Martinique and the lushness of nature’s work.

A few days ago Brenda and I rented a car in Le Marin and set out to tour the northwestern part of Martinique.   The island is too large to tour in a single day so we chose to focus on a loop that took us up about ¾ of the way to the northern tip of the island, near the summit of Mt Pelee.  The currently dormant volcano that last exploded in 1902 is the highest mountain on the island, nearly 4,000’ feet.  The eruption caught residents completely buy surprise  in nearby St Pierre, the capitol of the country at the time, killing every living sole with the exception of two, one imprisoned in a sturdy jail cell and the other on the edge of town who survived but was severely burned.  We did visit the town briefly on our way back to Pandora but I’ll save that for a subsequent post.

So, back to our road trip.

While the southern part of the island, where we have been staying, is more lush than Antigua and some of the other lower islands, much of the northern half of the island is more mountainous and home to spectacular rain forest, harboring lush and, thick with trees, vines, moss and wonderful orchids.

As we made our way north along the winding highway we made our way through mountain ridges and valleys, with constant switchbacks as we went up into the hills, higher and higher in elevation.  The temperatures decreased noticeably as the elevation increased and the vegetation lining the roads became thicker and thicker.It was great fun driving along, white knuckles and all, making what seemed like impossible turns as the road made it’s way through the mountainous terrain.   Suddenly, around yet another sharp bend in the road, we came upon a quick moving stream.  It was beautiful.  The waters rushing down from the mountains was crystal clear and wonderfully cool.  A bit farther up from the road was a family lounging in the river. One bather had impossibly long hair, reaching to the ground.  I’ll bet that he has wicked split ends.   I wonder if his hair was as long as our granddaughter Tori when he was born. At most any point along the way Pelee was in view, towering over the landscape, shrouded in fog.  As we approached the summit by road the view, well, there wasn’t a view.   I guess that’s why they call it a “cloud forest”. Along the way we happened upon Domaine d’Emeraude, part of the Martinique National Park System.   Good luck with the site, it appears to be available only in French.   I sure wish I had payed attention to French in High school.  It’s a part of the Martinique national park system.  The reception building was very contemporary. On site was an interpretative museum of the natural history of the island.  Unfortunately, like their website, all the information was in French but well done.  A beautiful setting.  Reflecting pools lined the front of the building.  As y0u entered the building you were greeted by a beautifully displayed 3D map of the island, displayed under glass on the floor.  It was a bit unnerving to stand on the glass.  The manicured grounds surrounding the main buildings were beautifully presented. Beyond the organized parts of the preserve were miles of trails, every inch paved with cement slabs.  I was told that the bags of concrete were carried in by hand and cast in place.   In spite of the near constant moisture the rough surface of the path offered sure footing.   I can not imagine the number of workers that it took to lay all of the pathways beginning in the 1970s, I believe. Some areas along the pathways offered dramatic views.
More often than not, the jungle was thick and you could see only a short distance.
I just loved the giant ferns that were everywhere, some 40′ tall. There are many species of orchids in the forest.   Most grow hundreds of feet up in the treetop canopy but some thrive in the deep shade on the forest floor.

Some are very showy.This one, I believe is pollinated by a moth at night and has a strong sweet scent in the evening. This orchid’s flowers were less than 1/2″ long.  This flower, not an orchid, looked more like a paper origami sculpture than a flower, tiny and delicate.
This one is in the lily family. Everything from the towering trees to the smallest twigs were a riot of growth.  This heavily laden branch was only about 1/2″ thick. Bromeliads were everywhere. Not your typical Chiquita banana.  As we walked through the forest there were a number of rough shelters where we could sit and enjoy the solitude and, I expect, escape the rain when necessary.  Tiny leaves carpeting the trunk of a tree.  The leaves are so small that you’d easily miss them if you weren’t paying close attention.Dainty leaves so fragile it’s hard to believe that they can compete for the available light.
A wonderful mix of textures.  Some not so dainty.   This showy bract stands nearly 2′ tall and a flaming red that stands out in the forest. A not so dainty emerging fern fiddle.  Of course, plenty of massive plants all fighting to reach the sun. After so many years with our own home greenhouse that required a huge amount of care it’s remarkable to see these plants in their native land, where nature does all her magnificent work.

What a thrill to see such a riot of life and to be able to savor the lushness of Martinique.  I can’t wait to go back soon.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Off to St Lucia tomorrow or Wednesday and I am sure that island will also have lots to share.

Come back soon.  Please.

It’s windy again. Oh well…

While there was a weather window for heading south while we were in the US for two weeks, the trades are up again and it’s hard to know when we will be able to head south to St Lucia.  Beyond the desire to see something new, we are also anxious to get there to take delivery of the repair parts for Brenda’s head, or “potty” as some would call it, including Brenda.  Of course, it’s really a “head” but when pressed, Brenda will say “potty” with the cutest look on her face.

