February 2011 ~ Martinique
Day 140 ~ The Smell of MoneyFebruary 1st, 2011
"I'll call you at 8:30" were Spence's parting words last night.
At 9:15am, I called him. "Nothing yet; we're working on it."
He called me about 10:30am, "I have the package, but I have to hand deliver it to you in the presence of another customs officer there at Rodney Bay."
This was better than what the letter of the law requires, which is for each duty-free Yacht-in-transit shipment to be accompanied by a customs officer as it was delivered to the boat itself. Of course, you have to pay costs for their time and their transportation both ways. Costs that Spence wouldn't hazard a guess at estimating.
Ted, from Cool Change, had regaled us with tales of these "Sovereignty Games" that small Caribbean island governments play. It really has nothing to do with the money, he asserted, it's all about putting perceived rich white people in their place. Last place.
Ted's from South Africa, so he admitted to seeing things through a different lens, but I am not sure he's all wrong. It makes more sense than saying that customs is doing it for the potential duty income. If we jump through their hoops they get nothing. But, man, do they know how to make a guy jump. Guess I should have just said, "How high?" from the beginning.
I met Spence at the Rodney Bay customs office and he used his local connection to smooth out a few more wrinkles. Finally he handed me the package. The customs guy raised his hand and started to make one more objection, but Spence started in with some local banter and it all faded away. I guess he earned his keep but, wow, what a miserable way to run a country. Let's make buying and selling really hard, that way no one will come here and do it.
Nina, Dan and I had scoped out the fuel dock first thing in the morning and had stumbled on a Kameloha, a kid boat we had met our first week in the water back at Hog Island. Nina was pretty excited, so we tackled some math and graphing, then buzzed back to the docks to drum up some kid action.
We didn't have to look far. A nice cadre of tan topless boat kids were having fun in the marina pool. We zipped back, made a quick lunch and then got everything pulled together for some pool time. While grandma kept an eye on them, Dan and I shopped and returned, and then shopped some more.
As we were dinghy-ing back to the boat about 4:00pm, we prioritized the projects. Nina's head (i.e. toilet) hose replacement was the nastiest job on the list so we decided to tackle it first. "After that, everything will be downhill" was the general philosophy.
So here's the bones of it. Marine toilets flush through a really small hose, one and a half inch hose to be precise. Since they are below the water line, they are always wet and invariably develop scaling build-up along the walls, much like walls of an artery. The scale is incredibly well adhered and tough. Dave from Strong Legs said, "I just take the hose out and beat it over a log on the beach; that usually works like a chawm, Mate". You have to hear it with the Aussie accent for the full effect.
Well, I figured for $4.50 a foot, I would just replace the 7 foot hose. First, we flushed a ton of salt water through to make things as pristinely clean inside the toilet and hose as possible. Then off came the fittings and the stool. Seawater went everywhere since all the hoses were full. The old hose came out pretty easily, and yes, it was full of scaly build up. Yum.
The smell wasn't too bad actually, the benefits of being proactive, as opposed to waiting until things got nasty, or what Dan terms as "hand to hand combat". Dan is in the water business, both ends, and he calls the odor of disassembled sewage devices, "The smell of money".
"No matter what the economy is doing..." he said, "There's always money in poop".
I thought that sounded like an investment approach worthy of a "How I beat Wall Street" New York Times bestseller book, but hesitated when I considered the implications.
With the old hose out, the new one should have gone in easily. Forget that, we were working in an incredibly tight space, half the time hanging upside down or working with our arms contorted and crushed between walls and wires, usually without being able to see what we were doing.
To simulate the experience try this cubicle-approved strategy.
- Poor cold coffee into both of your shoes so every step is squishy and slippery.
- Crouch under your cubicle desk or table and face the partition. Now, reach your hand up through the hole the computer cords pass through and get a hold of your latté sitting on the top by your mouse pad. Yes, the hole should be so small that you can really only reach it with your finger tips.
- Now, slide the tippy paper cup over the hole very carefully so as not to spill the contents on any delicate electrical connections.
- Now, the cup won't fit without being squeezed to a smaller shape, so slowly crush the cup uniformly from all sides while directing the overflow from the cup down the cord hole and into your mouth.
- When the cup is small, and empty enough, draw it through the hole in the upright position, bringing it to your lips in one smooth motion with no further spilling.
Now you can drink your coffee and congratulate yourself, because you too could be a cruiser in paradise. But wait, the cup wasn't full of coffee, it was full of sewage.
Did it taste any different?
Day 141 ~ Projectitis & BrewFebruary 2nd, 2011
After some invoicing work in the morning, Nana and I dinghied over to the shopping center and stocked up on some basics. Then we explored around the mall area and found an Indian (curry) restaurant. The shiny decor and eastern shapes have fascinated Nana since she could turn the pages of a library book, and here it was in the flesh. She was in wonder.
They didn't have a quick lunch menu, so we meandered down to a street bistro and sampled their coconut/banana and apple turnovers. Yum. While we were riding back, we passed Singing Frog (a kid boat) so we exchanged details and agreed to meet later in the day for some kid fun.
Back at the boat, Dan had already cranked out the new bridal splice and door latch pwhich will allow us to lock the main door from the inside easily (up to this point, we've been using the classic stick in the sliding door trick). Then we tackled Dan's toilet which has had some leaking issues in the past. Got it half torn up and couldn't find any problems, so replaced and lubed some seals and put it back together. Feels good to have 2 of the 4 heads serviced. Only two more remain. Any volunteers?
The girls had been invited to a birthday party at the local pizza place, Pizza Pizza, which has a playground and trampoline for the kiddies. There were four families with kids so they were ecstatic to be with those of their own size for a change. The kids described the pizza as "fantastic" as they haven't had any since before we left the US.
Dan made progress on his book while I cranked out some long overdue work product. Ugh.
About 8:00pm Dan threw some chicken parts on the grill expecting that we were the only two that would eat. Ha. The crew returned hungry (funny how they're never hungry when they're playing) and promptly downed an entire dinner of rolls, chicken, salad, beans and Piton, the local brew.
Now that we are saturated in a culture that values the bar scene, I have noticed a trend of obsession in Nana. The fascination of the forbidden fruit. Daily, I field questions on the intoxicating power of rum versus vodka versus beer, what they taste like, etc ad nauseum.
So, I called her bluff and bought her a beer, which I chilled throughout the afternoon and set before her at dinner.
Nina was in fits, "You are intoxicating your children!", "I can't believe this!", "Papa what are your doing?" and other similar exclamations were common place through out the whole episode.
Since Nana doesn't even like soda pop, "Too spicy (fizzy)!", I knew what the outcome would be.
She took a sip, "Yuck! That's disgusting!" Nika wanted to try too, and had the same sure-fire reaction. Then the bottle just sat there gathering condensation. I asked Nana several times if she was going to finish her precious brew, but alas, all interest was gone.
The fruit was no longer forbidden and found to be gross and, thus, mundane.
Day 142 ~ Things get worse before betterFebruary 3rd, 2011
Spent most the morning working on math and graphing with the girls. Chose costs-per-meal for our data set which was very illuminating. Turns out there is a direct correlation between the number of components to a meal and its cost. Tacos, with all the condiments, are hands-down the most expensive meal we do, averaging $65EC ($25USD) to feed 7 people. By contrast, Swedish pancakes, the perennial favorite, weight in at just $25EC ($10USD) for 7. The girls usually aren't too happy about doing arithmetic work, but we are having a good time applyiong it to real situations that they can relate too.
Lisa and the crew dinghied to the nearby duty-free mall and checked things out for the first time. Grandma is a shopper and enjoyed seeing some civilization for a change.
After putting it off for several days, Dan and I tackled the long-awaited water gauge sending unit replacement. As neither of us having any real experience in the field, it was a bit of a crap shoot. There were several times when we looked at each other and shrugged: "do you touch the red wire to the orange one here, or the blue one there?" "This might cook it" and other disclaimers were often heard.
