sunday. No car available. We finally agreed on December 24 and 25. We are not unhappy about that as we have no real plans for Christmas. It feels rather strange anyway not to be home... a first for us, except in 1975 when I had just moved to the US, I was sitting in a hotel room, by myself - but we rather not rehash that story...
I had taken a few pictures in the past two days - nothing to write home about, but I thought you might like to see what Le Marin looks like - from Impromptu's point of view. There are so many boats here - mostly sailboats, it is unbelievable. The masts are stacked so closely - at least in the marina, because they don't dock American style but, instead bow to or stern to with a hook and long line to either hold the stern or the bow in place. Thus, one can only get onto the dock over the bow pulpit or over the stern. There is no dock between boats, just fenders. Of course, one crams a lot more boats into a tight spot, but it sure does not give you any privacy whatsoever. Though we had made a reservation for a dock for January 1st, we are by now not sure any more that we really want it. Maybe, it depends a little as to where Brit and Axel's "Hello World" will be located and what they are up to. At this moment, we are quite happy driving over to the dinghy dock and keeping Impromptu right here where she is.
We noticed that a lot of people are working on their boats - on one of our pictures you see a young man dangled off his bosun chair, checking his spreader connections - against the light, he made a nice silouette... see for yourself. And the sunset last night was quite impressive with the sky turning golden to red.
We meanwhile learned where the "town" is located and took a dinghy ride over to see it. We decided that we can either walk there or go there by car, as the dinghy dock in that location did not evoke a lot of confidence as to security in us. But we saw an old town wall, a huge cemetery, shops, some sort of wharf operation. We will check it out in the next few days. I now will have to call Ocens, the people who provided us the software for our boat email system (email@example.com) and the weathernet. It is not working perfectly yet. And then, there will be happy hour coming soon... See you tomorrow or the day thereafter.
December 26 - Christmas is behind us. We had not much of a Christmas though, instead, we rented a car for the 24th and the 25th to get to know the island somewhat. There is very little Christmas decoration on the island, virtually none in Le Marin, and just a tadbit more in Fort de France, capital of Martinique. The island is gorgeous. We can say that also after driving around. The main roads are well maintained, the smaller ones, o well... Gas was "out" or limited at various gas stations close to Le Marin. It seemed to be amply available as we got closer to Fort de France. We decided that the island does not really feel like an island though one see a lot of water. We felt as if we were driving around in France some place rural.
After a brief stroll through town, at least the harbor area, we drove back - wanted to get back in daylight. But we took a road "crossing the island" to the Atlantic side, hoping to drive along the shore. The town of "Le Francois" seemed a perfect spot. When we got there, we were more than disappointed though the bay we overlooked was beautiful and surrounded by beautiful mountainous terrain. Somehad had placed a champagne bottle on the roadblock - I thought it appropriate given that it was Christmas - see photo in our gallery. There must have been a mudslide because two houses were totally tilted over, the roof of one of them had slid off - a rather scary sight. We tried to call our families in Germany/Austria from the marina location, only reached Ulli and family. Susanne had tried to call us as we spoke to Ulli. When we tried to call back we could not get through.
It started pouring just about 20 minutes before we would get back to the dinghy dock. Driving was difficult because one could barely see anything. The roads were steep and very winding. Of course, we made it just in time for the rain to stop, parked the car at the rental place and walked over to the dinghy dock. We sat in the cockpit as the sun was going down, drinking the special white wine we had purchased at the supermarket the day before - very delicious but too expensive for "daily consumption". I cooked rice and shrimp with an "herb de provence" sauce - it all was delicious. Juergen was very tired from driving around. He had gotten a haircut in the morning, we had done just a little bit more of shopping - he wanted a green pepper sauce for our filet mignon - our Christmas dinner. We opened Lo's Christmas gift, read her card, and went to bed early to be ready for the drive the next day..
Christmas Day - after breakfast and a few games of Backgammon, we took the dinghy back to the dinghy dock - rather empty compared to the first few days when we had to fight for a spot to chain our dinghy for safety. Now we could choose where we wanted to "land". We wanted to drive around the peninsula just Southeast of Le Marin as it seemed that there was a round right along the coastline. Wrong thinking. The fat line along the coast was a walkway only. Still, we had gone to St. Anne, a small place full of life, people sitting at bars, walking in the streets, playing at the beach. We took a few photos and video overlooking the bay towards Le Marin. Unfortunately, we could not see our boat as it was covered by a spit of land.