Anyway, here we are for a few more days in Martinique.   Yesterday I cleaned the bottom of Pandora and let me tell you, it was  a BIG job.   It’s been over a month since I did it and she has sat in a busy and “organically rich” harbor with well over 1,000 boats, without moving for quite a while.  I was stunned when I got into the water and saw the “fur” covering her bottom.  I normally use an aggressive Scotchbrite pad, the same sort that you might use to clean a grill and it usually works quite well.  However, the slime was so thick, think 3/8″, that it loaded up the pad almost immediately.  Fortunately, I was able to use a 6″ flexible putty knife and that took nearly all of the accumulation off fairly easily.

However, it turned out that I was in the water for nearly two hours and was completely pooped when I was done.  I also find that after a cleaning the bottom, as I spend so much time upside down, on my back, looking up at the hull, that I end up fairly nauseous and it takes a few hours to get over it after I am done.

Anyway, it’s mostly cleaned up now but the prop was such a mess that I had to get a really tough brass wire brush today and go at the prop and gear again as the paint failed.  It didn’t wear off, it just stopped working.  When I put on a fresh coat of bottom paint last fall I also put some special prop paint on the running gear.  What a mess.  Yesterday the scrubber just wore away before I was able to get all the growth off.   Don’t buy this product.With literally a thousand boats here in the harbor, let’s just say that the water is “rich”.   And, speaking of rich, when I got out, my shorty suit was completely coated with thousands of tiny shrimp.  It took quite a while to clean them all off.  Brenda wasn’t amused.

I should also mention that our T Mobile phone isn’t working very well as a WiFi  hot-spot here as the speeds are just too slow, at 2G, and WAY slower during the peak daytime.  Actually, it doesn’t work at all most of the time.  Calls are fine but that’s only something that we do occasionally as WiFi calls are fine too.

However, I may have identified a better option that’s available through Google.  It’s called the Google fi phone and has much faster speeds here in the islands and costs a bit less than T Mobile.   I learned about this as one of the cruisers here had asked me to take delivery of a phone for him and set it up while we were in the US.    I was impressed with it and am hopeful that this will pan out foe us as I’d prefer to be able to use a single phone in both the US as well as when we are traveling and not to have to switch back and forth, as we have for the last few years, between T Mobile and Verizon depending on if we are here or in the US.  I am hopeful that it will work well enough in the US so that I can just ditch the Verizon phone, once and for all.

So, with the strong winds and north swell from large storms in the North Atlantic, we are going to stick around here in Martinique but things could be worse.  I say that, in part, because our home in CT is without power for several days now.   Aboard Pandora all that we need is to have the sun come out and all is well with the solar panels doing the work.  And, if it’s cloudy, on comes the generator.  What could be simpler?

So, before I sign off, I’ll share shots of some neat boats that are here in the marina.   This one seems to be owned by a local business that’s listed on the stern.  A search on the name doesn’t yield much about the boat itself.  I’ll bet that she’s fast.  Not a lot of headroom and likely a really wet ride.  If Pandora were a more extreme design, she’d probably look a lot like this. There are two schooners in the marina, just about the only boats of a traditional design in the area.   Aschanti was built in 1955, me too, actually.  She’s as steel yacht and has gone through a recent complete upgrade.  Now that it’s all paid for, she for sale.  I’ll bet that there is an interesting story behind that.   “Clifford, Clifford, are you listening to me?  You can not spend a one more dime on that F%$#@^% boat.”  Click here if you are in the market, or not. Her varnish is beautiful.  Note the lines set, just so, on the stern. This video,of her recent transatlantic run, gives a pretty good feel for what a blue water passage is like, albeit on a much larger yacht, with a crew, than Pandora.  Love the gambled dining table.   In spite of her sales status, it sure looks like they had fun. Oh yeah, she has an awesome passerrele.   Love the coconut.  Take a look at this helm seat.  Very “Moby”. This one, yet another beautiful schooner, Neorion, left yesterday afternoon.   She is a classic in looks but is a totally modern yacht, built in 1999 and refitted in 2014 in the Netherlands.    This short video gives a nice tour.  There are very few really big yachts here but this, “mini mega yacht” the 108′ La Fenice, looks like she means business in her mat grey paint.   I’ll bet Darth Vador would feel right at home aboard her.   “Hey you, yes you, storm trooper, fetch me a run punch but make it with dark rum and if you tell The Emperor that I drink girly drinks, I’ll crush you.”She was built in 1962 and refitted in 2008.  She’s available for charter.  Need to know more, click here for lots of photos.  She’s charming but modest in her design.  I like the look.  Serious and not frilly.  However, now that I see her interior, Darth might feel that it’s just a bit too welcoming for his taste.  “I’m your father Luke! Go to bed, NOW!…” So, that’s about it on the “wow, neat boat” scene here in Le Marin.  Tomorrow Brenda and I are renting a car to tour the island.  Perhaps we will visit a few more rum distilleries.  Yes, that would do nicely.  

