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Visitors - Of a different kind


It had to happen, but we kept putting it off to a more opportune moment – that surprisingly enough, never presented itself. Finally, when we were almost out of time, we managed to turn our boat for 2 “live-aboards” back into a boat for 2 live-aboards and comfortable accommodation for two non-sailing friends (Barbara and Jerry, visiting from Oman).

The aft cabin was changed from a garage, sail loft and spares warehouse to a luxury cabin for two and the smaller middle cabin was re-organised to look like a cabin, though it remained a sail loft and a general “big item” storage area. You would be amazed to see what can be stored in a small space.


Whilst still in Martinique, we stocked up on important, hard to get and correctly priced items such as wine


and beer and also some juice, sparkling water, almond milk, crisps (chips), cheese and sausage. With friends who would presumably stay for the planned 2 weeks, we thought this was a very practical and economic idea.

As an example, the cheapest, hardly drinkable wine in The Grenadines (our sailing destination) was 2 to 3 times more expensive than an ordinary bottle in Martinique and crisps were 3 to 4 times more expensive. Items such as cheese and sausage would be just unobtainable, so we stocked up as best as we could.

This would only leave us to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables and bread which is usually available though sometimes at elevated prices, depending on where you look. Basically, foraging for food can be fun in the less well trodden corners of the world.


Our plan was to sail short distances as Barbara nor Jerry were not “seasoned sailors” and we wanted a fun and relaxed time for everyone. As a meeting point, we chose Bequia – this island, in the Island Nation of St Vincent and The Grenadines, has a great natural harbour and our chosen destinations of Mustique, Canouan and Tobago Cays were all within a few hours sail.

We would arrive in Bequia at our leisure – only a 17-hour direct sail (with a good weather window) from Martinique and they would arrive by plane; Muscat to Dubai, Amsterdam, London, Barbados and finally to Bequia – a little more than 17 hours for them. Whoever said that flying is the fastest way to travel - it just depends on where you want to go.

The crystal clear waters of Bequia’s Admiralty Bay welcomed us as we moored up two days in advance of our friends arrival. The local vendors of water, diesel, ice, fish and lobster were frequently at our door and trying to persuade us to buy their supplied products. Our favourite was the lobster man who came regularly to see if we could be tempted. In our honourable policy of supporting local business and the local economy, we did end up with a number of fresh lobster and fish dinners (I did not say that everything here was expensive and hard to get.).


Our first sail from Bequia to Mustique was probably the roughest and most uncomfortable sail we have done all season, typical ! With 1.5 to 2 metre waves rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean, initially directly against us, and then on our beam as we rounded the headland at the northern tip of Bequia, after which we could take our direct line towards Mustique. Our 14 nautical mile passage was made with a lot of rolling which gave the famous “washing machine feeling”. I think we were all a little relieved as we rounded the final point and found the calm and flat waters on Britannia Bay where we would spend the next 3 days on a mooring buoy.

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our walks along the fantastic, white sandy beaches and the amazing azure and turquoise waters. We visited the famous “Basils’ Bar” and ate at what I consider is the best restaurant in the Caribbean. The Cotton House has exquisite food and an ambiance that just makes me want to stay there forever. Beautiful wooden floors, tasteful decorations, art work and a very friendly welcome makes the restaurant and bar a really cosy place to be.



On a sportier side of our activity, we found that the best snorkelling was in Tobago Cays. Here, we saw turtle after turtle grazing on the sea grass and many sting rays sifting the soft sand in the search for small worms and crustacea to eat. They seemed to be unperturbed by our presence and continued their meals without a thought for us. Each ray had a number of reef fish waiting for their free lunch as the sifting and bottom disturbing activity dislodged the marine life into the open water. It was lovely to see the ecosystem at work.








We had our chance to feast on the local lobster, yes, again lobster, what lack of imagination from the hosts ! This was at the quite famous evening beach BBQ island where crews from all boats eat at least once during their visit to Tobago Cays. Our host, Kojak, who seemed to be the owner and organiser, took great care of us and made sure we had plenty to eat !