However, after much trial and error, which including holding the ultrasonic sending unit up to walls and finally a bucket of water, we got the gauge to show a reading that seemed to relate to reality. A couple of hours of fishing wires and heat shrinking things while Dan wired the panel and gauge side, we had a water reading that looked like it was fairly real. So much nicer than having to pull up the floor boards to check every few days.
The girls returned about 8:30pm and Dan whipped up some omelettes for dinner with a side of leftover spaghetti. Who could resist? They couldn't, and there were no more leftovers.
Day 143 ~ The daily grindFebruary 4th, 2011
Clients are calling. Terrible as it sounds, work was on the menu today and it haunted every hour, as a trip to the dentist takes the thrill out of your favorite Denny's Grand Slam breakfast. Lisa and I took some kid-free time and bought a few more boat parts then looked for sunglasses and flipflops with only mixed success.
After a quick lunch, Lisa took the crew to the beach to play and returned to find the boat in shambles. Tools were strewn everywhere, carefully organized storage areas were completely emptied, cushions were piled in every odd space, panels were off, wires were hanging, fiberglas shavings were swirling around in the breeze. It was ugly. Dan had ripped into the electrical system and cockpit lighting in order to change out the original courtesy lights with LEDs and wire up some LED rope lighting we had bought during the Seattle shopping madness so many months ago.
Lisa took one look around and said, "I think we'll go hang out at the pool with the other kid boats". She grabbed a few items and was gone.
Dan and I ground away at the projects hour after hour. The sun set, dinner time came and went. Lisa called over a couple times only to hear that the mess had gotten bigger; thankfully, some kid boats stayed as late as they did and made for a good distraction. Finally, about 10:00pm I couldn't see straight anymore and started working on some burgers. While Dan grilled them, I put tools away and cleaned up.
About 10:30pm the girls arrived home as famished as migrating peasants on the Ukranian steppe and were surprised to find the cockpit clean and dinner just coming off the grill. You'd have thought someone had dropped a chunk of meat into the Pirahna-infested Amazon.
Day 144 ~ Psyched YaFebruary 5th, 2011
We have been in the water now for 64 days and, in that time, have been underway for a mere 53 hours total. Of that, probably only two-thirds was actual sailing time as that figure includes dropping and pulling up the hook, manuvering in anchorages and some motoring when the winds weren't favorable. As a result, we are netting something like 40 minutes of sailing per day, on average. Since most days we stay put, I awoke today with that "at last" feeling: sail time.
We had our timeline, a weather window and everything was coming together nicely. Got the water tanks drained and cleaned in preparation for taking on a fresh load of clean water while we fueled up at the marina dock. It is nice with plenty of room to maneuver a cat the size of a small house. Lisa and Daniel returned with final provisions and I fired up the port engine. Window covers were removed and we were ready to roll, and on schedule at that. Time to fire the starboard engine. Nothing. Hmmm.
One thing led to another and our precious timeline crumbled away. The weather window glazed over and nothing happened, at least not visibly. Dan and I started poking around with the voltmeter and removing helm wheels and engine control panels. Then, out came the wrenches. Hours passed. The kids wanted lunch. The romance was lost.
It was a pretty depressing feeling, actually. We found several potential problems, watched a YouTube video on how to replace a starter solenoid on a tractor which uses a similar engine as ours. Thankfully, it only took half an hour to load the 6 minute clip, which proved very helpful. I ran through various scenarios. We can easily go with one engine, but it would be foolish to enter a tightly dredged channel, with two-way traffic and the trades blowing in gusts over the windward hill, and maneuver into a fuel dock on one engine. In an emergency, sure, but not by choice.
However, our water tanks sat clean but empty. Arriving in a new country with no water on a Saturday afternoon probably isn't going to work out well. So we stayed. The kids were fine with it; more kid time with Singing Frog and Kamaloha. Lisa was mostly fine with it, Grandma was fine with it, Dan didn't much care, so I guess it didn't much matter. But, I cared. I wanted to get out and sail and see some place with people who don't judge us instantly by our skin color.
But, it was not to be. By 5:00pm, the tools were put away and, to try and add some glimmer to the day, I took Lisa and the girls for a long dinghy ride. We motored around the anchorage, stopped and talked to a few other boats we knew and then headed for the marina ice cream shop, called Elena's, which offered excellent locally made selections. Very tasty and a healthier way to drown a sailing withdrawal than some other alternatives sailors are known for.
Wrapped up the day back at the boat with chicken on the BBQ, which felt really good after a long sweaty day of frustration. Cruising really is fixing boats in exotic locations.
Day 145 ~ Hopping to MartiniqueFebruary 6th, 2011
The day broke with a golden light and gentle breeze with the customary side of puffy clouds. The weather prediction for stiffer winds and larger seas in the afternoon got us up and moving in good time. We did a quick cold breakfast and started the ramp up for the take-off that we had just done and undone 24 hours ago. The port engine fired, the anchor came up and we were on our way.
We motored a good distance out of Rodney Bay before turning upwind to raise the main. Lisa did a good job of keeping our one-legged cat headed into the wind, not an easy task but good practice. Once the sails were up we killed the engine and, rounding the northern head of St. Lucia shot out into the channel with a nice round of 28 knot blasts. Been sailing with a reef in the main since we left Grenada and have been glad for it many times.
We encountered considerable swells for the first few miles, at times nearly flying the entire starboard hull off the back side with a good gust of power in the sails. It beat anything Disney has to offer by long shot. The girls and grandma just tucked in and hung on.
Once we were clear of the currents around the St. Lucia, the seas calmed down and steadied out into a nice 6-8 foot tradewind swell that saw us all the way to the southern tip of Martinque. We caught and passed two monohulls and a smaller cat in the process which put a little extra shine on the run.
Not taking any chances, we dropped sails well out of the Cul-de-Sac Marin, the large protected bay on the southern end of Martinque. We hobbled up the channel on our one leg for a couple of miles and found hundreds of boats in the anchorage, as the aerial photos had shown. Under normal two engine conditions it would have been a bit tense, but now with 25-knot gusts, one engine, current and numerous reefs and shoals on both sides it got interesting fast. Lisa did a great job of keeping the boat moving so our rudders would have enough flow to overcome the natural tendency of the port engine to push us in a circle. We had no intention of pushing our luck and anchored just inside the first layer of large monohulls who favor the deep water.
I guess I better now confess to preferring the Bruce anchor over the CQR. Suspecting a hard, sandless bottom in the channel, I opted for Mr. Bruce and was not disappointed. We drug back on him for a few meters before he stopped the entire train and rounded us nicely into the wind -- a great feeling, I assure you.
Day 146 ~ On CrutchesFebruary 7th, 2011
Payback time. We don't speak Italian and we don't fly a Texas flag but what goes around comes around.
Dan had dived on the anchor and reported that Mr. Bruce had his huge claw completely engaged in a sizable chunk of coral. So, we went to sleep without much more thought of it.
At about 1:00am I woke instantly to the howl of a tremendous blast of wind accompanied by a torrential downpour that would satisfy the Sahara for a year. The wind hit so hard and fast that I could feel the boat shudder and squat lower on her lines. It's not the first such microcell to slap us around, and I am sure it won't be the last. However, this time as I watched out my porthole, I had the unmistakable sensation of moving backwards at a fairly good clip. Either that, or the vague boat silhoettes out my window were all simultaneously moving forward, against the wind.
In an instant, I was up in the cockpit with a light in hand. When I shined it out towards our nearest neighbor all I could see were huge raindrops whizzing past, like it was snowing gravel. About that time there was a lurch and a swing and our neighboring boats all stopped moving to windward. The wind subsided and the rain stopped but I watched the GPS for another half hour. We seemed to be re-set, so I finally drifted off to sleep again. Another round hit us around 5:00am and we appeared to hold firm.
The morning rituals kept us busy for a couple of hours and then Lisa and I headed into tackle customs and get a few groceries as Dan dove on the anchor again. When we got close on our return I saw bumpers out. "That's funny", I thought. I wonder why they have bumpers out? Then it clicked; Dan had seen the anchor and it wasn't good.