Yes, it’s plenty windy and with that north swell, we’ll just have to endure Martinique a bit longer.

Wish us luck…

Pandora’s potty chronicles!

Oh boy.  Brenda’s potty has malfunctioned and I am stressing out, big time.

As I have mentioned often, because Pandora is a 24v boat, with parts often hard to find, I keep lots of spare parts aboard, just in case.   However, I now know that there is yet another pump that is prone to failure that should have a spare aboard, but don’t.

It’s the “discharge pump” for our Raritan marine “elegance” head.    Believe it or not, this little not-so-elegant wonder has three, count em, three electric pumps and while I have spares for two of the pumps, not the one I need.  And, to make matters worse, it’s not the pump motor that initially failed, it was a tiny seal on the motor shaft that started leaking and flooded the motor with salt water, a decidedly unhealthy combination, to be sure.  I expect that the leak began prior to our trip north but it wasn’t obvious until the motor sat, unused, for the two weeks we were away with the salt doing it’s work.

Oh boy!  The really annoying part of all this is that the part that initially failed is probably worth a few dollars and there is no warning regarding an impending failure until the whole motor is ruined.  It’s a really bad design, to be sure.

As far as “potty chronicals” are concerned, I don’t know if this is common among other members of the “marine Admiralty” but Brenda is particularly sensitive about her “toilet” (say this with a French accent to get the full picture) and she’s not happy, at all as she listens to the roar of the failing pump and watches nasty fluids leak onto the floor when she flushes.

So here I am, ashore at a WiFi spot, working hard to find a source of “potty parts” here in Martinique.  It seems that my best option, after visiting all the possible parts suppliers her in Le Marin is to get it from Island Water World in St Lucia where we will be later in the week.   Wish me luck.

Ok, more than you want to know about “potty” perhaps so I’ll change the subject.

Our trip south from the US on Monday was uneventful and happily our Norwegian Air flight landed on time.  In keeping with a well worn cruising tradition of “planes, trains and automobiles” our journey here was complex, including a  car rental that I canceled when I found a Lyft taxi ride to the airport at the last minute, a flight, Martinique taxi and a friend who was waiting at the marina when we arrived to run me out to Pandora to get my dink.

Oh yeah, I should also mention our experience with clearing customs.  Immigration was swift and the agent didn’t even look up to see if we looked like terrorists and there was no customs at all.  I was told that the customs folks don’t stay late at night.  Isn’t that just so French?  I mention this as we have found this to be so typical of the French islands were checking in can normally be done at a kiosk in a T shirt shop with the payment of a few Euros.   Contrast that to Antigua where you have to go from window to window and back again in a process that can take for ever and cost many times more.   I guess that the French just want you to get on with it so you as the’d prefer that you just move on to buy cigarettes and wine.   Did I mention that it seems like EVERYBODY smokes in the French islands?

It was jolting to leave the cold and grey North East and arrive in humid Martinique a few hours later.  Who knew that you could fly direct to Martinique from Providence RI?  As we took off we flew over Narragansett bay, our local cruising grounds for so many years. Not a green leaf in sight and every boat was covered in white plastic. No wonder it’s so dreary in the winter with this thick cloud cover. As we winged our way south at over 500kts the sunset was beautiful with the contrasting deep blue of the stratosphere. Oh yeah, almost forgot.  We had such a terrific time visiting our family.   Our granddaughter is getting big and somehow just keeps getting cuter and cuter. And she loves books.  “Daddy, daddy, hold me on top of your head while I read my favorite.”Perhaps I’ll sign off now with a shot of the sunset last night aboard Pandora accompanied by some great cheese, a fresh baguette and of course, a nice bottle of French wine.    No, not the best shot but, trust me, it was a beautiful evening.  I am worried that the good times may come to a screeching halt if I can’t find a way to put the Pandora’s “potty chronicles” behind me.  Wish me luck.

Sailpandora and 800 posts later? Yikes!

Actually, it was the last post that I did a few days ago that was my 800th post on   Not to put too fine a point on it but there were a few posts before that on a different URL that didn’t get ported over when I moved to Sailpandora.   However, I’ll go with 800+, a milestone in my book.   And, if my average post is something like 600 to 800 words, well, that’s a lot of words, perhaps over a half million words of sometimes “breathless prose”.   Yikes.

Anyway, it’s been a long time since October of 2007 when I did my first post the weekend that we went to Annapolis to check out a SAGA 43 that would become “old Pandora”.

