April 2013 ~ Les Îles Françaises

Chronological Order

Day 959 ~ StinkfestApril 30th, 2013

Started the day with the usual brekkie and lessons.  

It's funny.  At home I never noticed many noises.  But here, now, I am subconsciously aware of every creak, whistle and hum.  For instance, I have learned to interpret the battery voltage from the note our electric toilet strikes as it is flushed.   When the batteries are over 14v it flushes "with prejudice" to use the legal term, with just a little extra vengeance.

I was in the cockpit desperately trying to finish Tolstoy's Nana Karenina.  Old Leo doesn't go nearly as far afield with Nana as he does at the end of War and Piece, but those last 100 pages are still a little dense.   So, I am reading away when the subconscious fires up a red flare that winks and sparkles across the gray matter.  There's a noise and it's not right.

There's a flushing and something isn't happy.   I drop the book and head downstairs.   Sure enough, our trusty Quiet Flush II sounds decidedly meek and wavery.   Are the house batteries in trouble?  A quick check of the electrical panel reveals all is well: 13.6 volts.

I give the toilet control panel a few clicks.  It works, but the flush side sounds off somehow while still evacuating water.   Hmmm.   The handwriting is on the wall.   It's best to grab these bulls by the horns, even if the bowl wasn't empty when the problem started.   Ahem.

Out come the rubber gloves and the snorkel mask.  That which Dan, the sanitation engineer, calls "hand to hand combat" ensued.  I was careful and, for the most part, remained calm.   Breaking some rare fitting here would only add insult to injury, as it were.   Let's face it, when it comes to toilet problems on boats, there's nothing like your first time.  After initiation, it's all just more of the same.

I assumed that a bobby pin or other gnarly object was to blame.  After decades, you have to hand it to these engineers, the marine sanitation boys have thought of it all by now.  For instance, once you remove the cover from the back you can use a standard flat head screwdriver to drive the macerator pump manually, thus instantly determining if something is offering resistance.  It turned silky smooth, just like new.  Well, that's good and bad.   Good because there is no bobby pin, and bad because that means the problem lies somewhere else.

Eventually I completely disassembled the pump impeller blades, "chopper" and all.   It's a mean machine in there, stainless blades that resemble a blender, in a fashion.   You don't want your finger in there, I guarantee it.

All seemed in order.   I noticed some corrosion on the wiring connections, so decided to check and re-do those next.   13.16 volts coming in, check.   Re-attached everything and push the button.  Nada.  Nothing.  No, wait, the faintest sizzling or faint crackling sound followed by a smell, a hot metal electric smell.   This is not good.   

In Saint Maarten, it would have been a five minute dinghy ride to a plastic flush and we'd be back in business.   But something tells me that in Dominica, second (to Haiti) poorest country in the Caribbean, a power flush pump motor that represents a significant portion of the average wage earners gross annual product isn't likely to be laying around, on hand.

I came upstairs for a breath of fresh air and to consult the manual when I was knocked back by a wall of odor that put my undertaking to shame.  It was some chicken, purchased long ago in Nevis (I think) that had been forgotten at the bottom of the fridge.   Poor Nana, trying to be helpful, had started making dinner on her own only to be confronted with  a wall of smell enough to cure your hair.

No good deed goes unpunished it would seem and it took a while for the smell to dissapate after pitching it overboard.  After a good washing and a new package of fresher meat, Nana was well on her way to a meal once again.

 

Day 958 ~ Comfort FoodApril 29th, 2013

Using Google satellite maps I think I have found a back route to the IGA supermarket.  It's a long dinghy ride (1.2 miles) to the government dock, then a 5-6 minute walk along a winding back road where they have pioneered the use of concrete for the filling of potholes.   There's only one slight catch.   They didn't divert traffic until it hardened, so now the potholes have become permanent lumps and valleys that no amount of raking is going to repair.  Smart, yeah.

Found a few much sought after items that the French just don't seem to ever think of needing.  Like, say, a large container of yogurt, meaning more than a single serving in the very same plastic jug.   Novel.  But as I rounded the canned milk aisle I wasn't expecting to see the thing that topped Lisa's list.   Rice Milk, Kirkland Signature Organic in this case, identical to the stuff we stock-piled more than six months ago on our last Costco spending binge in Washington D.C.   I passed on the pig feet.

Did the afternoon swim and shower routine and topped off the night with some good ol' fashion Sloppy Joes, just like the ones mom used to make.   Banana crumble, our current desert fad, topped it all off nicely.

 

Day 957 ~ Making a Joyful NoiseApril 28th, 2013

While doing the Saturday market yesterday, we noticed a church just a couple of blocks in from the town dock.   We decided to give it a try.

Got the girls up and going in good time for a 10am service.   Well, actually, it turns out, the real service doesn't start until 11ish (island time) and the music isn't over until 12:30pm when the preaching actually starts.   We were there for 3 and a half hours, no breaks, no potties, no water.   The girls were troopers though, not a single complaint and the singing beat the socks off of any Nashville production I have ever heard.   As for the volume?  Well, four days later my ears were still hurting.

Swam in the afternoon then I headed to the Blue Bay Restaurant whose wifi network we can see from the boat.   The lady behind the counter gave me a code which expires at 7:45 this evening.   Hmmm, not quite what we were looking for.

 

Day 956 ~ Wild Grass ManApril 27th, 2013

First thing in the morning Martin came by to introduce himself and let us know his tour prices.  He also pointed out the location of the Saturday produce market as well as where to go for Customs.  Lisa and I headed to check in.  We came to the fuel dock but Martine didn't mention any huge locked gate.  How in the world would we get past that?  Ah, a door.  With a few shoves, it came open, the padlock was only through the frame hole, not the door.  Relief. 

We soon discovered that the off-duty Customs spot was actually the agent's apartment.  Hearing the TV blaring behind the door, we were relieved not to have to wake anyone up so knocked a few times.

To the background of Disney's Robin Hood cartoon movie, we filled out the numerous forms in triplicate that post-British islands all seem to require.  Britain might have ruled the world at one point, and if so, it wasn't for lack of keeping their papers in order.  Argh.  They could learn a few things from the French.