Sure enough, our mighty Bruce was found upside down, his substantial jaws completely full of a huge coral formation.
"I think we're moving again" was Dan's first whole sentence.
Great, just great. Of all the anchor sets to have to change, this one, in a crowded anchorage with a single engine was about the worst scenario I could imagine, at least on short notice. After hashing it over, we decided to lash the dink to the crippled side and thus give us some twist control to fight the wind and forces of having one engine working 10 feet off center.
It worked like a charm, actually. Dan in the dink was able to push the nose back into the wind without any trouble and keep us balanced as we slid over about 50 yards and dropped Bruce again. He drug for a while and then caught hard. We backed down on him and he didn't budge; using politico speech, we are "cautiously optimistic" that we now are really anchored.
All this drama makes us miss the shallow white sand anchorages of the Exumas that we took for granted in our time with the last boat. There we might have dragged once in 6 months, maybe.
Ashore the news was no better. Not only is the starter solenoid we need not in stock, their distributor doesn't even have one, so ordering one isn't even possible. None are available second hand. However, they have a brand new starter for our engine sitting right there under the glass counter. A cool $750 Euros of shining new steel, a month's food budget.
Add to that a salt water soaked wi-fi adapter and we sit here without even the internet to do parts research, a rather naked feeling.
Went ashore later with the girls to show them around France for the first time. We found a little bakery and got a baguette and some cookies, then walked around the docks looking at boats while Dan returned from a far away market with the tomatoes needed to complete our taco dinner plans.
After dinner, Grandma and company played Farkle for a couple of hours. Nina and Nika fell asleep at the wheel, but Nana, our night owl, stuck it out like a champion.
Speaking of champion. When Dan dove on our new anchor set, he came up without his underwater digital camera. We posted lookouts high and low expecting that the wind would drive the slightly bouyant camera back to the boat. But no, Nana spotted it far upwind after several frantic minutes. After she pointed it out, it took several seconds of concentration to make out the little strip of yellow strap floating in the chop.
You go girl. Dan returned with a big smile, "I wasn't holding out too much hope for that one."
Day 147 ~ Sometimes you winFebruary 8th, 2011
Well, we are in France, or France's version of Hawaii. French cars, French license plates, dozens of esoteric cheese selections, clean streets, designer boutiques and more.
So, with some day old baguettes this morning and French eggs, French milk and French butter, we whipped up some killer continental french toast. The Grenadian fresh ground nutmeg didn't hurt any either.
Fun as it was, behind it all was a nagging feeling of having a boat with one leg and a 750 Euro solution sitting a mile away in a glass display case gathering French dust. However, before plunking down a month's food budget, Dan and I hashed out all the other things it could be and decided on some electrical tests that would only take a few hours and confirm whether the starter or solenoid was the core issue.
It was up with the sleaves and down with the heads as we dove into several tight compartments tracing heavy gauge wiring, cleaning connections, testing resistance from point to point, measuring voltages ad nausium. When we put 12 volts to the starter solenoid, it fired instantly. It was a relief to see that it worked, but it meant other unknown issue(s) remained.
We never did find anything definitively wrong, but the cut-off switch showed some questionable behavior; sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. Perhaps that was the issue, we weren't sure. So back in went the starter, for about the third time, and we connected up all the wiring we had taken apart. We collectively held our breath and turned the key.
Bam! The engine fired immediately. What a great feeling. We shut it down and started it again just to be sure.
Lisa did some school work with the girls while I dropped Dan off in town for some exploration. Grandma watched the girls while Lisa, Nina and I went to town and searched in vain for some internet. I bought a bad pastry at the Mango Bay restaurant to use their supposed have Wi-Fi connection, but it never did work.
Oh well, another day without internet won't kill us, I guess. I then mixed up a big pot of chili for dinner and served it with fresh baguettes bringing our daily total to four, the sharks.
Day 148 ~ Geography of FoodFebruary 9th, 2011
The girls got it in their heads to start painting the flags of many nations; probably not all 231, but just the ones that struck their fancy. Well, one thing led to another and, before we knew it, they had a quite a collection. Today we found all the countries on the map and discussed their economy and primary features.
Then I dropped Dan off for more island exploration and headed over to find some internet and catch up on several days' email and who knows what. What I found was a pretty slow week so far, so had it wrapped up about the time my battery died.
Got back to the boat and found that the flag production had continued. Never mind the paint splashes on the deck or the teak flooring. Cultivating creative kids on a boat is a messy business. Having a 20 year old boat is a blessing in this case and, seeing the Jamaica green droplets splattered around, doesn't raise the blood pressure too much.
Grabbed a quick bite before taking the whole crew into town to mosey around and, as Grandma put it, "See how other people do things." The girls had a great time comparing items at Leader Price grocery to the options we have at home. We found some really tasty strawberry juice, tried several varieties of French cookies but skipped the beef testacles, this time.
All in all, it turns out, people don't do things a lot different than we do. Just different colors, and words and shapes in some cases, but essentially similar. We retured for French burgers on French buns and found them to be pretty darn good. The esoteric cheese didn't hurt anything either.
Day 149 ~ Stepping StonesFebruary 10th, 2011
Clients are calling, and with money going out it's hard to resist the chance to bring some in, however miniscule the amount by comparision. Dan and I went to town looking for internet. We found a little hole-in-the-wall shop and hunkered down at particle board cubicle for 4 Euros an hour. Two hours in and the attendant loaned me his Macbook power supply to keep things going.
Got back to the boat about 2:00pm and Dan went around to fill the solar showers. Our boat has four bathrooms and four showers, none of which we have ever used. Each day we fill a 3 and 5 gallon solar shower and each night we shower on the back of the boat with varying temperatures of water depending on the clouds, or lack there of, and if we remembered to insulate the bags with towels as the sun was going down.
Dan came back in a few minutes later and checked that only one water pump was switched on. Turns out it was more than on, it wouldn't shut off. The pressure switch (new just a month ago) had failed. The pump was doing its best to burn itself out making pressure and we had just figured that out when loud thump resonated throughout he port side, followed by the unmistakle sound of a garden hose at full blast under the floor boards. Well, under the oven and behind the refridgeration unit as fate would have it.
Since Dan was already at the breaker panel, a brief blast of hollering was all it took to get it switched off. Up came the floor boards for the 47th time and, sure enough, there was water water everywhere. Fresh water, at least. The pump had driven the water pressure to some unprecendented level, effectively ferreting out the weakest link in our plumbing system which just happened to be in a really hard to reach place. Surprise!
With the system off-line, it was time to re-plumb our drinking water filtration system so the $90-a-whack super health-o-meter filter receives pre-filtered water. I calculated that the carbon filter should last 9 months, but in fact it has lasted only two, thanks to some Union Island rain water that had all kinds of interesting passengers: leaves and who knows what else.
So, we dismantled the old arrangement and I rushed off with the whole gang in tow to get to the boat store before they closed. My crew waited patiently and then we dinghied over to the local fruit smoothie place where grandma and the girls got to sample the treats. As we arrived, from behind us we heard a voice, "Are you the people from the other Lagoon in the anchorage?" Turns out it was a family we had seen come in an hour or two before with two kids and flying an American flag. We were so interested in seeing them we had dinghied over but found them gone already, much to Nina's consternation.
We talked for a good half hour, then meandered back home having agreed to touch base tomorrow morning. Dan took off with the plumbing fix while I worked in and around his elbows getting dinner pulled together without a real kitchen.
Since the walkways were full of tools and bodies, Dan's contorted into octopus like shapes trying to reach the blown fitting, the girls went about getting their shower supplies by hatch diving. Nika was on the way up when her little toes found a much needed step on her sink's faucet, which promptly snapped off under her weight. With the plumbing already in shards all over the floor, I didn't take it to too well. Poorly actually, and Nika took the brunt of it.
It took awhile to cool off after which I apologized and tucked her in to bed hoping her child's memory will erase the image of a father who cares more about plumbing parts than his 7 year old cute-as-a-button tan-to-the-top boat kid.