At that time we still owned Elektra, our Tartan 37, a boat that I assumed would be our last. Back then I was still working and only dreaming of winters afloat and retirement seemed a long way off.   During those years, we spent a lot of time cruising Maine.  This shot of Elektra, one of my favorites, was taken in Damrascove cove, off of Booth Bay, Maine. I wrote about that visit to this charming historic island in this post seven years ago.

So, here I am, over 800 posts and now eleven years later, spending the winters in the Caribbean.  Who knew?  Let me tell you, Brenda surely didn’t!   That’s a lot of “water over the dam” or under the keel, whatever. 

And, speaking of water, yesterday was really windy as a massive winter storm churned through the North Atlantic.  Amazingly, the storm, literally thousands of miles from the southern Caribbean, will make passage, even as far away as South America, unpleasant with a large ocean swell.  Yes, the period will be long, 12-15 seconds, but it will be large, never the less.   Note the ruler crossing the storm, it’s nearly 2,000 km long.  That’s a huge storm.  That matters to us as we will only have about 6 weeks till Brenda flies out of St. Lucia in mid April and back to the US so we don’t have a lot of time to hang around Martinique waiting for better conditions to head further south.

It’s my hope that we will make it down to Bequia, as several of our friends have said that is one of their favorite islands.  We’d also like to visit the Grenadines and Grenada which are south of Bequia.   Making it that far would pretty much close the loop for us being able to say that we’ve” sailed the Caribbean” as we wil will have covered much of the ground from Cuba nearly all the way to South America.  And being at 12 degrees north from the Equator would put us farther south than we’ve ever been.   That’s a LONG way from here in CT at 41 degrees north.

As much as I had always dreamed that we’d someday sail to the Caribbean, I have to say that actually doing it is still a bit of a surprise.  Perhaps as much of a shock as realizing that I am into my 11th year of Sailpandora and more than 800 posts.

What’s next?  Well, at least a few more posts, for sure.  Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

Watching out for Seasonal affective disorder

It’s a dreary day (the weather not family) here in MD where Brenda and I are visiting.   I have spent the last few days helping our son Rob with a remodeling job in the basement, which has been fun but we will be heading north to CT tomorrow.  After a few more days there back to Martinique on the 5th and then south, with Pandora, toward Grenada before heading back to Antigua in April.

Even though I have been back north for more than a week now, it’s still a jolt to wake up each morning to cold and winter dreary verses sunny and balmy, the conditions that I have gotten used to down in the islands.   I prefer this sort of view to grey and rainy, that’s for sure. After much back and forth discussion we have decided that I will bring Pandora home for the summer as I have plenty to do before I take her back to Antigua again next November.  In particular, I am considering the addition of a wind generator.

I actually have plenty of solar on Pandora but as we have gone further south I have found that the 600 watts hasn’t been quite enough when we are anchored in the lee of some of the more mountainous islands.   You can see below the four 85w panels as well as the single 300w panel over the davits totaling 600w. In Antigua, where the maximum elevation is something like 1,300′ it doesn’t have much of an effect on clouds and precipitation with most clouds being small and moving over us fairly quickly.   However, as you journey further south through the Windward islands, such as Martinique, the mountains are three times higher and the mountain tops are constantly covered with clouds.  These clouds form over the peaks and run off to the leeward side of the islands causing there to be more cloud cover and showers than the islands with lower elevations.

It’s remarkable how much of an effect this has on production from the panels.    Besides, there is nearly always wind so even if a wind generator was only putting out a modest number of amps, the fact that it’s happening nearly 24/7 means that the amount of power can really add up.   In full sun, between say 10:00 and 14:00, the panels peak at about 30 amps although this quickly drops off to between 10-15 amps, or less, when it gets cloudy,  This isn’t not enough power to keep things up to snuff when it’s cloudy which has been a bit of an eye opener for me.

So, I am going to consider a wind generator over the summer.  I have also been talking to Hamilton Ferris about their new towable water generator and they have expressed interest in my doing a test for the unit so that they can see how it works in actual field conditions over a long run.  Well, we will see if they come through on that.

I have done a preliminary energy audit for our power consumption at anchor and underway with all the equipment running and the 150-160AH/24hrs consumption at anchor each day seems about right based on my experience.

Our largest energy user at anchor or underway is the fridge which burns 30A when it’s running.  I have a hour meter on the unit so I know that it generally runs for 2.2 to 2.5hrs/24hrs, which adds up to about 70-75AH/24hrs.   Half of my total consumption or more at anchor.  There is one particular unit on the market, made by Technautics that is a lot more energy efficient, so I’ll have to see what’s involved in switching out to those compressors.  I don’t know why this unit is better from a tech standpoint but I put one in my last boat and it was a lot more efficient, drawing less than 5A when it was running.  As it’s a smaller compressor it will run a lot longer as the fridge and freezer are larger and the holding plates are bigger too.   I guess I’ll have to do an audit and talk to the manufacturer about it when I get home. One way or the other, It’l cost a lot as we have two zones which means I’ll have to put in two separate units, a significant expense, even if I can us the same cold plates.   However, an added benefit is that the new compressors are nearly silent and the current one is really loud.  Additionally, the new unit will be air cooled which means that the risk of water pump failure is eliminated.  And, it’s failed already at least once since I have owned the boat.  I just loved cleaning out the freezer and maggot ridden spoiled food.  Yum!

