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  • Writer's picturePeter

Back to France

The last of the Windward Islands we are visiting is Martinique - which is France in every way and a part of the European Union, though not a part of Europe.

It feels a little odd to pay for things in Euros, and have no exemption as a “boat in transit” to avoid French VAT. The upside is that you can buy good croissants, pain au chocolate and a baguette for breakfast, there is a good infrastructure, the shops and supermarkets are well stocked with good produce at very reasonable “European” prices.

The local markets are filled with regional produce, some we see in Europe and some we do not. Crabs are currently in season, so there is an abundance of these crustaceans trying to climb out of their cages. We still have quite a volume of food remaining from our stocking up before the Atlantic Crossing, so there is not a lot that we need to buy. Our interest is mainly in fresh fruit and vegetables and probably a few extra bottles of wine for those evenings where we watch the sun go down (that is almost every evening).

The main objective for visiting Martinique was to fix the 2 x failed auto pilots. I had pre-warned the Raymarine representatives that I was coming and managed to secure 2 x new clutches from stock. The repair time was only an hour – it was just a question of fitting into the representatives’ time schedule.

Friday was the repair day and as soon as the first one was ready, I picked it up and installed it straight away. A quick calibration ensured me that it was again working correctly. The second one was picked up on the following morning, packaged and stored on the boat, hopefully with no need to see the light of day for many years to come.

The auto pilot was tested for a number of hours as we sailed from “Le Marin” to “Fort de France” – all worked well, so we hope that this is the end of this problem. We actually heard from our friends on “Avalon” (Gert and Judith) that they also had a similar problem last year and they destroyed 3 x clutches before they understood the problem of 12/24v output on the control box and the clutch requirement of 12v.

We have had a lovely time with our Viking friends from Embla (Viveka and Eric) who seem to be staying at the same marinas as we are on many occasions without any planning or agreement to be “together”.

Some time ago, my roller furling line for the genoa broke about 5m from the end. It is one of those things that happen when you are using an electric winch with a huge amount of power and you are not paying full attention to what you are doing. A new furling line of 30 metres is about €150, so I replaced it at the next opportune moment. Unfortunately, in a moment, trying to finish off before lunch, I cut it to length at the wrong spot – exactly where the previous one had broken. It was again replaced and much more care was taken for cutting to the correct length – however, it seems that although it is longer, it is still shorter than it should be. Being a little tired of spending money on rope that I keep cutting short, Ingrid (now known as one of the Splice Girls) had the brilliant idea of splicing 2 ropes together to lengthen the “short” furling line.

I am a little hesitant to start such a project without any splicing experience, but our Viking, Erik, has a book, splicing kit and had done this once before – and we had a hot knife and a rope that needed splicing- so what could go wrong ??

Splicing, like knot tying, depends on the friction between 2 pieces of rope to retain maximum strength and keep the pieces together. Splicing is considered as a stronger option than a knot as a standard knot may reduce rope strength by more than 50%. A knot will also increase the size of the rope and prevent it from free flow across obstructions.

3 hours after starting we had almost finished with 2 x 14mm diameter rope spliced together. There was a lot of hammering, pulling, “milking” and effort from 3 winches at the same time into separating inner cores from outer cores and then putting one inside the other and pulling it all tight again. The pulling tight and inserting "fat" inner cores into the outer braiding proved to be the most difficult and almost impossible. Books and you tube videos make it look so easy !

The end result was almost OK, but the increased outside diameter at the point of splice was such that the rope would not pass through the line stoppers. The process did however increase my usable rope length by about 2 metres, which is better than nothing. Although, I am not sure if the effort of 3 people for 3 hours was worth the end result.

Tenacious Spice Girl, Ingrid, however has a better idea – let us try it again and learn from our mistakes. Though I was not a 100% willing victim, the idea did make sense while everything was still fresh in our minds. The following morning, we took 2 lengths of 12mm rope (that new roller furling rope that was previously cut too short) and we attacked. Well, with a clever splice girl as director, we managed to splice together the 2 lengths of rope in about 2 hours – which is a significant improvement on yesterdays effort.

Now I have a 50m long length of rope that I need to use to replace the current furling rope – I hope to be able to cut this to the correct length (3rd time lucky) next time we are in a marina and have time to make the change. The first time I changed the furling line, I “lost” a critical item in the water (read our last year’s blog on Menorca), so I am cautious of what needs to be done and when is the best time to do it.

Our exploration in Martinique took us to the Fort of Fort de France – Fort Luis, one of many designed by Vauban. Our guided tour gave a great summary of the history of Martinique and the politics of France and Europe at the time. There were excellent views of the city from the ramparts and encounters with the local iguana population. Young Thomas, our French/Creole speaking tour guide, did his first ever “only English” tour for us. He actually had the option for English, Dutch or Swedish, so his own choice was to do it in English. He also had a Tour Guide English test the following day, so our assistance, coaching and support was of value to him and his level of confidence.

The city has a good mix of old and new, with a (metal) library constructed at the same time as the Tour Eifel and brought to the island after the great exhibition of Paris. The cathedral has a metal spire to keep in with the ideas of architecture at the time and there are a series of murals painted on the walls of some houses around the city which are impressive in their art and messages.

After Fort de France we had a great sail to the bay of St Pierre, this is the place of the last volcanic eruption of 1902 when the town and most ships in the bay were wiped out. On arrival we have no obvious volcanic activity, so we have finally used our repaired anchor assembly. The anchor was dropped in 8m of water and has held us firm for the day and night without any dragging. Anchoring confidence is now increasing again, it is just the other idiots around us who we need to watch out for.

Tonight we are invited for dinner on Greyhound with Marie and Dietmar – come before it gets dark they said – we are not sure if this is for our sundowners or just to make sure we find their boat which is about 10 minutes dinghy ride from us. They are already heading south with final destination, Trinidad, where their boat will stay for the hurricane season whilst we continue for another 5/6 week north before heading for Bonaire.

Basically, Hurricane Season is now on everyones mind and where is the best and safest place to be for this period of time. We are all thinking about the small print of our insurance policies, the costs of staying in any location, the flights "home" and where we are best positioned to start sailing for the next season.

Much more on this topic on our next blog.

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