We then drove practically West of Le Marin to another somewhat larger peninsula which had a road pretty much "around" it. We stopped at a few places, including "Le Diamant" which is named after a rock across the town with the same name. Again, the view was beautiful. Lots of boats anchored, lots of boats sailing North and South, people at the beach. In Le Diamant we found a restaurant open. It had a pleasant backyard right on the beach. We heard the surf, saw the waves and boats, still protected from the sun by a huge awning. We decided to order lunch (Juergen had carpaccio, I a serving of "moules, frites", all delicious. We even ordered rose wine as others had ordered it at various tables, of course, a large bottle of "eau gazeuse". Since everything was cooked from scratch, it took for ever, but we were not in a rush, enjoyed the scenery, the atmosphere. There were a lot of French people, most likely tourists, but not as much "tourists as we", i.e., speaking a different language. Still, our communication went well and, after almost 2.5 hours, we were finally on our way again. This time, we managed to speak with Susanne and Guenter - did not speak to the others as they were sitting at the dinner table, and we wanted to move on. We stopped here and there whenever we saw something interesting, including the sugar cane from which some of the local rum is made. They call it "rhum agricole" as opposed to the one made from molasses (which is 90% of the global rum production). We will still have to find a distillery to purchase some of this rum as it is supposed to have a distinct taste.
From the Northern part of this trip, we had a gorgeous view over the Baie de Fort the France - see picture. We were just about ten minutes from Le Marin, when Juergen wanted to drive into the mountains one more time. A hitchhiker was waving, we stopped and drove him to his home in Riviere Pilote. He pointed the way to the next distillery which, however, seemed closed. It was Christmas and also close to 1700. We continued on this road, going up and down the mountains on tiny roads, narrow and very winding - again the scenery was just breathtaking. We stopped here and there - you know the drill. Back in La Marin, we stopped at the 18th century church, again to take pictures, before driving back to the parking lot of the rental car company. Juergen would have to return the car the next day by 1100 while I was going to do laundry.
Well, I guess, we overdid it. After one load of laundry was done and the second started, the generator stopped working. We might have overloaded it as the water heater, the water maker, and the washing machine were on all at the same time. After Juergen took the car back, he studied the user manual. It seems towork again. Now, without the water heater running, we hope that our luck will not run out again.
Tomorrow, Brit and Axel from "Hello World" will arrive. The Swiss sailor next to us left this morning. If nobody takes his sport, they will be able to anchor right next to us - very convenient. We will see.
December 30 - it is Sunday morning. The sun is shining. I am mentioning this because yesterday, it was pouring pretty much all day. In the six weeks of our trip, we have never seen a day as gray and dreary as yesterday. It was almost depressing, as it also got quite a bit cooler. Every time we thought it had stopped, Juergen emptied the dinghy, cleaned off our dodger window panes, it started raining again. During the night, I had to jump up a few times to close our hatch, awakened not by the noise of the rain pounding on our deck but the wetness that was dumped onto my legs - thank God I noticed, otherwise, our beds would have gotten quite wet.
Two days ago, on December 28, Brit and Axel arrived early in the morning. They had actually arrived around 0300 that night and came into our anchorage around 0900. Initially, they tried to anchor near Africa but int he end, they anchored right near us as there was more room to anchor and less depth, i.e., fewer feet of anchor chain needed. They came over to have breakfast with us, and we chatted for a while. We invited them and the crew of Africa for dinner on our boat. They asked whether Wolfgang, a single handed sailor from Hamburg could join. So, the seven of us had pork tenderloin, marinated in various concoctions and some onion and fresh ginger, leeks and potatoes. For dessert, we had purchased a tray of beautiful little cakes from "Paul", the meanwhile famous bakery in town. The evening turned out to be a lot of fun. They did not leave before 0030 the next morning. Before departing, Brit invited everyone, including Soenke and his wife Judith from Hippopotamus who also had been invited to our boat after dinner - very nice young couple from Hamburg - for dinner on Hello-World the next evening.