As much energy as we use at anchor, our “under way” consumption is a LOT higher at perhaps as high as 400-450AH/24hrs, which is an alarming number and perhaps right based on my experience with the two plotters, instruments and autopilot on all the time.    As near as I can estimate, we generate perhaps as much as 150AH/24hrs at anchor and less than 100AH/24hrs under way.

We generate less underway because of the sails shading the panels.   This is particularly acute in the fall on the run south because the boat is generally on a port tack and headed south (of course).  As the sun rises in the east and runs through the southern part of the sky before setting to the west, this means that the sails, south of the panels in this scenario, block much of the sun.  Of course on the trip north, this is less of a problem with the boat on a starboard tack with sails set on the “northern end” of the boat.

All of this explains why we come up so short each day when we are under way and yet do pretty well at anchor.   One way or the other, I’d like to do something to improve our output when we are at anchor as well as underway so there’s lots to do to figure this out.

But, all those decisions are still months away so, for now, I’ll just focus on the coming two-plus months of cruising that remain this season.   So, instead of shots of compressors and water pumps, how about closing with a shot of the Pitons in St Lucia, the remnants of long extinct volcanoes, our next stop on our way south. I guess I’ll sign off for now.  The basement job awaits.   Besides, while I’m down there I won’t be reminded of the dreary conditions outside.   I wouldn’t want Seasonal affective disorder to kick in any time soon.

The biggest kids in the Caribbean 600

As I sit at the kitchen counter here in CT I must report that the temperature outside is a balmy 46 degrees and all the snow, including what I  posted a photo of just yesterday, is gone.   However, 46 is a long way from the 80s temperatures of where Pandora is in Martinique and I am none too happy with all that.  Anyway, I guess it’s not all that cold.

Happily, the Caribbean 600 race is underway, with nearly 90 entries, a record fleet, which is good as it will give me something to write about.   This video is a pre-race overview and is worth watching.  And, I’d better write about it PDQ as the leading boats are more than half of the way to the finish line and the race only left yesterday.   Actually, the leading boat, Phaedo 3, a 70′ go fast trimaran, no make that go EXTREEMLY FAST racer, is owned by a 36 year old Lloyd Thornburg. It’s interesting to note that his father, Garrett, co-founded a mortgage company back in 1993 and made a lot, no make that a LOT of money.  The company went bankrupt in 2009.  Remember the crash of 2008?  However, it seems that Lloyd’s dad made out alright in spite of the market collapse as now his son Lloyd can spend his time racing around the world.   Phaedo isn’t his only boat as he also owns a large 60′ carbon Gunboat cat that he cruises, I guess.

This is an interesting quote from an interview he did with Forbes Magazine.

“This the scariest thing I’ve done,” he confides. “I fly, skydive, drive fast cars, but the MOD is scarier. All those other things are scary for a minute or a few minutes at a time, but this boat shows you what you’re capable of after being miserable, and tired, and soaked in fear for 24 hours, 30 hours. You could wake up upside down in the freezing cold water in the dark…”

His newest boat Phaedo 3 is a real screamer and is leading the 90 boat fleet.  This boat, only a few years old, took line honors as the first to finish in the 2015 Caribbean 600 race and that was  the very first regatta that she was in.I’ll bet it was upsetting to some of the race veterans to have a first timer skunk them all. She’s a really fast boat. As I watched that video I was struck by how many of the boats and sights I recognized from our time in Antigua. It’s a really nice place to visit if you are into sailing like I am.

Another yacht leading the pack is also a trimaran, Paradox.  This boat is particularly interesting as it’s set up as a racer/cruiser, unlike most other fast boats, this one is also used for family cruising.  She looks fast and is capable of speeds in the 30s.   I’m not sure if this information is current but it appears that she’s for sale.  Want to get there fast?  She may be the boat for you.   Check out her listing hereMulti ulls, yachts with more than one hull, two or three, are really tricky to sail in strong winds as the risk of capsize is high.   Actually, last night one of the cats in the 600 did just that, the 70′ Fujin.   This photo is of her at the start of the race yesterday from Yachts and Racing.   I guess she’s not going all that fast now. Read about her capsize and see a few photos of her by following this link.   I am sure that there will be plenty of commentary about this in the coming weeks.

And speaking of things going bump in the night.  Another competitor among the leaders of the pack is Rambler 100.   She’s one of the fastest monohulls in the world and her owner, George David, former chairman of United Technologies, if I’m right, also owns Rambler 88.  She’s leading the monohull feet, even ahead of her bigger sister Rambler 100.    With two major ocean racers to keep up David must have quite a payroll.