Day 150 ~ Kid ZoneFebruary 11th, 2011
Awoke to a sunny morning reflected in green water against a backdrop of rolling verdent hills and neatly mowed fields of southern Martinque. Not a bad way to start the day.
Dan, having successfully replaced the key plumbing connections, the nightmares of the day before were but a distant memory. I thought. As the breakfast bowls were being filled, Nika appeared with a handcrafted note depicting the broken faucet. Inside was a tightly wadded ten dollar bill, the one she had received for Christmas from Grandpa and Grandma, and two pennies. All she owned, I suspect.
Being a careful saver, she presented it solomnly to Lisa and I.
How does that make a flawed Dad feel, one may wonder? Well, I'll tell you: about an inch tall, maybe less. The faucet and my value system suddenly felt really, really cheap. Like plastic money you get with a play cash register at Wal-Mart.
Needless to say, we explained that we didn't expect her to pay for anything, and that we loved her more than anything she had the power to break. Big hugs helped too.
After breakfast we were kicking around running in with some laundry, when James from Ondine (the other Lagoon kid boat we met at the fruit smoothie stand the night before) came by. We chatted for a bit, and had him around for a look-see. Our boats came out of the same factory in the same year, but are surprisingly different in numerous ways.
Then he invited the whole gang over to their place for some kid fun. I spent a half hour discovering all the different things their larger boat entails while the kidlets got acquainted. The hours clicked by. They shared their internet connection and more hours went by. Nina-Kate (the mom) served pasta for lunch and Lisa ran off to do laundry as the kid volume ramped higher and higher.
Eventually, Lisa returned and we decamped to our boat where the fun went into the water. Dan and I zipped to town for some taco provisions and a one more quick internet session. It's a Friday, and the charter docks were full of touristas, all white and fresh from Europe. There were crates of beer, whole carts jammed with food and fruit and water jugs being ferried about by harried charter company staff. Hoses were gushing out on decks unattended, engines were running, the dock was alive with chatter in several different languages.
So this is where these people come from. The guide book states that 16 charter companies are based here and now we see it for ourselves.
Dan and I motored back in the waning light of a pastel sunset. When we arrived, the kid craziness continued until James arrived a few minutes later and gathered his flock. They are headed for Rodney Bay tomorrow as well, so we agreed to touch base and potentially sail there in tandem, a first for both of us. Should be fun.
Dan's tacos were devoured like Rome was burning around us. What with all the kid fun, we nearly had to peel the faces of two of them off their empty plates.
Day 151 ~ Lively CrossingFebruary 12th, 2011
Time to head back to St. Lucia so Grandma and Dan can catch their flights. The day broke breezy but sunny and the morning was a whirl of quick breakfast and final shopping returns and purchases. We'll certainly return to Martinique, but may not return to Le Marin where the boat stores flourish.
We had agreed to try and leave with Ondine and sail south together. James came by about noon and said they would be ready in about 15 minutes. A half hour later we upped anchor and headed out of the channel. Ondine experienced a few delays and so we weren't able to sail right with them.
The winds were ideal. Moving at 8-9 knots, the winds were still 80-90 degrees on the beam with beam to seas in the 9-10 foot range with interspersed large ocean swells, some well over 15 feet. Dan does a considerable amount of surveying in his real life and agreed that several were "really big" but difficult to estimate accurately.
Dan spotted them first. A pod of dolpins skated towards us, riding the swells and zipped right up and around the starboard side. Then they were gone.
The winds were consistently 17-22 knots which, combined with a few favorable swells, saw us top out in the 10.5 knot range several times. We arrived in Rodney by just after 4:00pm, too late to do the fuel/water fill up that we have been putting off for a couple of weeks now.
We dropped the CQR in 2.3 meters of water in what appeared to be sand. Snorkeling on it a few minutes later showed her on her side and only partially engaged. "Marginal" was the word Dan used. Hmmm. We had lots of space behind us, so opted to sit on it for a while and see.
It didn't take long. I had only been out of the water a few minutes when I looked back and saw that the large space behind us was shrinking pretty fast. As soon as Dan was back up on deck, we fired both engines and upped anchor. We moved up and over 50 yards and dropped Mr. Bruce, again. He drug a bit, then set hard. The evidence is mounting in Mr. Bruce's favor.
Not long after, Ondine's sail appeared from behind Pigeon Island at the tip of the bay and the kids went crazy. Their anchor had been down for two minutes, maybe, before their kids were in the water and swimming our way. Nina was jumping up and down with delight, "This is the best day ever!"
Really? Well, it was a feeling anyway. They swam and played until dark when, at last, we corralled them back aboard and washed them up with the solar shower. Dan grilled chicken while I mashed potatoes. Nina and Nika fell asleep at the table.
Kid boats make all the difference.
Day 152 ~ Brownie PointsFebruary 13th, 2011
The anchor held through several nocturnal squalls which blew by with little notice. Sailing is a great sleep agent, wringing your body of every ounce of energy. Later that morning, we planned on hiking to the the old British fort on Pigeon Island, visible from the anchorage, so tackled a quick breakfast. Mobilization took as long as usual, but we were eventually underway.
The park entrance fee was posted as $13.55EC per person. Do the math on that. Ouch. Lisa went ashore to get the details and found out that children were only $2. That was a relief.
It turned out to be a great investment. There were multiple ruins of old stone structures going back to the 1780s when the British and the French were vying for supremacy of the West Indies and their lucrative trade in sugar and spices. Old cannons were scattered about which, after 220 years, were in surprisingly good condition, their stands long since rotted away.
We explored for several hours, right into the heat of the day, and climbed both Pigeon point and Signal Peak, which is higher. Both afforded commanding views of Rodney Bay and the sea beyond. The 32 pound cannon situated on this vantage point dealt death to more than one French ship in the course of St. Lucia's 14 changes of hands between the two countries.
One our way home, we passed Ondine and the kids went spastic with pleas to play now, "Who needs lunch?" were bottomless-pit Nina's exact words. She did, of course, so we forced everyone home for a quick sandwich.
Nina and Paloma from Ondine had been working the last couple of days on a Brownie business model. They had baked the brownies, fashioned boxes out of paper and, after some supply cost calculating, had figured that $1EC per brownie was about right. They would net about a 41 cent profit. The idea was to sail around the anchorage in Paloma's sailing dinghy and offer other boats a chocolatey treat. "Homemade" was their watch word.
Of course, the parent in me immediately thought of numerous reasons why this wasn't a good idea. But when you have been brainwashing your kids with entrepreneaurial values, you have suck it up when it comes to the implications of those ideals. So, off they went. Two specks of innocence in a sea of callous sharks. Or so it felt.
But of course, nothing untoward happened. They sold $9EC worth of brownies to several boats and met some interesting people in the process. James (Paloma's dad) shadowed the sailing pair in his dinghy for an hour or so, then I switched out with him.
I was talking to Fido's owner, a brownie customer, when I glanced over my shoulder to see a nasty little squall coming. At the same time, James came zipping over and together we coached the girls through sitting out the blast of wind and rain, which was roughly akin to being caught in a corporate lawn sprinkler system during a small tornado. The rain pellets hurt they were so heavy. But, it was mercifully short.
In all the excitement, the girls had been blown downwind a considerable distance and, since the sun was just touching the horizon, we opted to tow the girls home.
Once into dry clothes and since Grandma and Dan leave tomorrow, Lisa and I took our last chance for some alone time and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Spice of India restaurant. I ended up with a full-on case of fire lips after eating my "mildly spicy" Goat Curry, but the flavors were great.
To get to the restaurant we motored through the inner harbor of the lagoon. On the return trip in the dark, the photo efflourescense was so intense from the outboard prop that it looked like we had an LED underwater light like the fancy motor yachts use. In the causeway between the inner and outer lagoon, however, it began to dim and then all returned to black.