Yesterday, we bought lots of beautiful cheeses as we promised to bring a cheese platter, a baguette. We purchased gas for our dinghy - only needed slightly over 2 gallons but better safe than sorry. We could not make coffee the traditional way because our propane seemed to be finished - two tanks in six weeks seems awfully fast - and inconceivable. But we cannot get it to work. So we must assume that both tanks are empty. Propane is not sold in Europe, i.e., also not here. According to some general information both from someone here on the island as well as the respective website we checked, propane should be available in St. Lucia. Unfortunately, this means that we will have to leave on Wednesday, i.e., after our joint New Year's celebration and after the holiday, for St. Lucia (checking out in Martinique, checking in in St. Lucia again). Of course, we will stay for a few days to get to see the island once we are there, but then we will hurry back to be with our friends again - before they resume their voyage South. They promised they would still be there for a few days when we get back.
We also purchased tickets for my flight to New York yesterday - it got to be more expensive than we had thought, but we took it to ensure that I would have a seat. From here, I will fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on January 16, departing around 1530 from Fort-de-France, Le Lamentin, connecting there to Newark, all on American and American Eagle. My return flight on January 22nd will depart around 0630 from JFK. I will arrive back in Le Lamentin around 1510. This will give me three business days and two weekend days to get as much done as possible, including visiting with Luise and family, hopefully, seeing Alexander, and definitely meeting up with Chrissy for our Sushi lunch.
New Year's will be celebrated on Hello-World because they have the largest boat and can accommodate all of us more easily than any one of us. Initially, the thought was to barbeque, but we don't know what the weather will be like which means that we might just all bring a number of different cold items. We already purchased a side of smoked salmon and might bring some pate and bread and some champagne. Hopefully, it will be a fun evening like the two we have had so far.
Brit and Axel went to pick up various spare parts from the airport. Unfortunately, customs was closed (Saturday). Still, they took a drive around the island and went to Carrefour, a very good supermarket where they purchased all sorts of goodies for their last night's dinner. They have an induction plate and a huge wok and cooked a very delicious chicken, vegetable dick, Chinese style. We all loved it and ate way too much. We watched "Peking around Cape Horn" and "Berserk" - until that CD failed. We had just read the book and had talked about it. Soenke and Judith had the DVD. The book is a lot better than the movie - as mostly... It was almost midnight when we took our dinghy back "home" to our Impromptu. There, I found a very nice email, sent by Claudia, but written by Luise. I responded before going to bed.
Brit came by later on. She brought her "socializing photos" of the two joint dinners - see a small selection in our gallery. We also looked through our website, remember, Brit is the one that actually improved upon our initial 2005 website for it to look pretty much the way it does right now. She took a brief look at the website I started to develop for my company. She fixed my reading glasses, the screw had fallen out and our "old eyes" could not handle the small screw. Then Axel and Wolfgang joined us for drinks - Wolfgang only briefly. He wanted to get back to his boat before the heavy rain which already threatened in the sky (Axel was barely back to Impromptu when it started to pour...). In the end, Brit and Axel stayed for our small supper - I cannot cook, so we had salad, potatoe salad and knockwurst.
December 31 - Brit, Juergen and I will drive over to the airport again to pick up the items for Hello World. We will also use this opportunity to go shopping at Carrefour, and to spend more time with Brit. We did all that, bought wonderful food after retrieving Brit's package from customs - amazing, the bureaucracy...
Then, around 1930, we went to Hello Wolrd where everyone else was already enjoying drinks in the cockpit. The music was great, appropriate for the occasion, the cockpit nicely decorated. Around 2030 or so we went down below for supper - lots of different types of pate, cheeses, pasta concoctions, salad, followed by a wonderful apple tast and mousse au chocolat, all accompanied by lots of wine. Around 2350, the first bottles of champagne were opened and just around midnight, we all went on deck to wish each other a Happy New Year, toast, and make lots of noise. At a progressed hour, six of the nine of us went skinny dipping. Juergen and I turned in first because I was really tired - around 0300 on January 1st, 2008. It was a wonderful evening with people who all seem to like each other, despite the varying age groups....