His bigger boat, Rambler 100, lost her keel in the Fastnet race in 2011.   Imagine what it’s like to be blasting along one minute and upside down the next.  And, that’s what happened.   Fast ocean racing is a high stakes game, that’s for sure. These boats are certainly different than the type of cruising boats that most of us have.  This video, a series of interviews with skippers of some of the fastest boats in the 2015 trans Atlantic race gives a pretty good feel for what these boats are like.  Some great footage of them underway including Phaedo 3, Rambler 88 and Paradox.It’s remarkable to see these videos but even better to be sailing in these waters over the winter and seeing these boats first hand.  Last winter Brenda and I were making a run from St Barths to Antigua and ended up right in the middle of the fleet during last year’s running of the Caribbean 600.  To see these boats scream by as the sun rose in the east was a sight to behold.   Follow this link to the post that I wrote about that chance encounter with the fleet that day.

As I finish up this post it’s mid morning and the leaders are closing in on the last third of the leg.   That’s a lot of boats.  And, here are the leaders, rounding the south side of Guadeloupe.   The tri to the right is Phaedo 3, the green one on the bottom is Rambler 88 (green) taking a different road, number three Rambler 100 (white) and Paradox after that.

I guess we will hear more as the race finishes.  If you want to check things out yourself, try this link to the race tracker.    So, there you have it, the Caribbean 600 race is underway and nearly over for the leaders already.  Me?  I’m up in the north with snow, well at least snow was on the ground yesterday, and Pandora’s in Martinique, waiting for us to return in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, the biggest and fastest kids are duking it out in heavy conditions down in the Caribbean.

Oh yeah, I have had a cold for a while and Brenda might be coming down with one too.  Oh boy.  I sure hope that doesn’t keep us from seeing Rob, Kandice and little Tori.   Fingers crossed.

Wow! It’s different up north

Well, it’s happened, we are now back in CT and home for the next two weeks.   As we have for the last 6 winters, we had made sure that the house was thoroughly winterized with antifreeze in the boiler, all domestic water pipes blown out and antifreeze in the toilets, dishwasher… before we shut the front door to head south.

So, now it’s late February, the house is warm (sort of), the water turned on and all that work, getting the house closed up is, well, down the drain, literally.   

We arrived late yesterday afternoon to a wintry landscape of snow and ice.   This is the view out of our front door a few moments ago.   Note the nod to nautical, the anchor on the porch.  Contrast that to the sunset behind Pandora, our last night aboard.   “Behind” is the operative word.  Sunsets in the Caribbean are always behind the boat as the wind is always from the east.   How inconvenient it would be to have to crane our necks if it wasn’t always behind us.   Love those trade winds. So much for tropics for the next two weeks.

So back to arriving home.   I had set the furnace to a cool 40 degrees for the winter when we left and somewhere along the line the furnace failed and when I went to turn up the heat, NOTHING HAPPENED.   Yikes, it was 43 in the house and no way to make it warmer.

After a quick call to the oil company and our plumber, I realized that I could try the reset button on the furnace and voila, it turned on.  However, I still want to have someone out to look things over as I have no idea what caused it to fail and somewhere along the way it had gotten VERY COLD inside.   So cold that water inside the fridge froze.   That’s cold.

Well, it’s now warm in the house, although that is a relative description as I now have on an undershirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece, long pants, socks.  Well, you get the picture and that’s in contrast to my normal tropical attire of shorts.  Just shorts,  that’s it with the addition of a shirt to keep the sun off as needed.   Oh yeah, while the water here is frozen, the water in Martinique is “dip worthy”.  Hmm…

And, speaking of Martinique, Pandora is now on a mooring in Le Marin, which has the least expensive moorings I have ever encountered.   Believe it or not, Pandora’s monthly rate for the mooring is about $135 a month.   A MONTH!  Can you believe it?  Not to torture the price thing too much but a mooring in Sag Harbor, The Hamptons in NY,  for Pandora at 47′ is $94/night.  That’s for ONE NIGHT!   In Martha’s Vineyard it’s in the $50/night range and Nantucket around $85/night.

And, to tie up Med Moor on the dock is cheap too, something like $35/night.   The place is so reasonably priced that the entire year is booked, with short windows sometimes available for transient visits, by December of the PRIOR YEAR, including summer in-water storage.   Amazing.

t’s no surprise that the place, with 600 slips, some say as many as 1,000 and hundreds of moorings, is always full as it’s so reasonably priced.   Pandora is actually in this shot but she’s so far out in the harbor that she doesn’t even show up.   I’d estimate that in the general area there are perhaps as many as 2,000 boats in slips, on moorings and at anchor at any given time.   And, as you can imagine, just about any sort of marine related service is readily at hand and at reasonable prices.
So here we are in CT for two weeks, punctuated with visits to MD and our family, before heading back to Pandora to resume our visit to the Windward Islands, south to Grenada.