The agent was nice and didn't seem too put-out that his Saturday morning was interrupted by paperwork.  We chatted about his island and he gave us a few observations about Dominica.   Such a beautiful island, but the politicians...!

Thankfully, the normal fees were only 22EC ($8USD) for the five of us and the 50EC ($19USD) overtime charge was much less than some other islands we've visited.  They also have a handy system where you can check in and out for 2 weeks, thus saving another search and hike for the obscure Customs office during normal business hours.  Innovation!

Next on the list was the Saturday market.  This begins at sunrise and goes 'til sometime in the afternoon. 

Even at the late hour of 10 am, the vendors still had plenty of produce to sell.  We were told by another cruiser that the vendors in the building right by the dock are a bit hard-nosed on their already high 'tourista prices'.  So, we hiked a little farther up the street and were not disappointed.   After hitting 12-15 vendors for this and that, we returned with our $15 bounty loaded with fresh passion fruit, mangos, grapefruit, "apricot" and three varieties of banana two of which Fred Meyer has never even seen.   In most cases we were buying directly from the farmer.

Nika and I disassembled the starboard jib sheet winch which had jammed, a potentially dangerous malfunction.   It took longer than expected, of course, but we eventually had it back in good working order.

Martin came by mid-day to tell us about his Indian River tour in the afternoon.  We joined a French retired couple and enjoyed Martin's friendly and knowledgeable service.  We picked some wild bay leaf, cinnamon and lemon grass.   Lemon grass, now that's what Alaska is missing.  To think, all this time, we've been without.

 

Day 955 ~ Post FranceApril 26th, 2013

Today is the day.   We *love* Guadeloupe, but it's time to move on.   That right,  we are actually going to leave the French islands after six weeks.

Ah, the best laid plans.  I wanted to leave by 10am.   However, it rained and blew so hard and so long (a good couple hours) last night that several side hatches, which are normally safe to leave open in rain, were inudated with water.   Lots of water, in some cases.

I mopped up some bilge areas that should stay dry while Lisa tackled Nika's bedding and under storage area.  All the sheets and towels are stored in plastic bags which, so far, have never leaked.  This time, however, the water reached into one through a small hole so four sets had to be taken outside to dry in the sun in addition to the existing bedding down to the mattress itself.   Nevertheless, we are thankful for the sunny, cloudless morning.

While the bedding and other asundry items hung out to dry, Lisa and I headed to town to clear out of the country and grab a few last-minute grocery items.  We're going to miss this place, but it's time to try something new.

After detangling the anchor chain from the old water pipe below we motored out in about 25 meters of water and dangled the anchor to let some of the twists out.  We have had a difficult time rolling it in lately because the chain skips out of the gypsy even when it's less than a casual load.  

The GRIB files showed a light wind day, 10-15 knots though we have learned to 'just add 8'.   Sure enough, we clocked 23 knots at one point.  No complaints though, the wind made for a smart sail southward.   I got the urge to fish so trailed a pink hootchi for a while.   About halfway through the channel in about 1,400 meters of water, we got a strike; a hard one.   Line was screaming off the reel.   There were two explosions of splashing astern, the line ran out and hit the knot on the reel.  Dead stop.  The pole buckled down.  I turned up wind, but it was too little too late.  With a hissing pop the line sprang back.  Nothing left but some abraided 60lb test.  Ah well.

We have mixed feelings about going back to the 'boat boy' scene, grown men in boats selling anything from services to produce to mooring balls.   All the poorer countries (ex-British) feature these waterborne entrepreneaurs.  While I understand everyone's need to make a living, at times it gets wearying and, on occasion, resentment flares.  Once rounting the point into the Portsmouth harbor, we were met enroute by several offering us tour and guide services, fruit and trash pick up.  Thanks to Avalanche, we were glad to have a name already.  "No, sorry, we're working with Martin."

The Portmouth harbor is one of the finest natural harbors I have seen.   It's a thousand-ships huge and flat calm as a lake, a welcome relief.  We chose a spot a fair distance north of town and hopefully away from noisy restaurant/bars, given it's Friday.  Didn't realize that Customs is only open weekdays until 4pm so it looks like we'll have to pay our first overtime charge to stay legal as well.

We are both struck by the overwhelming rugged beauty that is Dominica.   All the islands have mountains, but these are just more and better.  It's the difference between "beautiful" and "majestic".   The first applies to many islands, the second is found only here.

 

Day 954 ~ Coconut Ice Cream ProtocolsApril 25th, 2013

Girls started math and watched the clock for 10am, the time when Infinity should be done with school.  Instead, they came to us about 10:10 and chatted for half an hour, giving us the scoop on Point à Pitre marinas and boat parts.   Their opinion was that Guadeloupe was as good, if not better, than being anywhere in Europe.   They heading off about 11am on their way to Deshaies and then Antigua.

Lisa and I motored to the Bois Joli restaurant to see about internet.  For a snack (coconut ice cream, in this case, the good stuff), we got the code and caught up a bit on work and correspondence.  Back in time for the nightly swim and shower.

 

Day 953 ~ Infectious SmileApril 24th, 2013

Math and history started.  Philippe came at 9:30 to go diving with Lisa before heading out after lunch.   They were down nearly an hour and came back all smiles after overhearing an extended whale conversation.

Lisa introduced herself to the owner of the boat that Philippe helped out yesterday.  This is where her French language skills really pay off.

She offered us to go diving with him because he's all alone, but didn't think of the fact that his hurt toe would prevent him from wearing flippers.  At any rate, he offered (before she could ask) to refill our dive tanks if we needed as he has a compressor on board.  That alone just saved us $20 and a wet dinghy trip to town.  He also offered to either loan us his tanks for an afternoon dive if ours weren't ready and a second refill if we wanted as well.  How nice is that!?

Turns out the guy is a certified Scuba master whose French dive master's license number is 33.  Philippe's is in the 20,000-range.  Lisa asked him if he knew Jacques Cousteau, (co-developer of the Aqua-Lung) but he did not

Nana baked him some cookies while Lisa and I went diving in the afternoon.  Lisa wasn't real keen on going a fourth time to the same spot, but I was comfortable with the area and knew it didn't have any current so we went.   We had been down about 20 minutes and heard some distant whale calls, when a gray flash in my right peripheral vision jerked my head around with shark-like snappiness.