We had an unusual “visitor” one evening, which makes an interesting story, one that I would think may be more common amongst cruisers than it actually is. Jerry, who was preparing the fruit for our breakfast (visitors have to be given some jobs) came up on deck with a strange expression on his face. He “wanted to show me” a banana that was in the fruit basket inside the galley. It has a large hole, about 10cm long and looked quite frightening for a banana that did not have a hole in it the day before. My immediate thought was that some large insect or maggot had eaten its way out of the banana and was either still in the banana or somewhere on the loose in the galley. Not wanting to frighten Ingrid or our guests, I took the banana and threw it overboard as quickly as I could. I really did not want to come face to face with the beast that made such a large hole and hoped it was still inside the banana.

 

Ingrid thought it was a fruit bat – but how could a fruit bat be flying and eating fruit inside our galley ? My experience of fruit bats in West Africa were beasts with a wing span of greater than a metre. However, it was a good enough explanation and not wishing to cause alarm with my real thoughts, I was happy to keep quiet.


A short while later, when we were in Marigot Bay, I placed some fruit and veg (bananas, mangos and cucumbers), which we had just purchased, in our outside hanging baskets. The next morning, we found a similar sized hole in our ripest banana and also bite marks on the mangos. Underneath the basket was a splattering of what we presume was bat poo. So, it really must have been a bat flying and feeding on our fruit inside our galley and feeding on the fruit we had left outside. Clearly these are not veggie bats as the cucumbers were completely untouched.

Our unwanted visitors story came to a safe conclusion for me as this was the proof that there really was not a massive cockroach or maggot still lurking in our boat. Though we were warned by an ER nurse from Boston to be most careful of bat bites as they can be very dangerous. Between a bat and a cockroach of the same size, I think I prefer the bat, but we are extra careful now that we are better informed. In addition, no fruit is on display to tempt unwelcome visitors in known fruit bat areas.

 

Atmospheric conditions varied through these few weeks. At the beginning of the visit we were fortunate enough to see two green flashes with Barbara and Jerry as the sun set perfectly in Admiralty Bay. Then there was a period of unwelcome winds from The Sahara that covers everything in a red dust that is difficult to wash out from ropes, flags, sails and any canvas material. Fortunately, it was not a bad as our earlier experiences in Gibraltar and in Sicily where there was a much thicker layer of dust that turned to red mud with the rains. The dust caused the sky to be a pale yellow – almost like a cold winter’s day in northern Europe where the sun is only partially seen through the clouds.

As we arrived in Marigot Bay the dust was finally clearing and once again, we had some lovely sunsets. On our second evening we met 2 young girls from Boston who had never seen or heard of a green flash. We explained that they should look at the very last point of light from top of the setting sun as it passes over the horizon – and if you are fortunate then there will be a green flash. Well, they were lucky – and so were we as we saw a green flash for this and the subsequent evening.

 

We had heard many stories of friends visiting and passing their expiry date sooner than expected in the small and confined spaces of a sailing boat and the general “difficult” conditions. We were very pleased that our friends enjoyed their visit, as we did theirs. They were good sports whilst out of their normal comfort zone and gracefully “suffered” rolly seas, excess lobster dinners, amazing restaurants, white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, world class snorkelling and fantastic company in a beautiful part of the world. We did our best as they did theirs and hope that they will be return visitors for the future.


Now, we are also back to reality after our enjoyable vacation, though fortunately not in The Netherlands as our friends are with rain and temperatures of 8 deg. C. We have returned to Le Marin in Martinique for some rig trimming and a number of spares purchases.

 

Here in Marina du Marin we have a few “equipment” stories to share that may be of interest to some:


Firstly, our Starlink. We purchased the original Starlink in Madeira and it has been working for almost 2 years. Unfortunately, in March of this year, the system seemed to stop functioning and we ended up offline and back to SIM Cards and smooching around cafes to get an internet signal. Troubleshooting with The Starlink Technical Team resulted in questions like them asking us to checking if our power cable was plugged in and turned on etc. Finally, this resulted in a statement from them to say that our cable between the dish and router must be faulty and we needed to replace it.  At significant expense, we had a new cable couriered from the USA. We plugged in and we were back on line, only to find out that after 3 days the system was off line again. Back to the drawing board with the Starlink Support Department: "Check you are plugged in and the power is on, etc." After several days this resulted in a statement from them to say the whole system has failed and needs replacement.