After that?  Not sure but I am leaning toward bringing Pandora north this spring in spite of the fact that it’s such a long trip back north,  a real slog.

For now, I’ll just focus on staying warm and look forward to the fun of re-winterizing the house once again before we head back to Martinique.

After a few months in tropical weather, all I can say is “wow, it’s different up here”.

A taste of Maine in Martinique

It’s rare to see a classic boat here in Martinique where the only really old ones are generally nearly or totally derelict.   However, as we moved from St Anne to Le Marin today, to put Pandora on a mooring, this lovely motorsailer passed us going the other way.She’s a beauty, built in the 50s, a steel motorsailer.   This video talks about her recent refit in Belfast Maine.It’s indeed rare to see classics south of Antigua and a treat.  I only wish that I had seen her when she was anchored in St Anne so I could have gotten some better shots.  Anyway, we saw her.   Her cruising schedule is taking her far and wide this season although she was shipped from Newport to the American Virgins by ship.  Want to follow her?  Check out her FaceBook page.  Not a lot of current information there although it seems that she was designed by Walter McGinnis in Boston and build by Abeking and Rasmussen in Germany, the same yard that built the iconic Concordia Yawls.

On another subject, yesterday Brenda and I went for a hike along the shore near St Anne.  It involved some ups and downs, more than Brenda wanted and als0 was a bit longer, no make that a LOT longer, than I had expected.  Oops.

Anyway, it was a beautiful walk.   This view, of the anchorage, shows how many boats are anchored off of St Anne.  A bit farther down, a view to the south toward St Lucia, where we hope to visit when we return from CT in early March. Along the way we saw a number of specimens of this very interesting tree, a Caribbean Birch, called that because the bark peels like a north american birch.   It’s also called a tourist tree, because it is red and peels like a sunburned tourist.  They are very fast growing and look impressive.  Their wood is a dark red like mahogany.  Beautiful. The walk was nice but being longer than expected and the fact that we had to bum a ride with some random Italian tourist and his family at the end didn’t go particularly well with Brenda.   Oops.  And, as our Son Rob would say,  “Nice work.  A CLM, career limiting move Dad”.

For much of the week the locals in Martinique have been celebrating Carnival and even in little St Anne, there was something going on each day.   In the evenings the music would blare and a small parade would make it’s way through town.   This truck had some impressive sound equipment aboard.  You could feel as well as hear the music a long way off.   After it passed, “oh, that’s a lot of speakers”.    No wonder it sounded like it was right in Pandora’s cockpit with us.  Many locals dressed up and marched, or danced along with the parade.  I particularly enjoyed this girl in her costume.   Store bought perhaps but fun never the less.   Cute kid. Well, that’s about all for now.   Tomorrow we pack up for our trip home to the states for two weeks.   Lots of details including someone to keep an eye on Pandora and to water her plants.   Plants you say?  Yes, plants.

We are excited to see the kids and our granddaughter Tori.    Will be fun.   Back to Pandora and south for more exploring after March 5th.

As always, details to come.

Seeing Little Vigilant today reminded me of the coming cold weather up north.  A taste of the coming weather when we head home, a taste of Maine here in Martinique.

The church of St Anne

Well, it’s another windy day here in St Anne, and only a few days till we catch a flight back to the US.  Interestingly, it’s not expensive to fly to CT or NY from Martinique as the discount airline, Norwegian Air flies here non-stop several days a week.  Brenda and I were able to get pretty inexpensive flights of about $250 each, round trip.  Not bad compared to some islands where it costs a lot more, takes two stops and sometimes two days to get home.

One thing for sure is that there isn’t any salt on the decks of boats here as it rains every day here, sometimes for a few brief moments and occasionally in great torrents.   And with the wind, it seems like just about every day somebody’s boat or dink breaks free and must be captured and re-anchored because of the strong winds.   That and the fact that there are about 350 boats anchored makes for a lot of action, wind or not.

Normally, squalls and rainstorms in the Caribbean come with an increase of 5-10kts of additional wind but with the wind already in the 20s, and a wind increase of sometimes 20+ kts, makes for some impressive moments with horizontal winds lashing Pandora.

However, wind or not, there is still plenty of sunshine here and that all comes with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s, very pleasant actually.

Now that we have been here for about two weeks due to the wind, it’s becoming somewhat difficult to keep myself occupied as witnessed by my more than regular posts.   Actually, to keep everyone from getting cabin fever from being pinned down with strong winds, today there will be a valentine’s pot luck on the beach.  Brenda’s made a terrific almond cake.  I expect that it will be a big hit.