It was a huge male bottlenose dolphin.   We have been privileged to see many and, I can say with some confidence, that this was the largest I have ever seen.  And he was smiling.  Really.   Grinning at us, rolling and flashing us with first one eye then the other. 

Evidently, dolphins suffer from itchy backs, just like some Norwegian humans do, including yours truly.  He spied a suitable coral, the same ones we have been so careful to never touch and proceeded to flip upside down and crush it against his back sliding slowly and flaring his tail for maximum scratch contact.   His smile got even bigger. Really.

The thrill of it all was just starting to rise from my heels to my lower back when, with a powerful tail stroke he shot upwards into a shimmering curtain of filtered sunshine to join his mate.

Then, as we sat down to dinner, Nika spotted a Halberg Rassey 53 motoring our way.   It was our "old" friends on Infinity!  They finally were able to leave Point à Pitre at 2pm after getting their generator fixed, but knew they couldn't make it to Pigeon island by nightfall so came here.  They plan to head out again mid-morning on their route to Antigua.

 

Day 952 ~ French ConnectionApril 23rd, 2013

In the morning, several boats departed so we kept an eye on the two in our preferred spot near the SE corner of the anchorage.  Sure enough, one and then the other pulled the hook and motored out.  Just about the time the second leaves, we see Sonadio Cat headed for our anchorage.  "Do we go?" I ask.  "Yes," replied Lisa without hesitation.  Through hand signals, we attempted to explain to our French friends why we were leaving just as they were arriving.  Soon after, however, they came over to our side of the bay due to the cross swell working its way in.

Lisa called off lessons for the day since Sonadio Cat will only be here one day before returning south.  The boys came over to rope swing and draw until lunch.  After a typical long French lunch time, Philippe returned with the boys and all the kids went swimming.  Maxime, the 8 year old, is always wanting to push the envelope.   After I threw Nika in, he gestured his desire for the same treatment.

While we were talking, another boat came in and tried to anchor nearby.   We noticed it was a solo, older sailor on a large catamaran.   He seemed to be having some trouble getting the anchor down and moved continually between the windlass station and the steering station.  After his anchor set, he swung around and nearly hit a moored boat.   It was clear he would have to re-anchor.

Philippe, the outgoing type, zipped over and offered to give him a hand.   Next thing I see is Philippe driving, while the owner cranks the anchor up.   Turns out the poor guy bought one of those "you own it-we charter it and after 5 years you buy out the boat" kind of deals.   Only catch is now his wife refuses to come with him, so he's all by himself.    To add some salt to the wounds, he wrapped his big toe in the windlass which ripped his toenail completely off.  

Later, Philippe came over to describe the scene in broken English, "When I walked aboard I just see blood everywhere.  All over the deck it is red!  I am like 'ahhh!' (and he make his eyes a big as alien saucers)."   With Philippe's help, the guy got re-anchored in a much better (and conveniently farther from harm's way) spot.

Philippe invited us over for 'un apéro' (appetizers, Sundowner) and we visited until 8pm.  Both grandmothers are visiting for a few weeks.  The girls agreed that French grandmas are "just like American ones!" right down to the cool baggy pajamas.

 

Day 951 ~ A Bad Week for SwimmersApril 22nd, 2013

Went to town for wifi, gas and to do one load of laundry.  Came back hot to trot, the thought of a nice sail gets the old blood a pumping.   I was up front working on the anchor when Lisa heard a Mayday call on the VHF radio.

This is only the second or third time in as many years.   And, this time, it was all in French.

Turns out a cruiser anchored just behind us had lost track of his brother-in-law while snorkeling.  He had already been missing for an hour and a half when he hailed the French coast guard   In addition, a nice 15-20 knot breeze was blowing offshore.   A disabled swimmer would float a long way in an hour and a half.

We decided the fastest way to effect a search was to take the big boat straight downwind.   We headed due east 3 miles under motor power with all hands on deck and eyes pealed.  Returned the distance in a zigzag pattern for an hour and a half to no avail.  The coast guard sent a boat to search the coast and a helicopter made a few passes before continuing on.   It's times like these that you realize just how big even a little piece of the ocean really is.    The eyes go dizzy after a while.   We found a trash bag, and several other "white floating shapes" but none were human.  Eventually we had to make the decision to turn south and sail away.   Kind of left an empty pit inside.

Of course, statistically, the guy could have been downing a cold one at the beach bar and just hadn't bothered to tell anyone.  However, four hours later off the coast of our destination, the coast guard was overheard announcing their 'swimmer alert' indicating he was yet unacounted for.

Lively sail over all, saltwater spray even in the cockpit at times.  Found our cool spot had another boat, but were able to get in close to shore on the other end in 7, rather than 12, meters.  Being back in the Saints felt almost like coming home again.   The fast, free, wifi didn't hurt any either.

 

Day 950 ~ Happy EarsApril 21st, 2013

The day broke sunny and noticeably dryer.  Did the traditional Swedish pancakes for a start and then Lisa and I headed out for a dive.   The sunlight promised better colors and delivered.   My ears cooperated nearly perfectly this time.   The drop to 30 feet went fast with only a couple of painful points but which were quickly cleared.

In the end it was the chill that finally drove us back to the surface.  The top 5 feet of water is fairly warm, but below that it's 78 degrees which eventually takes a toll.

After we were back and the gear was washed down I took the girls over to the beach for a little off-boat time.   If they don't get some exercise, particularly Nika, things get a little crazy in the confined boat space.  Energy begins to radiate out of every pore.  Energy I so desperately need.

We were just puttering around the starboard stern when I noticed Lisa gesturing rapidly towards the water, our yellow life ring in her hand ready to throw.

She had been working inside and heard a cry that sounded like, "Papa!" pause, "Papa!!" over and over, each time sounding more panicky.   She had headed out and spotted swimmer bobbing around.   When she saw Lisa she cried out, Fatigué! Fatigué!"  (Tired! Tired!).   A snorkeler who was nearby swam over and took her arm, saving Lisa the clothed plunge into the velvet blue.

