Sunday, 25 June 2017

Twenty Two Years On, We Return To Annapolis

Boat dreaming, in June 1995. This image captured with an early Digital camera, all of 756 pixels wide.

Way back in 1995 Ley and I visited Annapolis, playing the tourists while on a business trip to the United States. We were busy running a growing business, but we dreamed of sailing and cruising to places exactly like this. Two years later we purchased Crystal Blues and the dream became a reality.

So, almost exactly twenty two years after that first Annapolis visit, we're now able to sit on the same docks and look at our own floating home, moored just a 100 meters off shore. It does feel good!

Since the adventure began we've sailed over 50,000 nautical miles, crossed several major oceans and visited seventeen different countries. Ïn an email received yesterday, our friend Jim Cate encouraged us to "have as much fun as possible" while we are here. I can assure you Jim, we will keep trying!
Back In Annapolis, Older & A Little Wiser

Crystal Blues arrived in Annapolis on Friday afternoon after a down-wind run up Chesapeake Bay from Solomon's Island. We've taken a mooring for the weekend right off the town dock, which is ground zero for boat watching in this most nautical of cities. Members of the local Annapolis Yacht Club have hosted us to the club, so once again we are being looked after very well. Tomorrow we head further north up Chesapeake Bay, then enter the C&D Canal for a (hopefully) smooth transit through to the Delaware River.

Southern Hospitality

Here in Virginia, we've been blessed by southern hospitality - on arrival we were hosted by family friends (thanks Lael & Katherine!) who have a dock in beautiful Horne Harbor, a small tributary of the Great Wicomico River. Horne Harbour is a recognised Hurricane Hole, with steep forested banks plus a few homes peeking through the forest on the ridges above. Miles from the nearest town, it is both natural and rural. Otters and beavers live in the creek, there are deer and squirrels on shore, bald eagles and osprey nesting along the banks. It's a perfect anchorage, though the shallow entry needs a rising tide for safe navigation.

Horne Harbour - Peaceful, Pretty & Protected
After 10 days there we moved down river to Cockrell Creek, in the town of Reedville, staying on another private dock, this time as guests of Walter Keith and Mary Frazer who are, like us, members of the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA). Walt & Mary volunteer as "cruising station" hosts for the area. We joined the SSCA about 18 years ago, and it has taken until this month to meet members on their home territory - what a great welcome they delivered.

Crystal Blues At Rest, Walt & Mary's Dock, Cockrell Creek

Rocking Chairs On The Balcony, With Walter & Mary

On Horne Harbour we were able to relax and enjoy the local environment, plus start a series of jobs on our maintenance list, including the removal and refinishing / bedding of another deck hatch.

Those jobs were completed on Cockrell Creek, with great assistance from Walt & Mary, who provided transport and a vehicle when we needed it.

They also managed to ramp our social life up by several notches, with sundown drinks on the balcony each evening, beautiful meals together and an introduction to the local community, specially through the Reedville Fisherman's Museum. The museum is only 100 paces from Walt & Mary's front door, and is an important social connector in the area. Members gather every second Friday evening for a pot luck sundowners session at the museum. Our first Sunday in town the museum also hosted a New Orleans Blues music event, with a great local band headlining - check out the Adrian Duke Project. With all that hospitality we felt quite at home in Reedville, also hosting locals onboard Crystal Blues.

Cockrell Creek Mast Work - A New Windex Instrument Installed
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings the wooden boat workshop at the Museum is in action, attracting a keen group of local volunteers, restoring vessels and building new ones. I was of course invited - its a great way to spend a day.

I think it's a little unkind for the local ladies to refer to it as the retired men's club - but whatever fits! The shed smells exactly like a wooden boat workshop should and is very well equipped.

These guys do great work - evidence is floating at the museum docks, with beautifully restored and maintained fishing vessels, both power and sail.

Our own work included removing the washing machine from the lazarette space, so it could be repaired on deck - this provided great entertainment for the locals. The machine has done great service since we installed it in Singapore 8 years ago, but the refit in Trinidad almost killed it - the exit hose was choked with anti-fouling paint. We also installed a new long range wi-fi receiver, in reality a wireless bridge, to replace our older Wave WiFi device - but that's news for a future story.