We returned to the boat to find the rest of the crew just finishing their BBQ hamburger dinner that Dan had prepared. The kids eventually pattered off to bed and then we adults stayed up way too late finalizing last-minute things before the taxi arrived the next day.
Day 153 ~ Goodbye GrandmaFebruary 14th, 2011
Well, the sad day finally came. I made Swedish pancakes to take the edge off. Not sure it helped, but they were devoured anyway. Grandma and Dan are leaving on the same flight today from St. Lucia, so out came the suitcases and more last minute exchanges of "oh remember to return this", and "I had one more question about that," etc.
James of Ondine's father passed away last night, so we offered to take the kids for the day so they could start the scramble to find flights and re-tool their schedule so James can return home for the funeral and take care of details with the family.
Not sure how involved we should be here. We enjoy their company, but really need to start making some tracks North. By a miles per week measure, St. Lucia has received way more than its fair share and, when we look at it critically, we really aren't sure why. It's a cool island, but not really much better than any others we have seen and blown past. I guess it has an airport with cheap flights to the US is what it amounts to.
The goodbyes finally came, and went. I dinghied Dan and Grandma to their taxi in time and purchased the parts that Baidarka, a couple from Fairbanks of all places, had requested (and prepaid) from Island Water World. We should catch up to them again in Martinque in a few days.
Got back about 2:00pm and whipped up some quesadillas for the hungry herd. Dan landed a nice Jack last night, a good way to wrap up his time here. The darn thing had about taken off his finger while he was pre-washing dishes off the back of the boat. There was a mad scramble for poles and bait but, by the time we had something in water, the finger-hungry rascal was long gone. But Dan had the last word in the end. We baited a new Musto hook with a leftover chunk of burger and about a half hour later heard a tremendous splash near the back of the boat.
We looked at each other in confusion for a second then realized we had a line in the water.
In the end, Jack was a nice addition to the quesadillas for Lisa and I then she split for a post office and shopping run. The kids had pretty much thrashed the boat and were ramping up the energy when someone suggested they go swimming. GREAT IDEA. So in they went. While they were there, Nina checked out the anchor and came splashing back at full speed. "It's not even set; it's just lying there on its side!" She then took Lisa's waterproof camera and returned with photographic evidence that was hard to believe. He had been holding now for the entire day on the tiniest finger of coral caught by the last 1/2" of one fluke.
By now Lisa was long-gone, so I just set the GPS to anchor alarm and kept a vigilant eye on our neighbors who were, thankfully, well behind us. James and Nina-Kate returned to pick up their side of the hurricane while we took down laundry and got ready to up anchor and reset again...for the third time. Lots of people have holding problems here because there is a hard bottom with just a few inches of sand and loose coral over most of the bay.
We slid over to the north about 60 yards where Dan had reported seeing better holding. We got a pretty good set and backed down on it hard. She didn't budge, so we should be set for the night. No promises though.
Post-guest Lisa had been in cleaning mode, so we all pitched in to finish and, before long, things were looking ship-shape again. Lisa even tackled the dreaded under-the-cockpit wet storage area, which is always a nasty stew of slime, table detritus and hair. Tasty.
We did dinner of sausage and pasta and rounded it out with some of Lisa's homemade peanut butter cookies, products of the second time we have actually used our oven for baking. It's usually warm enough that the thought of adding heat to the boat overpowers the potential payoff of home-baked goodness.
Day 154 ~ Just another email in ParadiseFebruary 15th, 2011
With a kid boat nearby, I sensed blood in the water and work in the wings. I wasn't disappointed. We were barely through with breakfast when we heard a splash and saw Ronan the 7 year old boy from Ondine in the water paddling our way. The math problems we were contemplating evaporated in a mad rush for swimsuits and goggles.
Lisa generously agreed to take all the kiddies to the beach and, before we knew it, Austin from Singing Frog had joined the mix. I caught a ride into the internet cafe with James and Nina-Kate from Ondine. There, I hesitate to confess, I whiled away the entire day on ****. It felt good to get things done, but when I finally stood up it felt like it does after flying cross-continent. My legs weren't sure they liked the idea of standing any more. Looking outside, the sun was low on the wind-tossed palm leaves. May as well have been in Alaska for all this day added up to, for me at least.
When we got back, the kids had just returned from the beach, darker and redder than ever with all kinds of stories of sand excursions, swimming mishaps and boogie board games. At least someone profited from being here.
Day 155 ~ North to the FutureFebruary 16th, 2011
I still get jittery about sailing. It's the same feeling experienced in my high school years when I would spend all week looking forward to the weekend's ski trip. Finally Saturday would come and I'd grab a bite, dash to the already packed Suburban and head for the hills.
As we rounded the last big turn before the final climb up the mountainous road a sweeping view of the slopes would unfold in the morning light. The skiers eyes would pick out details of snow conditions, cornice development and wind folds in the snow. I've skied every weekend all year, this being no different, but my heart rate increases and the butterflies return. It's going to be a great ride and nothing will calm you down like that first traverse through the crystaline blankets. Every detail of the experience, the hiss of the snow over the boots and the crispy cold air in the throat, came alive as I looked forward to the free-fall feeling of giving gravity her way, for once, and thriving on the energy release.
So it felt at 19. Now, 19 years later, it's odd to feel the same butterflies again every time I wake to a stellar sunrise and know that today we're going hoist the canvas and trick the fickle zephyrs, bending them to our will, rush upon rush, wave upon wave.
I recall ski days when Dan, my brother Jim and I would sit in the car for minutes that felt like hours waiting for a parent who, on his day off, didn't feel like rushing right out the door in the darkness of a chilly arctic morning. So, working through 113 steps it takes to turn our condo into a vessel again is like an experiment in time warpology. How long can an hour really seem? Days? I do my best to excercise the little patience I have managed to cultivate in a lifetime, but it's a pretty sorry looking shoot, I admit.
To top it off, today we have to stop at DMV (customs) and the gas station on our way to the liquid slopes. It was no fun then, and it's less fun now. Driving your house up against a concrete dock in a cross wind isn't a good way to lower your blood pressure.
Nina and I dinghied over to the dock one more time, and gave the St. Lucian bureaucracy yet another chance to grind a little conformism into our stubborn souls. More forms in triplicate, more waiting, more fees. At least these guys didn't compare every number on every document with the original. Thirty minutes later and we were free to leave, like a bird from a cage.
We zipped back to the boat and, while I made final preparations, Lisa and the girls went over to Ondine to return more kid paraphenalia and say a final goodbye to the crew who, just 72 hours ago, were complete strangers, but now have attained bosom-buddy status.
We put out our full compliment of bumpers. The crew were briefed on every "what if" scenario I could imagine. Dock lines were in place, and spares handy. We danced around a bit waiting for traffic to clear out of the channel then Lisa brought us in at just the right speed. Relief. The dock was empty, so we pulled up gracefully; with Lisa's expert hand on the wheel and throttles it was painless and precise. Ahhhh.
Both our fuel gauges are out of commission so I have no real idea how much fuel remains or has been consumed. We splashed on Nov 30, 75 days ago. We used the mega fridge for the first few weeks and ran the starboard engine about an hour a day to keep it going. We finally ditched that and downsized to the 12v fridge unit a couple of weeks ago, so that may skew things a bit. I was hoping we could survive on one gallon of diesel per day, on average. That would put our annual fuel budget at about $1,500.
The fuel dock people were graciously patient as I inched the fuel in gallon by gallon, only to learn over halfway through that the fuel is priced in gallons but measured in liters. There's a huge diffence between 90 liters and 90 gallons. We put 90 liters into the starboard tank and 60 into the port tank. That's 150 liters in 75 days, nearly twice as good as I had hoped. Of course, different areas will require different amounts of motoring but, in general, it looks like we should be able to cruise a long while on two liters per day. This will free up a little budget for something else, like say new circuit breakers or maybe some Haagen Dazs...
We took on water and dinghy gas, then let the wind push us off the dock gently and motored out the channel and into Rodney Bay. We turned up wind and hoisted the main, which is a much easier task now with a real block (pulley) on the head (top) of the sail.