It was at this point when I puttered, clueless, around the corner.   Piecing it altogether, I zipped over and pulled up alongside the poor lady.  She was perhaps 40 and sheet white with a scared puppy dog look in her eye.  She let go of the other guy and did her best wet-kitten on a log scramble to get in the dinghy, nails and all.   Even with practice, that's not a graceful undertaking, so she quickly stalled one-third of the way up, but a lift to her arms was all it took and she was aboard and shaking.   "Merci, merci," was about all she could say.   Cold, tired and cramping a good 50 yards from shore is not a nice place to be.

We went back to the boat and got her a towel which was received gratefully, then we dropped her off at the beach.   Her husband hadn't heard anything and received her with a curious look which soon turned sober as she poured out her story.

Just about finished reading the girls the Lord of the Rings.   I thought of stopping for the day right as Frodo decided that wanting to keep the ring was a good idea.   You'd have thought there was a labor strike.

 

Day 949 ~ Continental CareersApril 20th, 2013

Rain, rain, rain.  Wind.  More rain.  Sad to see all that water go straight into the sea, but we topped off our water tanks in the first 20 minute downpour which hit just after midnight.  With no more storage capacity, all we could do is watch it run overboard and imagine the possibilities.  Cruisers harbor many an irrational fantasy about endless fresh water.

We spent our last Euros yesterday.  Today is Saturday and most of the stores close at noon.  The nearest bank is likely 50 km away in Basseterre and the only ATM is inside the nearest La Poste lobby which may or may not be close and may or may not be open on a weekend, French unionized workers being what they are.  

At 11am, Lisa and I decided to go for it because Sunday even less is open and for sure not the post office.  We dinghied to the grocery store complex where Lisa asked directions and we started off.  Periodically, we'd ask a local to be sure we were on the right track to which they'd respond, "under the mango tree", "center of town", "straight ahead" or "a little farther".

We have learned that a "little farther" can mean many miles to those that own and use cars routinely.   Things like, "the grocery is just over the hill" translated means, "the grocery is up this huge hill, up and down some smaller ones, 3 miles ahead."   This might be 4 minutes in a car, but is an hour plus walking.   Oh, and then you have to carry the groceries back.

The locals were unanimous though, La Poste was open on Saturday, at least until 'midi' (noon).  We have learned by now that all French careers are actually part-time.  What matters is wine, food and Facebook, in that order.

Eventually, we spotted the tell-tale yellow oval La Poste sign poking out of a building.  To our relief it was, in fact, open until 12pm, as it is every day except Sunday.   That's right, the Post Office in this town is open until noon six days a week.   That 6th day must have been a hard won concession by management.   I mean, c'mon, they open at 7:30 every morning and by noon the toiling air conditioned workers have been at it for, well, 4 and a half hours.   No wine or Facebook for 270 consecutive minutes!

A strike is probably pending.

Stepping outside, a rain cloud let loose so we dodged under the awning until it passed.  Looking up we noticed the world's largest mango tree.   Just like the lady had said.  Unfortunately they are still far to green to pick.  We stopped at a local market selling produce, hit both grocery stores and the bakery between rain bursts and amazingly managed to get back to our boat relatively dry.

I wanted to polish off the last half of our dive tank today in order to take advantage of the 4 Euro refills here at Pigeon Island (they charge 8 and 15 Euros in the Saintes), but it rained all the rest of the afternoon and into the evening.  Tough to get motivated.   Yes, I know that rain doesn't affect someone at the bottom of the sea but, let's face it, the flat light makes for blah diving and lower than usual Caribbean motivation.

Did dinner and before dessert Lisa got the urge to clean out the under-cockpit-floor nastiness and fruit fly birthing center.  Rain tends to feed the feminine spring-cleaning instinct which Lisa happens to hold in spades.   She wouldn't last long in a La Poste career.  I mean, think how bad all the rest of the workers would look?

 

Day 948 ~ Practical MathApril 19th, 2013

Started lessons as usual then I had an idea.   We used Legos to design an 8-plex and then assigned each girl a different set of expenses to compute on paper.   The Excel program will calculate all the costs and show how making certain changes would affect the overall cost picture.  We followed all by mocking up the design in Sketchup.   I wish I had the energy to do that kind of math every day.

I ran to town to for some wifi time and work/research.  As much as I love boating, it does feel good to get ashore sometimes.

Lisa and I went for another dive in the afternoon.   This time, my ears cooperated and cleared easily and quickly.   It was a blast.   The deeper you go, the more exotic the coral becomes.  Radical shapes and the most vibrant colors dizzy the brain until you look down at your hand and expect to be sprouting baby blue horns with electric blue eye shapes.   Lisa has gotten the white balance challenge almost licked, as you can see from her photo results.

 

Day 947 ~ Banana CrumbleApril 18th, 2013

Did the usual lesson and lunch routines.  The weather has been overcast and gusty with occasional heavy dumps of rain and hours of light Seattle style sprinkles.  Feels like there should be a Starbucks on every corner and 'Free Tibet' bumper stickers on the cars.

Wendy, from Infinity, had brought over a scrumptious banana crumble for Sunday's pow-wow.  Lisa and I really enjoyed something different so asked her for the recipe.   Oh, right, the Europeans use metric measures.   How much, exactly, is 225 grams of flour?  We have a kitchen scales, but it's packed deep in the trailer back home.   

Well, nothing to do but improvise a little.   The butter is sold here by grams as well, so we had a known standard to balance against.   Worked pretty well, as long as you keep the fulcrum right at 6 inches.

At Nika's insistence, we ate outside on the tramp.   She loves that.

 

Day 946 ~ Crazy American!April 17th, 2013

High winds all night and morning.  Lessons, rain spit, then Nina and I headed to town for some produce and staples.

After lunch, Lisa and I went diving so I could work on descending without ear pain.  Did well.  Got them equalized as far as about 17 feet.  I popped up from my fifth descent and decided that was enough for today's diving practice.   I slid my weight belt off and onto the dinghy pontoon, unsnapped the left arm of the Dan's old bouyancy compensator and weaseled out.   It's never a graceful thing getting from the water into the dink.  Flippers do help, but, regardless, there's a key point where your center of gravity teeters right at the tipping point.   Occasionally non-elegant body convulsions, wiggles and grunts accompany this critical moment.

I rolled in, snorkel flopping and fins flailing.   Turning, I heaved the B/C and tank up and over as well; the emergency regulator got caught on the lip of the dinghy rubrail and just about threw off my balance.   A near miss.