Reedville offers visiting cruisers a friendly and peaceful home, with several good restaurants and countless quiet and sheltered anchorages. Three local marinas can provide fuel, water and dockage if required.

Check the link below for more images of the beautiful Reedville village.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

New Cockpit Shades - Looking Swish Again

Beautiful New Cockpit Shade Covers
After 6 months on the hard stand in Trinidad, our cockpit covers were looking kind of shabby and unloved. Almost 8 years old, they had seen a lot of use in hot and steamy Asia, plus windy South Africa.

Ley purchased 40 meters of Ferrari Stamoid Top fabric in Singapore back in 2011, and over recent years she has sewn new shade covers for the fore deck and the midship area. The balance of that fabric roll was intended for new cockpit covers - a project Ley has just completed.

Why Stamoid Top? On the web, we found the following statement, by W Marine canvas:

"Stamoid Top is a vinyl-laminated (both sides) high-tenacity polyester.  Although Ferrari Stamoid makes a wide variety of yachting textiles I chose Stamoid Top due to its prevalence compared to the other Ferrari Stamoid products. This fabric is very durable and tolerates extreme long-term exposure quite well considering that many of the applications for which it is favored tend to remain installed year-round.  Stamoid should only be used for applications which do not require the fabric to breath since as a vinyl-coated fabric Stamoid will not breathe." Read more about the differences between Stamoid, Sunbrella and other similar materials here.

We whole heartedly agree with that review of the qualities of Stamoid Top. Longevity of the covers against UV damage and abrasion is excellent, specially when sewn with Tenara thread. Our covers were all sewn on Ley's Sailrite sewing machine with a walking foot.  Sewing with Tenara can be a bit of a challenge at first, as the thread needs quite tight tension to make a well balanced stitch, but it can be mastered with a little practice.

Cover Rolled Up, Inside View
We love the Stamoid white also for the diffused light it bathes the cockpit in on a sunny day, while reflecting most of the heat. Further, the fabric is not bulky to roll up and store.

 Both our boom shade tent and the new cockpit shades are attached with bolt rope tape sewn to the covers. This slides into a PVC bolt rope track that is screwed or pop riveted to the boat. This makes for a very secure installation, and also allows very easy installation and removal.
Cover Rolled Up, Outside View

Our covers are stowed in position, rolled up and secured with straps. It's simple to undo the drop-nose hooks and unroll the shades.

We use bungee cord and nylon hooks to clip quickly onto the life lines.  This combination allows us to have excellent shade, cool breezes and shelter from the rain when we need it.

Best of all, our outlook is not blocked and the cockpit remains dry in all but very heavy rain.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Charleston Hurricane Reminder

Like a sad and permanent warning sign, this sailboat has been high and dry on the banks of the Ashley River in Charleston, South Carolina, for the past 10 months or so. It dragged anchor during the last hurricane that passed by here.

One American friend told me that through the summer, he is "always looking over his shoulder" as he sails on this coast. You just can't tell when a hurricane will head your way.

In Australia, tropical cyclones don't extend much below 28degrees south, but on the US east coast hurricane impacts are felt all the way north onto Long Island, at 40 degrees north.

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy killed over 40 people, destroyed 250,000 vehicles and flooded the New York subway system, shutting down business and cities all over Long Island and the New Jersey shore.

The storm surge was over 14 feet above normal high water.

Hurricane Matthew Passes North Of Us In 2016

Our (new) marine insurer, Y Yacht Insurance, asks us to be north of 36 degrees by June 1st, or we would not have cover for damage caused by "named storms" - this is not an uncommon condition, though some insurance companies allow cover to continue somewhat further south.

Needless to say, we'll cruise the US coast this summer somewhat cautiously, always watching over our shoulder. In reality, we're watching the 5 Day Tropical Weather Outlook on the NOAA web site, as per the image at right.