Lisa turned off wind and we were underway. Butterflies be gone.
It was a beautiful sail. Perfect wind, 15-22 knots, a little rough around the northern end of St. Lucia where some funky currents played with the waves, but things settled down for the last 12 miles or so into a nice casual 5-7 swell which we skated over gracefully under a diamond hewn sky.
About 5 miles out I spotted frigate birds circling and diving. That means fish. We tacked to gain wind angle, then tacked back across their focal point, which was a moving target it turned out. Having a huge white hulk slide through their midst scattered the birds, and probably the fish. In any case, they all passed up our shiny flashing lure. Oh well.
On advice from another cruising couple, we poked our head into the Point Salines beach head, but found the anchorage too rolly and exposed for our taste, so we motored on to Sainte-Anne, a small town on the south end of Martinique.
We picked our way through the crowd and leveraged our small draft (amount of water we draw) to anchor at the front in about 2.3 meters of water. Seeing a sandy bottom, we dropped the CQR but, powering back on it, watched the chain bounce around for a good 20 meters. Time again to up anchor and let Mr. Bruce take over, for about the 6th time. Can't wait to unload this CQR on someone who is still a true believer. They must be everywhere, because I see them at the head of many boats, some with two. Not sure why they don't work for us.
We enjoyed an eclectic dinner of salad, eggs and pancakes then crashed. There's something magical about spiraling into the abyss after after a full day of gliding atop the deep blue sea.
Day 156 ~ A small town in FranceFebruary 17th, 2011
I am not sure what comprises the perfect day, but today was about as close as it gets. The anchorage is flat calm with just enough breeze to keep the air moving through the cabins. Sailing always wipes me out. Waking slowly this morning to the jasmine sun glimmer through the hatches gave me that surreal feeling of returning from the dead, each muscle finding life only slowly, as if oxygen were a new discovery.
It's cooler now, mid 70s at night and cooler mornings. We did a leisurely breakfast on the "veranda" (cockpit) and crowned it with some fresh squeezed OJ. It always impresses me how hard you have to work an orange to get every last drop out. If you could put them in a cubicle in front of a flat screen maybe that would help the extraction process.
We opted to explore St. Anne before it got too hot so dinghied over to one of several docks this small town offers. The brushed and welded stainless cleats were a sign that we weren't in Kansas any more. The old stone church with the clock chiming on the hour, the spotless sidewalks and acoustic music floating out of store fronts were enough to think we were in Europe.
St. Anne is a quaint little town and, an hour later, we had covered most of its geography, hitting the gold mine in a little fruit and veggie market. The prices were reasonable and the quality outstanding. Tomatoes that are actually red to the core, imagine that. We stocked up on real nutmeg which has been in rapid decline with our recent penchant for baguette-based French toast and, yes, we brought another one home.
The girls were deep into some Lego creations, so we did some history and literature while I went to town to make a Skype call and check email. Apparently there are really restrictive French regulations on Wi-Fi power and accessiblity meaning that we have had zero luck finding Wi-Fi that reaches the boat, paid or otherwise.
That's okay, I suppose. Sitting cramped into the back corner of a French street-side cafe and working on a granite table the size of a medium pizza while people jabber around me in a foreign tongue drives home the point that we really are a long way from home ourselves.
A client sent pictures of his driveway buried in snow and ice off the Denali Highway. It's all very amusing when there isn't a snow shovel in a 1,000 mile radius.
The girls and I went swimming when I returned. Mr. Bruce is firmly embedded in a nice bed of sea grass.
Did an early dinner of tacos which were on the table just as the sun set directly behind us with a burst of intense color punctuated with puffy clouds and a sail on the horizon. It was like seeing one of those Microsoft desktop pictures projected against the back wall of our dining room.
We played Skip-bo and then read our bedtime story. Sitting here now with a cool breeze ruffling through the cabin and a full moon casting a silken silver hue on the water and deck make it hard to imagine a better day.
Day 157 ~ Just another day in ParadiseFebruary 18th, 2011
Not too much to report on today. The girls and I wrapped up our math and graphing analysis of meal costs. The bottom line is that the fewer components to a meal and the more vegan a meal, the less it will cost. So, if you can live on fruit, veggies, beans, rice and pancakes, you can feed a family of 5 on $50EC a day, or about $18 USD.
If, however, you like some meat in our pasta sauce, some sausage with your rice and beans and the occasional grilled hunk of chicken, you'd better buckle down. Those niceities nearly double the cost of a day's fare to $90+EC per day, depending on the specifics. Tacos with meat, beans, cheese, tomatoes, tortillas, salsa, lettuce tops out the scales at $64EC, and you still have two meals to go. By contrast, Swedish pancakes, including the condiments, comes in at a budget conscious $20EC, about $8USD.
This was all very enlightening to the girls. We'll see how they stand the heat of the board room presentations (explaining and defending their graphs under pressure). Lisa followed with some history and lit while I motored to town for some internet connectivity to wile away a couple of hours with w***.
We were just mobilizing for a beach run when a family dinghied past loaded to the gills with kids. We waved, and they came over. French speaking children, hurray! They were very friendly and between Lisa's French and their broken English, we agreed to meet them at the beach in a few minutes. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with them and agreed to meet again the next day.
Day 158 ~ Client CrisisFebruary 19th, 2011
Well, I knew this day would eventually come. It was a beautiful tropical morning, a light breeze rustling our flags, a few clouds adding interest to the sun as it peaked over the forested hills to the east. I casually picked up the iPhone, which had been on silent all night. There were 4 text messages, one from my partner who is covering for me which basically said, "doing our best here but things are spiralling down. Could use some backup soon."
Being 5 hours ahead of Alaska time means we are usually checked out before the end of the business day and, of course, plenty of things interesting things happen after 3:00pm.
So, it was a quick breakfast and then a dash off to the internet cafe where I ground away several hours doing political damage control, auditing logs, etc, in an effort to convince the client that all was not lost, which of course, it wasn't.
Crawling out of my dark corner into the heat and glare of a island afternoon with foreign sounds and smells was a bit of culture shock. I had half expected to see my hallway, snow out the windows and darkness descending on a deep February chill. It was a bit surreal being both in Alaska and here, as it were.
I am afraid I still wasn't well adjusted when I got back home and the girls took a bit of grumpy fire before I managed to realign to the relaxed world.
The French kids from Löma had come over to play legos and rope swing after lunch and then we took the action to the beach next. The language barrier issues are melting some as they warm up to each other. By the end of the day Nana and Lola were counting 1-2-3 in loud French and charging into the water. You go girls.
Did some cute little French burgers on the grill, which were devoured en masse. Tigers.
Day 159 ~ French ImmersionFebruary 20th, 2011
Well we have spent 8+ days in Martinque and it's finally happening. Our kids are playing actively with a group of French speaking kids throwing balls, running, diving, splashing and otherwise just being kids. The language got in the way a few times, but we ended up bringing Lola (age 10) from Löma home for rope swinging, dinner, lots of French phraseology and legos. The girls had a blast and are now debating the proper pronunciation of simple words. What we need to do is spend 6 months here.
After breakfast Nika, Nana and I went to town for some light provisioning. A vendor was selling fresh squeezed sugar cane juice. We tried a small bottle. It was good; not overly sweet with a fairly strong grassy aftertaste that Nika described as tasting like "green beans (yuck!)". Nana liked it better, but after half a bottle between us we had had enough. Funny how the real thing tells your tummy in no uncertain terms when to quit while the fake-o stuff never really satisfies and never really stops.
After lunch, we dinghied about a mile across the channel to a nearby day anchorage called Pointe Borgnesse and joined Löma, Tépacap, and Delphis for some snorkeling and beach time. The snorkling was so-so, but the beach was pretty nice and the kids had a great time playing. The ratio was 3 English speakers to 8 French speakers so our kids weren't able to cop-out without having to talk to their sisters...and who would want to do that?