The dive boat to which we were rafted was now re-populated with their clients.   An older guy with chestnut skin, a 36 hour stubble beard and long gray streaked hair was watching me, he wore a partial smile.  An amused glint sparkled in his coal black eyes.

He said something in French, to which I shrugged.   "You, Open Water diver?" he asked in good, clear English.

"No", I replied.  "Just practicing."

He looked confused.   Then, seeing my 16lb's of weight belt, he offered, "Zat is far too much weight for you."

I mock-laughed and added, "Yes, and I have 3 more kilos in my pocket but still had a hard time getting down."

He eyes widened.  'Weights in pockets - this guy is nuts,' crossed his face.   He paused for a moment.

Noticing my regulator set-up, "You have that on backwards," he pointed out.   "Needs must be turn zee ozer way." 

I shrugged nonchalantly.   I have heard the ongoing debates between PADI and European divers about right hand versus left hand release, emergency regulator configuration and the advantages of the Dutch valve.   My take-home on all the jibberish is that the French like it one way and PADI (the American school) teaches just the opposite.

A look of concern crosses his face, "You need instructor.  Diving alone eez dangerous!"

The fact that Lisa was with me the whole time crossed my mind as a relevant point, but now she was off diving solo so I figured there wasn't much point in muddling the pie further by suggesting that we never dive solo.

"Nothing to do, but give it another try tomorrow," I countered, sticking my finger into my right ear and giving it a good joggle.  His face showed alarm.  Then he shook his head and muttered a few words in French.  He probably got some laughs with his friends over the "clueless American guy who dives backwards with double weight and that ALL ALONE.  Only Americans can be that crazy!"

I decided that mentioning I had gone down the 5th time with less than 300psi in my tank, well below the "red line" would only convince him I was certifiable.   I hope that's not the case, yet.

Once Lisa surfaced, we puttered away and took advantage of the 4 Euro fill at the beach near us (8 and 15 are the Saintes' only options).  The girls and I then headed ashore for some energy expension before dinner.

 

Day 945 ~ Gone like an AvalancheApril 16th, 2013

We got lessons going in the morning and were making good progress when Jake hailed us on VHF 68.   "It looks like we have a complication."   The weather is deteriorating and he is under strict wifely orders to get back to Antigua in time for her flight back to the grandchild kingdom.   Jake is clearly disappointed, but suggests they get in two quick dives with enough time for him to make a start by mid-afternoon.

It's a heavily overcast day, but they go for it anyway.    Lisa gets some outstanding underwater photographs, the practice is certainly paying off.   She's not back for a half hour before we see Avalanche tacking cleanly northward.

I took the girls to the beach for some off-boat exercise.   It's like pulling teeth getting them going when there aren't other boat kids to play with, but they always have fun once they are ashore and piling sand.

 

Day 944 ~ BacktrackingApril 15th, 2013

Tax day, but Lisa e-filed them yesterday so it so was a non-event.  There is a plus side to making no money, taxes are a snap and the outcome is always sunny.   Someone once said, "if you subsidize poverty and failure you will get more of both."   Not sure we qualify as impoverished, or even a failure, but income taxes sure don't encourage a guy to rejoin the working masses.

Jake, from Avalanche, stopped by to invite Lisa to join him on several dives back in Guadeloupe so, after discussing it, we decided that 27 miles backward was worth the opportunity for her (not to mention that Jake has his own compressor for refilling the tanks making each dive virtually free). 

We converted the condo back into a sailboat in decent time, albeit with a touch of haze leftover from last night's social mania (8 kids + pasta + dessert = insanity).   We upped the anchor about 8:15am and enjoyed sailing with the current and prevailing winds which whip around the southern corner of Guadeloupe with a vengeance.

Good sail.  23 knots (27 miles) distance, 11.2 top speed.

Arrived about 2pm and got re-anchored in our favorite spot.   Jake zipped over to pick Lisa up about 3pm.   They enjoyed a wall dive to 109', a new record for this homeschool mom.

 

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Day 943 ~ Dinner for the GangApril 14th, 2013

Sunday Swedish pancakes morning.   These things just taste better with French eggs.   Go figure.

Lazy day overall.  Stayed around the boat.  I took kids to the the beach with Evenstar and Infinity and read more Nana Karenina in the shade.  Tolstoy was in a league all his own.  Lisa stayed home to enjoy some quiet peace in the shade.  We both needed a sun break.  She didn't seem to be lonely when we returned.

We invited Evenstar and Infinity over for dinner; such is the duty of catamaran owners.  We're really the only ones who have the space.  I cooked up four boxes of pasta and the other boats brought desserts and garlic bread.   "Why not bring a salad?" would be the usual thing to say, but finding, not to mention keeping, fresh lettuce aboard is nearly impossible at times.  You may as well ask for a bag of gold.

 

Day 942 ~ Where's da Boat?April 13th, 2013

Wearing fewer clothes definitely cuts down on the laundry demands, but eventually the day comes.   It's been almost exactly one month since the last run, so there's not much to complain about.

To add insult to injury, it hasn't rained any appreciable amount in weeks.  Every day is sunny and blue-bird clear with little sugar puff clouds floating past like lost balloons from a giant marshmallow wedding in Africa.  Nice for the tan, but it means our water tanks are nearly dry.  We could run an engine for a few hours and make water, but that sounds about as enticing as setting up a generator in your bedroom.  Maybe not.

So, into the dink went three bags of garbage, 4 of laundry and a tidy stack of water jugs.

I dropped Lisa off at the dock nearest the "laundromat".   This affair turned out to be nothing more than a wifi bar with two tiny euro-sized washers and a dryer tucked behind the cashier.   Not to mention that the washing machine was leaking at a decent rate, a glacially slow but persistent puddle crept out towards the waiting area reflecting more of the ceiling every time I stopped by to check on things.

I had the garbage disposed of and basic staples shopped for by about noon.  I swung by to see how Lisa was making out at Dribble & Wait.   Being cheeseball home machines, the washer takes like an hour and a half per load.  Really?!

Lisa had just started her final load when I arrived to find her a little steamed around the collar.   What's the matter dear?  They are closing for two hours for lunch.  What?  Now?  Yes.  What about our laundry?  We'll have to come back for it after 2:30.   You're kidding?   Nope.