Not the news that we wanted, but being in and around Le Marin in Martinique meant that we could re-order and pick up a complete new set.

So, when we returned to Martinique a big Starlink box was waiting for us at the marina office. The old components were systematically replaced and we concluded that the original dish itself was not functioning, We soon had the new dish up and we were back on line  + we have a spare cable and router.


Our Starlink system runs off 240 volts. Well, this is OK, but it means that we need to convert 24v battery power to 240 volts to make everything work. This is a little inefficient and the 3500 watt Inverter that does this consumes a lot of battery capacity in creating the 240 volts and we want to preserve and prolong battery life as best as possible. Our option was to purchase a StarWiFi kit that allows the Starlink to run directly off 24 v only, with the replacement of a Starlink compatible router – and a number of electronic items. This little kit was also ordered in France and was waiting together with the Starlink box when we returned to Marina du Marin.

 

Surprisingly, by following the instructions to the letter, we now have a Starlink that runs off 24v and gives us great, unlimited internet access. I am not sure how we managed this, but we are very happy with the end result.



Our other big task for Le Marin, was to have our rigging tuned. We never have been happy with the back bend of our mast, but every rigger from the one who originally set up our rigging to the various riggers that checked our rigging before any serious sailing said it was “OK” as it is. At times we had difficulty to furl/unfurl the main sail, but somehow, we became quite proficient at the process. Though our sail is a little worse for wear with the additional stresses on the way the rig was configured.

 

“Caraib Greement” (the Riggers in Le Marin) were onboard for a small problem with our genoa furler. In passing they looked at our mast and said that it was bent more than it should be and the rig needed tuning to function correctly. This casual remark was positively taken by us as we always felt that things were not correct, but nor did we have the knowledge or the experience to discuss this with a “non-interested” rigger.

 

Now that we know what we know, we are disappointed with all the previous professionals that have been on board since we purchased the boat in Medemblik in The Netherlands. Not only was their work done without a caring eye, but safety should be on the forefront of their mind, especially as it was something they were aware of but chose not to tell us.

 

Our good friends in “Cariab Greement” showed us that the mast was bent to starboard and bent too far back. They re-adjusted the tensions on the rig and brought the mast to a straight/vertical position. The result of this action was that the 2 forestays were now too long and also needed adjustment to tighten them. The genoa was re-tightened first and then the inner forestay of the jib was extra loose. As the inner forestay was dismantled for re-tensioning, it was seen that the threaded tensioner was already at the maximum. The forestay had to be taken to the workshop to cut the inner wire and re assembled.

It is clear that the rig could never have been correctly tuned and the rake of the mast was a poor but easy compensation to reduce the work of the rigger. We are saddened with what we have learnt as our safety has been knowingly compromised but happy with the corrective work that has been done.

Now that the mast is straight as it should be, the sail rolls up much better inside the mast and rolls out easily, without stretches and creases as the sail is set for sailing.






Additionally, the condition of the wire rope and components of the inner forestay were in very poor condition, much poorer than what would be expected for a rig of the age we understood it to be. We were told that by considering the corrosion that was seen, it appeared to be older than the boat itself…this of course did puzzle us…

Needless to say, that we are fortunate that the guys here in Martinique understand their business and can put right what was wrong.


 




Our next step is to the south of the Caribbean to avoid the seasons hurricanes with first a visit to Los Roques, then Bonaire and finally Curacao.

 

Therefore we need to provision for the next leg of our journey as there will be little fresh produce to purchase over the next few weeks, say our goodbyes to our friends and to Martinique where we have an excellent time.



 We are extremely excited to sail to Los Roques as we have heard that this is the last unspoilt Paradise in the Caribbean. We will let you know …..


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