We finally returned just before sunset and the girls and Lola plalyed on the rope swing while I made some chili and dogs, served with a salad and baguette of course.
A few hours before sunset a boat motored in and anchored Its mast is snapped about 6 feet above the boom and the remainer of the sail, shrouds and lines were lashed in a secure but survival style way. Couldn't have happened too long ago.
Just a reminder how serious things can get within a moment of time. I am sure they had other plans for the day, one always does.
Day 160 ~ Boat RitualsFebruary 21st, 2011
I can see now that we need to add an entire section to the site on boat rituals. Finding water, dinghying to water, filling water and returning with water, doing laundry, transporting laundry, drying laundry, filling solar showers, positioning solar showers and deploying them, etc. Boat rituals support basic life functions which, at home are pretty much taken care of out of the box, easily consume several hours per day or, if you put them off long enough, all day.
You'll never guess what we did today will you? Today was a boat ritual day. After a quick cold breakfast, Lisa took her French speaking skills ashore to figure out where garbage goes, where water comes from and if there was a laundromat anywhere nearby.
When she returned, Nika and I were dispatched with a week's worth of garbage and empty water jerry cans. Nika held the dink on the beach while I ferried and filled the cans. Then it was time for round two. After a brief stop at Silver Hills III to drop off a thank you note for the Christmas tree, designed and beautifully executed by Nina, we stopped for another round of water. By then, it was almost lunch time.
Lisa made another batch of homemade tortillas, which are a smash hit, whipping the socks off of anything you can buy at the store (thanks for the recipe Aunt Rhonda).
Then she and the crew zipped off to Le Marin about a 10 minute, wet dingy ride away. In her care was nearly 2 weeks of laundry, probably 30lbs worth. Laundry is insanely expensive here, costing nearly $25 for two loads. But that still puts the break-even point of a boat-installed washing machine over 3 years out and still makes doing it ashore worthwhile. Besides the fact that the little boat ones don't work very well, wash only tiny loads and consume gobs of power.
I tackled some work while the kids were gone. Nana and Nika played on Singing Frog and Austin, Nina and Lisa did laundry and some provisioning at the bigger grocery store, Leader Price. The name still strikes me as a bad translation, but the French do those kinds of things and think nothing of it. Not sure I would make a good marketing consultant here.
Did leftover spaghetti which the kids just picked at. I think they are noodled out for awhile. Better shift culinary gears soon.
There's some nasty weather coming for a few days, so need to get to internet tomorrow and make some decisions, most of which will involve sailing away from kid boats. Not a good way to win any popularity contests.
Day 161 ~ The Naked TruthFebruary 22nd, 2011
Lisa and I tag-teamed lessons with the girls most of the morning and she continued well into the afternoon. Clients are calling like mad, so I headed into town and found some internet to keep them at bay for a while.
Haven't been feeling too great lately and suspecting it's the French food. Really, is a body designed to eat more than one baguette in a day?
When I returned to the boat the girls were in rare form and clearly needed some exercise so we loaded up and headed for Point Salines beach, about a 1.5 mile dinghy ride. Turns out it's all part of a park with trails and signage and someone who keeps things tidy, but wild, if you know what I mean.
If you want the naked truth about the French islands it's that the older the people get, the more they need clothing but the less they are inclined to wear it. Here's the equation: take the person's age and that's about the percentage chance that you'll find them on the beach without a piece of clothing most Americans would consider essential. But perhaps I am seeing things wrong -- we try not to look -- maybe I should consider how nice it would be to be old and naked laying on a remote Carribean beach without a care in the world, or any children to embarrass.
Must be nice. No, we didn't take any pictures and had a good lesson in etiquette when Nana, hardly believing her eyes, yelled, "Papa, did you SEE that!"
"Yes, Nana. Some people don't share our sense of modesty; the polite thing is to NOT stare, point and gawk. Just keep moving and put your eyes somewhere else." She understood, but giggled for a while anyway.
Once back at the boat and having spent seven days immersed in little France, we finally broke open the French learning CDs that we purchased back in Anchorage so many moons ago. It's interactive and engaging and our no-computer-games-allowed girls were entranced for a good hour. C'est bien ça!
Day 162 ~ French ConnectionsFebruary 23rd, 2011
Boats are like daughters. When they sense you aren't giving them enough attention, they ratchet up the noise until ignoring them is too painful to contemplate. In other words, they increase the cost of inattention in proportion to the time such attention has been withheld.
So today, perhaps 3 days since I have given the boat any real maintenance love, the day wasn't 15 minutes along when I heard suspicious noises from the bathroom. Lisa grimaced as she bore the bad news, head #4 is out of commission.
Having left these choice moments to stew in the past, I now know that the best way forward is an immediate frontal assault. If hand to hand combat ensues, best to get it over with quickly.
As usual, I dug past the problem before having to put it all back together. Dropped a couple of tools into the depths of the bilge, complete with slime layer, but over all, as toilet fixes go, it wasn't too bad. It's a temporary band-aid though, the top end really needs a new set of seals.
The French software has hooked the kids on learning another language, which can't be all bad. While I grunted and practiced new words, they grunted and practiced new words too. Words for hospital and toilet and body parts.
By about 10:30a we had both had enough so shared a late breakfast. Lisa managed to snag enough internet to check mail and take care of a few end of the month things before we headed into town. I ended up working the entire afternoon at a new internet cafe with better music, better ventilation and better bandwidth, all of which make for happier programmers.
Lisa rounded up some boat kids and hit the beach with Löma and Kamaloha and then managed to escape just before the sand flies descended. We did a dinner of the smallest chicken legs ever seen, potatoes and salad. Have laid off the bagettes for a couple days now and feeling quite a bit better.
Day 163 ~ Geek TimeFebruary 24th, 2011
The day started out right. We had a collective hankering for pancakes, so Nana and I whipped up a batch of American cakes that were promptly devoured. Client pressures are at an all-time high so, painful as it was, I packed up the laptop, the keyboard, the mouse and pad, power supply, European style plug adapter and iPhone and Lisa dropped us all off at the dock.
It's not news that work isn't fun, but when you are crammed into a steaming little French cafe in Paradise sitting on wooden lawn furniture dished up with a side of mosquitos, it's less than thrilling. One hour ground onto another. The cafe got busy for lunch and then was deserted. School got out and a rash of kids burst through with the universal kid ruckus and then dispersed. Rain came and went.
The proprietor took pity on me and brought me water. When the sun angle said it was time to go, I packed up and walked down the pier. Lisa was just motoring past with a load of boat girls so one more body wouldn't hurt. Lola and Nina played together while Beth, Nika and Nana went swimming. I went back to town and went for a walk to unwind and reconcile the work feeling with the tranquility of a small French provincial town. There is a strong Catholic tradition here and I found a zigzag road leading up the hill to a small chapel with the stations of the cross set around a sweeping view. Standing there listening to the wind was a great antidote to coding stress.
Got back in time for a late swim. Beth fell in and dropped a bucket overboard. Nana dove for it and, with the help of a boat hook, recovered it in two tries. You go girl.
We did tacos with Lisa's homemade tortillas which put all others to shame. They were devoured with the usual hoovering sound.
Day 164 ~ Le Marin one more timeFebruary 25th, 2011
It blew hard all night, waking me from time to time during a surge on the anchor bridal. The boat is remarkably quiet, even in 25 knots of wind, but the torrents of air pouring past give her an unnatural tremor, as a bear braces for a blast on a windy mountaintop. Our Eclectic Energy wind generator is in her element, cranking out the amps all night long. It feels great to meet the day with a full battery bank, along with a glass of deeply chilled fruit juice.
Today was errand day. We leave tomorrow; really, we mean it. Sainte Anne is wonderful, but 9 days is enough. There are a few more esoteric French boat parts to look for and some things to buy at the larger grocery store. It should have taken an hour or two. Well, 5 hours later, we had mostly struck out with one important exception.