Ouch.  Apparently, we aren't quick learners.  We have been burned a few times already with the universal mid-day French strike.  Work-is-overrated seems to be the message and I guess if the entire culture is on the same wavelength then what's the point of staying open?  Everyone would be home eating lunch anyway, right?   Uh, yeah.

The supermarket closes at 12:30 (enough time to get your baguette) and doesn't re-open until 3:30pm.    Now that's a lunch break.

So, our laundry was hostage.  The lady politely kicked us out and locked the place down.   I mean who would need internet and a cold beer at 1pm?

We could stand around in the hallway for 2 hours or just go home and off-load our take so far, 200 liters of water and two loads of wet laundry, not to mention the baguettes, of course.  So, we puttered home.

About 3pm we zipped back with an empty dinghy and full tummies.  The French way, I guess.  When I told the guy at the dock that I needed 200 liters of water, he looked at me quizzically, "Where's da boat?"

"Right here", I responded, pointing to the Purple Streak.

"No, I mean the boat for da water?"

"Wait and see."

He dragged the hose over as I unfolded 'un sac de l'eau' (a water sack).  His eyes got big.  "Hey blah, blah sac," gesturing to his friend who ambled over and stared in wide-eyed wonder.  Crazy Americans.

I took all of 200 liters and more.  Lisa wrapped up the laundry and we sloshed back home.

Checking email, we now have a camel coming from Alaska.  A friend from home just booked her tickets to visit so we'll be in smoothie/lime ice business again in a month and a half.

 

Day 941 ~ Blender BustApril 12th, 2013

We decided to suspend lessons this morning in favor of some physical education.  We joined the Infinity for a hike up to La Croix and Bois Joli, the nearest little island peak.  It was scattered with goats, young and old, the future stock pot for the locals' favorite dish, goat curry.   We  checked out the Beach at Anse Crawen on the opposite side afterwards.   

Back for lunch, then to the beach to play.

The local hotel seems generous with their ice.  We have walked up to the bar several times with our little ice container and had it gladly filled, no charge.  This time, they sent me up to the restaurant who returned it full of ice, but of the large, square block kind.  I didn't think much of it at the time.  Rushed back to the boat with the precious bin wrapped in a towel and promptly started juicing some limes.  Dumped the ice in and turned on the blender.  A growling sound came out.  The large ice cubes were jamming the blades.   Hmmm.

Tried some jostling and shaking.  No dice.  Tried again but heard a terrible, heart sinking sound, a grinding noise followed by the whine of the motor going full speed.   The blender - to - motor connection had stripped out completely.  Hearts sank.  

Google soon found that the part is common and inexpensive to replace.   Only one catch, these parts are thousands of miles away.   Anyone want to bring one down?

 

Day 940 ~ Charter Crew ChewApril 11th, 2013

Did the usual morning of lessons and such.   Jake from Avalanche invited Lisa for another dive which she couldn't resist.   Jake is not only gregarious and generous, but he has a dive compressor aboard.   Kind of like the cool kid in school who always had Oreos in his lunch box, a cruiser with a compressor is sure to have friends.

When I went over to retrieve Lisa's tank later that afternoon, I got the nickel tour of Avalanche, a custom French built aluminum center-board cutter that, despite being 20 years old, is stunning and beautiful.   Sadly, after 17 years of ownership, Jake's facing the fact that it's time to sell.   Here's a video.  "The reality is that the grandkids are getting more and more important to us.   We just don't want to leave them anymore."  

The kids ended up taking Sea Pearl towards Evenstar with the intention of picking up 12 year old, Danielle.  I glanced out towards them and saw trouble.  A charter boat with only two older folks aboard had attempted to anchor and were now dragging down straight towards Evenstar.

I zipped over and told the Sea Pearl crew to divert them directly to shore and then watched the madness unfold.  The charter boat attempted to raise their anchor, thus hooking Evenstar's chain.   Their anchor formed a hook, which allowed the charter boat to slide downwind along the chain, insuring an imminent collision.   The Evenstar crew was virtually helpless, their only option to tie on bumpers and hope for the best.

As the poor charterer, clearly dazed and confused, saw he was about to T-bone himself onto a 26 ton monohull, he panicked and jammed the throttles into full forward.  Evenstar's 1/2" chain was piano tight already with the combined forces of both boats pulling on it.   As the engines spooled up, you could see the charter boat start to move forward and scrape over the silvery steel thread.    We all collectively cringed as the unmistakable sounds of fiberglass scraping over iron resonated along the chain like a guitar string.   Then the charter's port propeller made contact.

The sound was a gut-wrenching combination of jack-hammer meets car hood with a touch of steel drum.  You could put some flattened aluminum cans in your blender, if the urge took you there, to get the general sensation.

BJ, Evenstar's dad and captain, held his head in his hands.  There was nothing else to do.  The prop is made of aluminum so, in theory, the chain would always win, but that's little consolation.

The drastic measures did have some effect.   The charter boat surged forward while letting out their chain.  This avoided a collision by what appeared to be mere inches, but the chains and anchors remained entangled.   The charter boat ended up swinging all the way around Evenstar while still being connected to their chain.   It took another half hour unwrap the spiderweb.   Just another relaxing day in paradise.

 

Day 939 ~ Gas HikeApril 10th, 2013

After breakfast, Lisa and I left the girls with their lessons and headed to town.  Found the produce market, baguette shop and grocery stores actually open.

Getting fuel on these islands, however, gives a new name to the term, "gas hike".  We made some inquiries and were told that there is one station on the island, but it has a small catch:  it's only accessible by boat.  I was incredulous.  Surely, there must be a mistake.  A tourist island crawling with taxis, rental vehicles and hotel shuttles and the only gas requires a boat ride to obtain?  You're kidding.

Nope.   Turns out there is a goat trail over the mountain and through the wood.  We were up for a bit of adventure so went for it.  We asked for directions a couple of times just to be sure we didn't get lost.  No one seems concerned, or embarrassed, or put out by their only gas station being in an isolated hovel.

Good thing because the 'path', more appropriately described as a goat trail along the cliff, was not abundantly obvious and there was no sign. Do all local vehicle owners do this?