You can see the current NOAA Hurricane Center warnings, if any, by clicking here.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Charleston, South Carolina

We arrived in Charleston after a five day passage from Cuba, running north west through the Old Bahama Channel and then north up the coast of Florida and Georgia, riding the Gulf Stream current towards our first US landfall.  The current did not disappoint, giving us 10 and 11 knots over the ground for many hours.

Approaching Charleston in the early morning, we were surprised to see three large square rigged ships ahead of us, all waiting in the offing for Charleston Pilots to guide them in. On VHF radio we spoke with the tall ship Picton Castle, seen above, and learned that a tall ships festival was happening in Charleston that coming weekend.

We sailed on through the entry channel, all 15 miles of it, entered Charleston Harbour (without a pilot) and berthed at the Charleston City Marina, the Mega Dock. Welcome to the USA!

Checking in at the marina office we learned that our two day stay on the dock would cost over $300.00 Australian dollars, plus power and water of course, and plus taxes .... but OK, they do provide a great courtesy bus service, and the staff are very friendly, but ouch it sure costs. So we made the required phone call to US Customs & Border Protection, and soon enough were visited by two very courteous border protection officers, who cleared us into the United States and departed with all our citrus fruits, pork products, eggs etc. The fact that they asked us to throw all this "dangerous" stuff in the river makes a mockery of the actual risks associated with this produce - we refused, and insisted they take it with them for proper disposal (incineration). Maybe not such a great welcome after all!

Ah, but Charleston is just so genteel (and yes, I've been wanting to use that line for weeks). A city of only 20,000 odd souls, the major industry is tourism, followed closely by more tourism and then education coming in a distant third. A single cruise ship arriving in port will swell the population by more than 10%, but when they leave the old town is staggeringly beautiful, and the university students get on with life as they do anywhere else in the world - with music, good food and boundless optimism. Charleston was the major British trading port before the War of Independence, and also a major center for landing and selling slaves from Africa, so it does have a chequered history.

After a couple of days on the (expensive) Mega Dock, our bank manager insisted we move off, so we anchored in the designated anchorage area just off the marina, spending time with local resident friends we had first met in Trinidad.

Cutting Away The First Obstacle
Two days later it was time to leave, however our departure was rudely delayed by something big and ugly attached to our anchor chain. With about 20 meters of chain still out, and the windlass straining, we hauled to the surface a major ball of chain,  three anchors, rope rode, and general barnacle encrusted mess. Our chain was wrapped twice around this nightmare, which also had another chain running to the bottom, now drawn tight.

With over a knot of current running in the river it was going to be a challenge to clear this, so first we cut the other chain with our angle grinder, taking some pressure off. Then we were able to motor forward against the current and eventually flip the twists of our chain off the ball of anchors. It was too big to lift onboard, so then we cut it away and let it fall to the bottom. Next we continued retrieving our chain only to find our anchor was stuck fast on something big and heavy.  We engaged the chain stopper on deck and tried to motor off it, but only managed to blow a lot of diesel smoke in the air. At this point we decided to call a diving service and went forward to release our chain - we'd be here for another night - but found the chain stopper jammed by the rising tide.

Hooking Up The New Rocna & Swivel
Now we were truly stuck - the windlass couldn't haul chain in and the rising tide was rapidly pulling the bow under water. Out with the angle grinder again, and we proceeded to cut our own precious chain, abandoning the big Rocna anchor we purchased in Thailand.

Then it was back to the Mega Dock marina for three days while a replacement anchor was delivered to Charleston for us. We will not anchor in that part of Charleston Harbour again!

Despite these problems, our overwhelming memory of Charleston is positive, it is a great town for cruising visitors. An excellent anchorage is available off the James Island Yacht Club, just a few miles down stream, where we christened the new anchor before heading off into the North Atlantic again.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Cruising Fun In The BVIs, A Sailors Paradise

The British Virgin Islands are a sailors paradise - reaching across the Sir Francis Drake Channel is a marvelous way to spend an afternoon, racing south west past Virgin Gorda, heading for a Dark & Stormy at the floating bar in The Bight on Norman Island - it's the stuff dreams are made of.