Our big find was two 7 liter oil drain pans, similar in function to the ones found in every other garage back home. These are made of heavy black plastic and should, we hope, serve as quasi-permanent solar showers, replacing the cheap plastic bag varieties that have served us well but are on their last legs. While it doesn't seem like it would be hard to build a real solar shower that would last, the reality is that they are for occasional use only. We, on the other hand, are driving them way past their design spec; five daily showers quickly adds up.
On the flip side, the shocker of the day came at the gas pump. Took on 9 gallons of dinghy gas in exchange for a whopping 62 Euros. That's a net cost of over $8US per gallon. Won't make that mistake again.
There's a reason France doesn't rule the world economically. I keep getting caught off guard by stores that close for lunch, and not just for a half an hour, mind you. Le Ship, which should have some solar shower parts, closes from noon to 2pm every day, without fail.
But it leaves me wondering who is really the most wealthy. The shop owner back in the States drives a big Dodge Hemi to and from work, but doesn't get a half hour in sideways on any given day to grab a cup of coffee and a donut.
So, we made lemonade from lemons. Nina and I went on a date to the Panini place, which it turns out has been in business just 7 days. The owners come from England so we had fun hearing all about their entrepreneurial growing pains. And the sandwiches weren't bad either.
We revisited the 2 mile dinghy ride back to St. Anne which, downwind, proved considerably dryer than the upwind bash we "enjoyed" on the way there. What was really missing though was the let's-all-stand-in-front-of-the-firehose effect that comes when hitting an oncoming wave in 30 knots of headwind. It's refreshing, I assure you.
Löma and company were at the beach, so we all loaded up and joined them for a couple of hours. More French immersion for the girls.
Then we hauled some water and wrapped up the day with burgers and discussion. Discussion is where the girls grill me on whatever topic suits their current fancy. Somehow we ended up on spinal injury, paralysis and the seven potential causes of a lowered state of consciousness. Hint, the acronym is STOPEAT. I am sure Google will help.
Day 165 ~ Northward at lastFebruary 26th, 2011
Sitting at a desk in a controlled environment surrounded by bustling productive people with coffee in one hand and yesterday's sales report in the other, it's impossible to fully comprehend the gravity of inertia that permeates the tropical atmosphere. The heat, the soft breezes, the fluttering palms, the gentle rocking of the boat. It's a conspiracy of forces that communicate to the fibers of your body one cohesive message.
Do nothing. Relax. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
So, day after day dawns with its usual softened emergence of warmth and light, like slowly opening a grapefruit in a dim room only to find a lightbulb in the center. I get up in the cool and think, "Today, we are going to go somewhere".
Then I mess with a minor plumbing problem, fill the solar showers, waver for a while on how much effort I really want to invest in breakfast, eat something anyway, then respond to an email or two, then remember a few things needed in town and then, before I know it, the day is half done and I may as well go swimming to cool off a bit.
So it is that is how we have spent 9 days in St. Anne, a beautiful little village nestled in the rocky folds of Martinique, itself a jewel woven into the rippling fabric of the sea. But at some point we really should leave.
Thankfully, we are not alone. Löma came by yesterday and mentioned that they were sailing around to Grand Anse d'Arlet tomorrow morning. "Let's sail together", I suggested, which they thought sounded like a great idea. We agreed to up anchor at 9:00a.
With a date, a deadline and friends as a carrot, the boat whipped itself into shape in double time. Little eyes were constantly watching Löma and reporting, "They are moving around on deck!" "I think their engine is running!" "I think they are moving" and numerous similar hypotheses filled the air as we ran back and forth with final tightening of this line and closing of that hatch.
When a red and white boat was coming full steam straight for us, with a nice frosty mustache of bow spray cutting thorough the wind drive chop, there was no mistaking it. They beat us off the hook.
I've never seen the girls so motivated to get the show on the road, which we promptly did.
Had a little snafu when the chain jammed in the chute and the windlass breaker popped, but eventually we welcomed Mr. Bruce back into the family and thanked him again for a nice solid set. Poor guy. He's been down there so long that his rode is starting to sport a nice array of tropical growth.
We turned up wind and raised the main in 25 knot gusts, set to the first reefing point of course, then fell away (from the wind) and were sailing at last.
Löma is a Etap 38, which should have a top speed of about 8 knots under sail alone. We matched her pace for pace with only our main while the kids had fun sailing near their friends and watching each other with binoculars. After an hour or so though, we unfurled the headsail and started to make tracks.
It was a bracing run around the Southwest corner of Martinque inside of Diamond Rock and up the mountainous western coastline. The wind was squirrely with occassional 35+ gusts that claimed a hat, one down cushion and nearly claimed several more. We peaked out at 12.4 knots SOG (speed over ground) on the GPS but soon furled the head sail to keep everything in its place.
Date/Time:02/26/2011 05:19:58 AKST
We motored then into Grande Anse d'Arlet bay, which is wide and beautiful; crystal clear water over a sandy bottom. We anchored behind Tépacap and spotted a sea turtle just a few yards off just minutes later. After putting the boat back into condo mode, we did a quick lunch and then met the Löma gang (which now includes two cousins from France) at the beach for some kid fun.
On the way back, Löma invited us over for some refreshments and we ended up staying way past dinner time. Nothing like some leftovers to save the day. Two of the girls tipped over at the table, but we prodded them with hot sticks until they got their PJs on and teeth brushed. Lights out!
Day 166 ~ Branching outFebruary 27th, 2011
We were we well into the morning's French lesson when Nina heard a little splashing off the stern.
And there stood Aurore from Delphis, balancing on her dad's windsurf board. Since she speaks only French, it seemed natural to take the language lesson outside and, before we knew it, all the girls were on the board with paddles and tottering around as they worked their way to the beach.
After lunch Nika and Nana went back to the beach with Lola from Löma while Nina and Aurore built lego creations and expanded each other language boundaries. Delphis is headed north today, so Aurore had to leave long before each girl had had their fill.
We had invited Löma and their gang (dad, mom, two kids, uncle and two cousins) over for dinner. Two big pots of pasta, homemade bread, sausages and two cakes later, the vultures were finally satisfied. Lisa played interpreter while they pumped us for information on life in Alaska, wolves, bears and long winters. The kids did what only kids can do, run around screaming, singing, whacking each other with pillows and otherwise create mayhem.
Ah...cruising with kids is kids first and cruising second; we are learning.
Day 167 ~ Return to SeattleFebruary 28th, 2011
It blew throughout the night in fierce gusts that hit from the north, then swirled to the east; sure glad Mr. Bruce is buried to the hilt in sand. We awoke to heavy cloud cover and intermittent rain. Turns out this is one of the coldest, windiest winters in recent memory according to our cruising neighbors. We don't have any memory here, but there's been plenty of wind, that's for sure.
The rain turned substantial so we opened the tanks and drank of the windfall. The girls had been agitating for pancakes lately and the only ones they want are Swedish. One girl is one thing, but four?
This is part of the female effort detection system (FEDS) which is only satisfied when maximum effort by man has been exerted on their behalf. American pancakes? Are you kidding? Those are fast and easy. Get to work. Satisfying the FEDS is a full time job.
With only French white flour, French whole milk, French eggs and French butter, to say the pancakes were rich would be an understatement. Healthy, are you kidding? We have searched high and low for whole wheat flour, brown rice and other basic staples of a balanced diet. We found, to our surprise, that as a country the French are committed to diabetes and heart disease. I guess you only live once.
We hit lessons hard for a couple of hours, each girl working through her French, math and geography. The French software has 9 CDs and the girls have pretty much mastered the first CD already, which is admittedly simple, but at this rate the 8 remaining ones aren't going to last long.
The rain was breaking up by about 2:00p, so Lisa took me ashore. I walked over to Petite Anse d'Arlet in search of a few minor hardware items, but found a ghost town. Right, it's Monday. Ahh, the French.
It was a nice walk and by the time I returned the girls were done with lessons and ready for some tramp tickle time. Then it was necessary to give my client some time on their issues while the girls did beach time with Löma and crew.
Lola joined us for dinner and UNO. Lisa translated school girl chants both directions. What fun.