The town center of St Anne is dominated by the Catholic church, the first thing you see when you arrive at the dock.  It’s a busy place with services or activities most every day.   It’s a beautiful building.   The church is famous for it’s pathway depicting the stations of the cross, set up on the hillside behind the church.   Each station depicts an event associated with the Crucifixion of Christ.  As you make your way up the hillside, you go through a series of switchbacks with a station at each turn. From the top is an impressive view of the harbor and mountains in the distance.  Pandora is out there too. The congregation of the church has gone to great effort to make everything just right with whitewashed walls lining the paths.  There are even floodlights and loud speakers lining the pathway, designed to manage thousands of pilgrims that make the journey on special occasions.

Down near the water is a beautiful cemetery with many family crypts.  Not a bad view.I guess that this post is a bit light on detail but I thought I’d share it anyway.

Oh yeah, Happy Valentines Day.  Pandora’s crew will enjoy some bubbly and sauteed duck breast for dinner aboard.

In a few days, back to the US and family.  Happily, a local cruiser will be keeping an eye on Pandora while she’s on a mooring in la Marin.   One less thing to worry about.

It’s windy in paradise. What’s a cruiser to do?

While many of my friends are freezing up in the northeast, we are still here in St Ann Martinique, unable to move, after nearly a week of quite strong winds.   It’s ironic that the sun is out, it’s beautiful with occasional brief showers and yet we can’t go anywhere.   And, there are hundreds of boats that feel about the same way.  Nobody is moving, waiting for a lull in the winds to head off to their next stop, either south or north.

At this point it looks like the wind will begin to slacken in a few days but by that time it will be too close to our departure this weekend to make leave St Ann.  In addition, I am still messing around trying to find someone to keep an eye on Pandora while we leave her on a mooring for the two weeks we will be away.

I have someone to talk to later today who has offered to watch her here in St Ann, but that means leaving her on anchor for the duration and I am not sure of what I think of that option.  The difficulty of trying to figure the do with her for a short two week stretch, has made me leery of what will be involved in leaving her for many months down in Grenada or Trinidad.  I am not sure that I have the energy to do that so perhaps it’s best to just bite the bullet and bring her home to CT in the spring.  Besides, I enjoy working on the boat and I’d surely go into withdraw if I had to be away from Pandora from May to the end of the year.  Besides, perhaps I can sneak away for a few short cruises over the summer.   Fingers crossed.

The good news is that my crew for May, George and Bob seem flexible on my ultimate destination, which is good.

So, back to it’s windy and we can’t leave?   What’s a cruiser to do?

In the world of cruisers, where it takes a whole morning to check email, shop for groceries or do laundry, there seems to be plenty to do to keep busy in spite of the fact that we can’t go anywhere.

As I wrote recently, the local cruiser’s community gathers at least once a week for a pot luck and they just announced a second event for this week, on Wednesday.  We participated in last Friday’s event and it was fun to visit with others for a few hours.   There was a communal grill for us to grill our meat and everyone brought some sort of side dish to share.

There was a really good turnout. One couple even provided some music to set the mood.   Their choice of instruments really set the mood and was a good example of the diversity of the cruising community.Cruisers helping cruisers is the norm just about everywhere and St Ann is no different.   Cruisers are always quick to lend tools of do whatever they can to “pay it forward” and help others.

As I mentioned in my last post, James on Sophie lent me a heat gun, which was invaluable for installing the mast head light.   One way that everyone stays in touch about helping out, sharing ideas and hooking up with others is on the local morning VHF radio net held three days a week.   Brenda and I know that it can be tough to get parts or mail letters back to the US so on today’s net I offered to take any mail to post when we get home.   I also know how tough it can be to get obscure parts in the islands and offered to bring small packages back when we return in early March.  So far, I have been contacted by three cruisers who are looking for help, which is good.  I expect that others will contact us in the next few days.  I am happy to help as others have helped me in the past.

So, back to what’s going on and how a “pinned down cruiser” keeps busy.  As luck would have it, this week is Carnival here in Martinique and St Ann and the locals were sure not to be left out.   There was a very enthusiastic band playing local music.  They even set up a large tent and chairs for the audience to enjoy the music and stay out of the tropical sun.   Elsewhere in Martinique there are parades and a lot more going on but St Ann is trying hard to make it fun.

Later today, if I even finish this posts as getting good Internet isn’t so easy here, I am going to check out renting a car for tomorrow so we can tour the island with another couple who cruised here from Maine.

Perhaps I’ll close of a photo of Pandora sailing along the leeward side of Dominica last week by our friends on Raven. If only every day here could be like that day.    For now, one thing is for sure, that being pinned down in paradise is surely better than being “brr” up north, that’s for sure.

So, what’s a cruiser to do?   I guess I’ll just have to go for a swim this afternoon to wash out the shampoo.   Besides, I do have to stay clean.  Right?  And, I just have to stay busy.