The fun continues when you enter harbour, as legendary super yachts and equally legendary classic yachts seem to be everywhere. At Jost Van Dyke we watched the (very few) entrants in the annual wooden boat regatta come back into harbour - what they lacked in numbers they sure made up for in style. That night at Foxy's Bar the prize giving was a typical yacht club style event, with perhaps more rum consumed than was wise.

Old man Foxy was even there for a little while, however I think he needed to go back of house and review his share portfolio or something - that guy has worked hard and done well  - I do remember him cooking lobster for me 30 years ago on the beach in East End Harbour, near Diamond Cay..

J-Class Classic Ranger At Virgin Gorda

If the racing or wooden boats don't get you, then the charter boats provide the most entertainment, specially at anchoring time. We invested some time helping folk pick up mooring balls in trying conditions - an afternoon in the cockpit wasn't complete without seeing at least one blooper. Heck, we've all done it, right?

Trying To Get Both Hulls Hooked Up ... Very Trying

Why Is The Dinghy Under The Boat? 'Çause Propellers Love Painters.

Overall, the British Virgin Islands are simply a great place to be on a boat.

Where Am I ? Social Change In Caribbean Cruising

Sailing west from the BVIs, a cruising sailor enters an area that is increasingly influenced by proximity to the United States. While the southern end of the Caribbean oscillates between French, Dutch and English histories, and quaint provincial social influences, the northern islands are suddenly and dramatically quite American.

Crystal Blues In Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, BVI's

The British Virgin Islands, the biggest charter boat destination in the world, is where the influence really starts to blossom. The poor British there have given up on the Pound Sterling, let alone the Euro, and have adopted the US greenback as their standard currency, along with switching their channel markers and buoyage over to the US style "red right returning" system (IALA Region B). So much for tradition. Then again, Region B was in use even in Martinique, an otherwise 100% proudly French territory.

Moving westwards, the US Virgin Islands are of course, well, US.  Then you come to the Spanish Virgin Islands, part of Puerto Rico, which is really, well, part of the US. Next we sailed over the top of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, before pausing in Cuba. Here we found that even Cuba uses the IALA Region B buoyage, besides being the home of the worlds best collection of 1960's American cars.

Street Traffic In Cuba - Horses, Bicycles & 50s - 60s US Classics
It doesn't help that almost every island in the Caribbean, north and south, uses the US country code (+1) for their international telephone dialing prefix - all having nice 3 digit area codes under the US regional communications umbrella.

Of course this American influence isn't all bad, standard regional buoyage systems make sense, and we certainly enjoyed the social services and amenities provided in Puerto Rico and other places.

However I do fear for the future of Cuba - they already run two parallel currencies, a local Peso worth very little and a tourist Peso that is closely pegged to the US dollar and worth 25 times the poor local currency.  So market shopping in rural Cuba is done using the "people's money", but marina payments by visitors have to be done in the tourist Peso. When a power outage caused the local banks to shut their doors, we had no trouble changing greenbacks for tourist peso's in the local market square - the population are happy to take greenbacks. When President Obama wound back the restrictions on US travel to Cuba last year, we found that by November there were more than 30 flights a day out of Miami into Havana, and even more out of Fort Lauderdale. For those wanting to visit today's Cuba, we suggest you move fast.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A Sleigh Ride In The Gulf Stream

The Customs lady looked fearsome (why is it always the Customs folk who play tough?) but gave us our clearance and charged only US25 cents for the pleasure. The Immigration man smiled, removed the little cards from our passports and said "have a nice voyage, you're cleared". With that we sailed away from Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands the next morning, on the first day of May, bound north west for the USA.

That first day of sailing was an easy one. Leaving the anchorage at 06:30hrs we ran past the US Virgin Islands then veered south to sleepy Culebra, in the Spanish Virgin Islands, arriving at 12:45hrs with 36 miles under the keel, to anchor in a perfect lagoon. Lunch at the (delightful) Dinghy Dock Restaurant was followed by a very friendly clearance process at the local airfield. The beautiful Spanish Virgins are part of Puerto Rico, a US possession with US style border protection policies.