Once we got there, Lisa asked the gas station manager what people do who own cars.  The proprietor replied, "jerry cans!"  He then said that he will transport it by boat to the nearest beach if they can't get to him with a jug. 

On the way out, we spotted Infinity whose kids were jumping up and down, waving and blowing their fog horn to get our attention.  They had just arrived from Dominica to check in.  They came over to our anchorage later that evening.

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The total surface is 12.8 km2 (4.9 sq mi).  It is a dependency of Guadeloupe, which, in turn, is an overseas department and region of France. Terre-de-Haut: 1,838 inhabitants was the average between 1999 and 2006, with 693 households.  You'd think they'd have a gas station accessible by road.

 

Day 938 ~ Graphics GaloreApril 9th, 2013

Started the day right with some American pancakes, heavy on the eggs for the protein content.  Funny, back at home I never really though much about trying to feed the kids enough of this or that; it just sort of happened.   Now, it's constantly on the brain.  It would be so easy to just live here on baguettes and butter.

To add pressure, Nana has turned into a voracious eater of late.  Normally the nibbler in the family, something must be going on in her not-so-little-body and I suspect a growth spurt is dawning.  She is now wolfing down twice what she ate just a few months ago and moaning throughout the day of being "soooo hungry!"   Part of me wishes she really knew what that feels like and the other part is glad she never has.

Nina is doing graphing in math, again.   I thought her hand-drawn bar graphs were very attractive.   She doesn't know yet what Excel can really do for her in that department.   Her computer era, I sense, is drawing near.   I swore "no computer" until she was at least 12, figuring that if she lost her childhood staring at flatscreens she would be a little resentful after the discovery that she'd be doing it most of her adult life as well.  "Gee thanks, Dad!"

The girls paddled Sea Pearl off to the beach in the late afternoon for some much needed off-boat time.   Who, exactly, needed it more, we won't hazard to guess.

 

Day 937 ~ Moving Up in the WorldApril 8th, 2013

Rain came though in the morning so we managed to collect some water.  The currents rip through these cuts between islands.  Each tidal change makes the boats in this back corner swing all different ways.  I had gone out last night to check on Sea Pearl only to see our British neighbors, Toots, so close I could have jumped aboard.   They had swung our way and we had swirled their way.   No one wants any contact but, since they are aluminum, everyone knows who would win.

By about 9am, the anchorage was nearly empty.   All boats had departed except Toots right next door and another behind us.  I also noticed that the Canadian boat, which had been monopolizing the choicest spot tucked up in the lee of Pain de Sucre (a huge rock protrusion) about a half mile to the east and north, had finally left.  After a quick consultation with the First Mate, we decided to go for the move, again. 

Our chain is severely twisted for the last ten meters or so which causes the chain to jump out of the gypsy and clatter back down.   Huge headache and serious danger to stray fingers.  

It's a touchy anchorage.

Still deep, but found a 10 meter spot as opposed to 13 where we just came from.  Just after we reset the anchor, Toots pulled their hook and sailed away.  Ah well.

The girls buckled down to lessons, and I to work.  Later, Lisa and I dinghied to town for a few grocery items and to unload trash and to see about postcard stamps (after 2 weeks, we finally managed to catch the post office open).  On the return trip, we stopped in the middle of the channel to snorkel the small reef that was recommended by another cruiser.  The current was quite swift so, instead of tying off the dinghy to the buoy, we held onto the painter and drifted with it.

 

Day 936 ~ Baguette ExpressApril 7th, 2013

Started the day right with a steaming stack of Swedish Pancakes.   You'd think that after 15 years of Sundays, I'd pretty much have the recipe perfected by now.  In reality, after 700 batches, things keep changing.  Not sure if it's the pure cane sugar, or the french eggs laid by socialized, unionized and properly rested chickens that make the difference but, lately, our batches have been better than ever.

We are really liking the Saintes and Guadeloupe, but our propane situation is a concern.  We have American style bottles and are unsure if there are any facilities within reach for a refill.  So, while homemade bread is great, and healthier by far, Nana and I sailed to town in Sea Pearl to liberate some baguettes.  I was not overly fond of these French loaves back in Alaska, but I guess people who run sled dogs just don't have what it takes to make a killer baguette.  These people do.  We found "the place" with the best baguettes ever.  Now they recognize us on sight. 

We made good time on one long tack up the bay in a stiff breeze.  The dolphins were back weaving their way between moored boats.  We chased them a for a tack or two, then slipped up onto the beach just steps behind the "boulangerie" (bakery).  We were dangerously close to high noon, when nary a baguette can be found in town.  We discovered four remaining but another lady was eyeing them as well so we split the difference and returned home with a duo.  Fortunately, it was downwind so we ran little risk of returning with a salt-soaked sponge for lunch.

Played several rounds of Uno then took to the water for some refreshment.  Girls capped off the evening by doing dishes for Mom.   How cool is that?!

 

Day 935 ~ Goat HotelApril 6th, 2013

Met an American boat, Island Cat, with a 14 year old girl and 16 year old boy.  They're out for just a year and making tracks north but ended up stayed on an extra day, which had our boat-kid deprived young'ns smiling.

Got up and cracking early so we could hike the nearby Îlet à Cabrit before it got too hot.   We invited Paul and Julia from Island Cat who were happy to stretch their legs as well.   Explored the fort and walked to the hotel ruins on the eastern knob.  The hotel, now only occupied by squatters of the capra aegagrus hircus type, was built around 1950 in a stunning concrete box.   So enlightening.   Turns out a tourism investor leased the land for 99 years but now only the goats enjoy the view.   If they would just make proper use of the bathrooms.

After some lunch, all five kids went to the beach and played for a while.   Paul is a 16 year old boat boy.   Meaning he is open, talkative and happy to play with 10 year old girls or carry on a two-way conversation with an adult.   Imagine that.

 

Day 934 ~ 'Cuda AttackApril 5th, 2013

Felt the need to get off the boat and exercise a little, so Lisa dropped me off at the nearby dock.   Had to hike two-thirds of the way to town before finding the road which wound up to the peak.   It was steep, but paved nearly all the way to the top.  The peak was crowned with, guess what?  A fort.  Another remnant of a bygone era complete with slits for firing muskets down on invaders.  The airplane changed everything.