Old Town, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Next day we sailed another 62 nautical miles to San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, for provisioning, fueling and a little dose of tourism.

We anchored in San Juan Bay, just off the yacht club, in good holding ground.  The San Juan Bay Marina offered a dinghy dock and wi-fi service for $10.00 per day, which suited us fine. The city of San Juan was a real surprise - very American, yet Spanish enough to have a truly vibrant soul. The old city is spectacular, the people relaxed and friendly.

We traveled the city far and wide, riding the efficient metro (bus) transit system. Restaurants offered unique local and Spanish dishes, we were in foodie heaven. Each day in port we carted another 100 liters of diesel fuel out to Crystal Blues, and loaded provisions from the excellent super market to cover our next voyage.

Spanish Era Powder Magazine, San Juan

San Juan Bay Anchorage

From there it was more spirited down wind sailing, for four days (622nm), to peaceful Puerto De Vita on the north coast of Cuba - here the welcome was warm and gracious, the whole environment relaxed and friendly. We stayed just three nights - next time it will be three weeks. Yes, the country is certainly very poor, however the people are happy, healthy, well fed and well educated. Cuba has very high literacy standards and a world class health care system. We'll write more about Cuba in a later story.

1969 Dodge Coronet, Our Cuban Taxi To Town

From Cuba we set out westwards through the Old Bahama Channel, more fine down wind sailing until the wind faded south of the Great Bahama Bank. Two days of motoring carried us up into the Florida Straits, heading north at breakneck speed towards the Carolinas. The Gulf Stream came in fast, and ran at more than 4 knots for 36 hours - last night Ley saw 11 knots over the ground for most of her watch. We shot past Miami around midnight, and Cape Canaveral (which I first saw as a teenager back in 1972) was abeam of us by 14:00 hours that day.

This unstoppable current then became a problem - our destination of Charleston was approaching way too fast, and we could not enter at night time. So earlier today we ran off westwards toward the coast of Georgia, moving out of the stream into shallower water where the current was more sane. By mid afternoon we were back on course and spent an hour before sunset sitting on the bow rail watching masses of dolphins play with the boat.

We should arrive in Charleston, South Carolina, tomorrow morning, completing a quick five day passage covering around 800 nautical miles. The trade winds have been behind the beam for the entire 18 days since we departed the British Virgin Islands. We've traveled north so fast that the sunsets are noticeably later each day - temperatures are also much cooler. Our brief port stops in Puerto Rico and Cuba gave us a taste of cultures that we'll be back to explore next year - for now we're looking forward to exploring the US east coast this northern summer.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

LED Lighting Goes Beserk

Super Yacht Savannah Lights Up The Harbour, Nicely

This year in the Caribbean I've often been delighted, though more often offended, by the incredible displays of light pumped out of sailing and power vessels at night time. It seems that the energy efficiency of LED lamps has launched boat owners on a new quest to throw light into the water and the sky.

While Savannah did it in a classy way - a silky curtain of white light below the waterline, in a perfect 360 degree arc around the vessel - others were less tactful.

This catamaran owner obviously spent a lot of money installing a large number of LED lights, however the color scheme was kind of  off-putting, or as cruising friends said, "Oh Puke"! It would be cheaper and more honest to simply paint the side of the boat with "Look At Me!".

While the big boats lead the pack in this new trend, even smaller cruising vessels are starting to compete. In Trinidad we berthed next to an older Beneteau 37, a lady of a "certain age", that had applied new make-up. She had (wait for it) blue underwater LED's in an arc around the stern, plus recessed LED strip lighting along both sides of the salon, which changed color every minute or so. Yep, one minute the interior was green, next minute it was red, then blue and so on - all it needed was a shiny pole and some dancers to complete the picture. Please, spare me.

OK, enough griping - we're off to Cuba today, 570 nautical miles West North West and downwind all the way, we hope. Our next post should come from Puerto De Vita on the north coast of Cuba, if we can find some internet there.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

A Strong Sense Of Deja Vu .....

Pirate Bight, Norman Island
Ah, the British Virgin Islands. Thirty years ago I sailed here, different boat, different life, different wife, you get the idea.  It was great then Wendy, and it's great now thanks Ley. Crystal Blues sailed into the north sound of Virgin Gorda on April 20, after an easy overnight passage from St. Martin. Here we found to our delight a friendly social scene and a great number of sail boats, punctuated by the occasional spectacular power boat. We figure big power boats are OK if they look really good - like Savannah, (below) that really delivers on her hundred million dollar construction price tag. Ouch.

Then again, you can charter her for just a million bucks a week. Much easier.

This is the boat with the underwater lounge, swimming pool, and which is (gasp), "Eco Friendly"", despite the lack of solar panels and wind generators. Diesel electric propulsion pods, battery storage, and just one direct drive low RPM diesel engine. Read about it here.

When Savannah wasn't keeping us on our toes, there was no shortage of inspiration in the anchorage.

So here we started to relax a little, meeting new friends and spending time on other boats, coupled with the obligatory eating, drinking and general yabbering. Quite a few yachts are here, ready to depart for the USA, though many are joining one of two available rally groups to make the transit.

Even the ARC organisation is running a rally from here, leaving mid may to Florida, which is a little late to our thinking. Most of the named storms that sweep up the Florida coast to the Carolinas do so early in the season. We'll be on the move quite soon.

The past two days we've anchored in Cane Garden Bay on the main island of Tortola,  relaxing and doing provisioning before our next passage. It's a cruiser friendly lazy beach resort, with a perfect white sand beach and clear waters. A string of bars are scattered along the foreshore offering entertainment and sustenance to suit all budgets. For every cruising sailboat you can count at least four or five charter yachts, so entertainment is everywhere, specially at anchoring time. We were all there once I guess.
Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, BVI's

Fishy Business Again

On April 15th we departed Martinique, turning north again to cover more miles in our quest. We aimed for St. Martin, a smallish island with a large pond in the middle, all bisected by an international border - it's half French and half Dutch. The passage took us two days and 20 hours, covering around 280 nautical miles, a sedate pace that included typically uncomfortable sections, specially in the passes between the islands where the currents run strong.

However in one of those island passes Ley hooked another big Mahi Mahi, a fish that managed to slow the boat down from our 6 to 7 knot classic fishing speed. Kind of daunting really .... it went slanting off sideways on the line, tacking against the movement of the boat and then tacking back across the stern. I woke Ley as I retrieved our second unladen line, clearing the way for this big one to be retrieved.

It took another 10 minutes before we had it at the stern, and then another 5 minutes to get it on deck, at which time we shared some of our best white rum with the fish, but got no thanks, just a lot of angst.

So more rum, several times over, eventually did the trick and the magnificent fish did its magical (and somehow sad) color change, as the life force departed.

We cut two huge fillets off the fish and blessed the sea with the rest, chilling the fillets down before skinning them, so that no scaling was required. The admiral tells me we'll get 10 meals off the catch, that is great fishing.

Next morning we approached the coast of St. Martin, the western French side, in kind of sloppy conditions with a big east north east breeze blowing. We anchored off shore in calm conditions, but within 24 hours there were ocean swells running through the anchorage, heaving Crystal Blues sideways 5 meters at a time, and truly straining our friendship with St. Martin.  We could of course have moved into the lagoon, through a drawbridge that opened three times a day, and had uncertain water depths  ... instead we moved north, further into the lee of a natural point of land. There we enjoyed calm conditions and used our dinghy to explore into the lagoon - much better to run the surf into the lagoon in a small boat!

Once inside we found, on the French side, a cruisers paradise - flat water, relaxed officialdom and all the creature comforts of France, delivered in a laid back Rasta kinda way.  Cross the lagoon to Holland and things became decidedly more precise and up-market, driven by the amazing number of super yachts that were berthed there. On the down side, most of them were power boats, however it was a splendid sight. St Martin seemed like a great place to do boat work, and have a damn good time despite that. We provisioned quickly, on the Dutch side, and prepared for our next passage, just eighty nautical miles to the British Virgin Islands.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Escaping The Crowds In Martinique

Two days after our arrival the small town feel of Fort De France was completely over taken by the arrival of the cruise ship Disney Magic. She berthed with her stern no more than 200 meters from our anchor position, so we were able to watch the inevitable invasion of very white skinned tourists as they marched down the dock in their thousands, each group following a host carrying a large placard above their head, off into the wilds of French Martinique. There goes the neighbourhood ...