An American kid boat anchored behind us last night.  They came over to say hello.  Their kids are 14 and 16, but are only out for one year, 365 short days.   They plan to leave tomorrow.

Nina and I tacked our way to town in Sea Pearl for some baguettes and eggs.  As we approached the harbor, the same dolphin pair we had seen a few days ago crossed our path.  We made it to the boulangerie and the grocery store just minutes before they closed.  The post office was a different matter, we were 15 minutes too late.  Must be pretty nice to work for an operation that includes 3 hour lunch breaks.

Returned several hours later.  Girls went swimming with the American kids while Lisa and I checked out another Lagoon 47, built one year later than ours, anchored in the bay nearby.  Their English isn't to good so Lisa helped to translate.  They work in Guadeloupe and now live on their boat full-time.  Interesting to see both similarities and differences between the two cats and some improvements made in just one year.  I did discover why I have so much trouble with our main sheet (the line that controls the main sail).  Theirs has a stopper and the spot on ours has been fiberglassed over.  I now have some re-rigging plans that should make life better.

Nana and Nika were bitten by the fishing bug just before dinner.   They fished and fished and then I heard a howl of dismay.  Nika burst into tears.  Her favorite lure, a recent birthday present was gone.   "Did you feel a bite?" I asked with concern.  Huff, huff, swallow, "No I never felt a thing..."   Burst of new tears.

I examined the line.   It was gnarled and frayed in several places.   

"Well, sometimes fishermen lose gear; it happens.  At least you were trying and didn't just drop it overboard.  Let's keep fishing."  I hooked her up with another of her new lures, a green swimmer.  She dropped it overboard, we looked down as it sank into the blue haze.   Then, like Darth Vader behind a veil of black smoke, the immense shadow of a four foot barracuda shot into view, straight towards the latest slave offering.  Now we know what happened to lure #1.

Nika panicked and jerked her line out of the water.   She's a shrewd enough boat kid to know that you don't tackle big 'Cudas with 8lb test.

 

Day 933 ~ Anchoring in VainApril 4th, 2013

This cooler, overcast weather does wonders for a guy's motivation.   Up and at 'em about 6:15 and felt the need for some exploring.   Lisa and I dinghied about a mile to Îlet à Cabrit to hike up to Fort Joséphine (formerly known as Fort de la Reine).   A nicely kept park with extensive walking trails and plenty of old ruins, including a little jail.  Many stone structures still stand, at least partially, along with some newer ones that remain in excellent shape.   The French had their idiosyncrasies, but knew a thing or two about stone building and, evidently, loved their forts.

We raced back to the boat, trying to outrun sheets of rain that we could see sweeping in from the East.   Got back just as the larger drops started to fall.   Managed to fill both water tanks with rain, a first in what seems like forever.  I think it happened once in February as well.   Once it stopped, we saw what looked like a more protected opening so tried to move closer into the lee of Sugar Loaf point.  However, it turned out though that there was just too much depth close into shore to make it doable.   At least, to my comfort level of having tons of scope.   Several other boats anchored there later in the day, but if the wind flips around, they are going to be up on the beach.

Ended up re-anchoring in even deeper waters than we had just come from.   This did not make for a happy skipper, but the anchor seemed to set well, so it's probably a wash in the end.

 

 

Day 932 ~ Dolphin EncounterApril 3rd, 2013

I was out on the patio finishing off my bowl of Birch Mirch (a recipe we got from Jaru consisting of equal parts of almonds, oatmeal and coconut) when I heard the unmistakable sound of a marine mammal drawing breath just off the port side.   I dashed out, and there were two very large dolphins slowly making their way into the bay almost close enough to touch.    "Dolphins!" I hollered.

The girls came stamping out in time to see them fairly close.  These may be the same pair which Jake, on Avalanche, witnessed swimming with snorkelers several days ago.   The larger of the two was a huge, full size Sea World plus.   Must be some sardines in the area.

Later, Lisa and I went to town for water, a dive tank fill and a grocery run.  Saw several water spouts on the return trip.

 

Day 931 ~ Paddling UpstreamApril 2nd, 2013

Tackled lessons and some client work first thing in the morning.   Baked a couple of loaves of bread to supplement our dwindled baguette supply.   Came out pretty good, actually, considering we've been out of practice for several months.

It blew like snot all day, but I had the itch to get out and do something.  So the girls and I rigged Sea Pearl with her new anchor and we tried to paddle upwind to the nicest beach.   It was tougher than I imagined.   Instead, we angled off and bailed out at the nearest beach where we dropped our anchor and swam off the boat for a while.   The girls ended up at the beach collecting precious sea glass, broken bits of pottery and "interesting" sticks.   Exciting!

 

Day 930 ~ Local CustomsApril 1st, 2013

Was sitting in the cockpit helping Nana with her math when a powerboat slowly throbbed by.  I glanced out from under the awning.  Three uniformed Glock-toting officers, who looked like they meant business, floated past.  Our dinghy was up, so our name and home port were covered.   They hollered to us in English asking for our boat name and home port.   Lisa yelled back and the one inside with a computer typed something.  The boat puttered away; no boarding, no interruptions, no mess, no bumpers.   Perhaps the French really are an advanced civilization.

Speaking of advanced, they certainly know how to grow plantains that are worth eating.   Back home, about 1 out of 4 plantains come out tasting like something other than a really bad potato.   So far, with Guadeloupe plantains, we are batting 1000%, about 24 for 24.   They just keep coming out perfect.   Nika is even wolfing them down now, and that's saying something.   They work well with brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, but lately we have just been doing butter, a pinch of sugar and squeezing a lime over them.   Shazaam!  They come out fantastic every time.

Did some computer work in the morning, then swam with the girls in the afternoon.  Nika had an itch to fish, so we wetted our lines for a half an hour or so.   I landed a little needle fish, perhaps a foot long but with the thickness of a small hot dog.   Poor guy gave up quite a fight before I finally got him off.   Nana, who used to be the fishing queen, has now developed more "refined" sensibilities.   When I suggested the best way to catch a fish would be to rig this guy with a hook and put him back in, Nana shrieked, "That's cruel!"    So, overboard went the world's finest live bait.