The Porcelain Rose
With the old town now humming to the cries of children heading for McDonalds and the buzz of electric powered chairs carrying (surprisingly young looking) tourists around the streets, we rented a car and headed for the hills.

In the mountains just north of the city we visited Jardin de Belata, a private botanical garden with exotic plants from around the world, a treetop walkway & mountain views. The Porcelain Rose Etlingera Elatior was everywhere, along with fields of cactus, massive palm groves, Japanese gardens and even a Bamboo garden. We finished our tour with a very nice luncheon at the adjacent restaurant La Luciole, a perfectly French establishment, relaxed and confident, with a small but beautiful menu. Oh joy, again.

Next day we toured north along the coast, heading for one of our essential volcano visits - the Admiral does love her volcano's - stopping along the way to drink coffee and watch fisherman work their catch in peaceful cooperation with the local pelicans.

We were also able to visit some original "Creole Era" ruins and plantation village , with truly stunning homes, as we climbed away from the coast towards the volcano.

As it happened the volcano caldera on Mount Pelee was accessible only if we were prepared for a four hour mountain hike, and that looked more like a scramble when viewed from the base of the trail.

So no, let's have lunch, this is France, there has to be a decent restaurant around here somewhere ..... but alas it was not to be, for the admiral had packed food, and we headed back to the coast to share lunch with friends Phil and Linda aboard SV Windora in the anchorage at Saint Pierre.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Carriacou to Martinique - Assisting French Customs Along The Way

French Customs Patrol Boat

Two weeks ago we sailed out of Tyrell Bay in Carriacou, heading for Martinique, looking for our first taste of France in the Caribbean. It was a 24 hour passage, covering some 130 nautical miles, and involved a mixture of spirited sailing, and flat calms requiring the engine to keep us moving forward.  We sailed right past the Tobago Cays, Mustique, Bequia, St Vincent and St Lucia - many wonderful anchorages - however life just isn't long enough to stop at every island and we're still on a mission to reach the USA before the end of May. Equally, we're careful about personal security and were committed to bypassing St.Vincent, among others (St. Vincent is responsible for more than half of all security incidents involving cruisers in the Caribbean area).

The Vessel Of Interest- Click The Image To Enlarge
Approaching Martinique we were over-flown by a patrol aircraft, then an hour or so later a very beautifully presented patrol boat (so very French) approached us at speed and asked our intentions. They sat on our stern quarter while we worked our way through the basic identification tasks for the vessel and crew, established our intentions as tourists in Martinique and as bona-fide cruisers for the past 12 years before approving our approach to the island and wishing us a good day.

Their final question was to ask if we has seen any unusual boat activity in the past few hours - which we had. I explained that we had observed a small trimaran on a reciprocal course (it was heading south) that seemed to be badly handled, with sails not trimmed properly and steering a little wildly.  They were immediately interested and asked for all of our observations, timing, position etc. - it was clear this was a vessel they were looking for. I explained that the vessel was transmitting its position via AIS, and that as our navigation system logged all targets and data I could replay our course and establish its last known position received by AIS.

Now they were really interested and offered to stand by while we shut down the Transas navigation software and re-booted it in playback mode, scanning for that vessel and event. It took 10 minutes but we were eventually able to give them an accurate last known position, course and speed for the offending vessel, after which they thanked us profusely and steamed on their way. We're not sure what was going on, but were sure happy to help.

Arriving in Fort De France a few hours later we anchored in 4 meters of water, close to the old fort on good mud holding ground and found ourselves right in the heart of town - what a joy! The French had provided a nice dinghy dock on the bay promenade, and it was literally only 50 meters to the first coffee shop and restaurant. Oh joy, welcome to France.