Monday, February 23, 2015

Random Thoughts From Martinique

In no particular order

Le Marin
- French women are fabulous at any age.  AND skinny.
- What the hell do French people do with all the baquettes they buy?  Seriously?  They buy no less than 2 and more often than not 4-6 at a time each and every freaking day.  What the hell do they do with all that bread?  It turns stale uber fast.  And see the above about skinny French women.  
- French are shy / afraid of trying to speak American.  Americans often misunderstand and think "French know American but just won't speak it."  Americans are shy/ afraid to try to speak French.  The French often misunderstand and think  "Most Americans don't want to try to speak French."
-  Unless they are really busy, most French people appreciate and enjoy you trying to speak French.  Kathy Parson's book "French for Cruisers" is a MUST!!! 
- French cheeses, wines, and chocolates are SO good and cheap in the French islands.  Yumo!!!!!
- You would think waking up in the middle of the night to no wind and a glassy anchorage would be good.  However with 1000+ boats in Le Marin, it is preferable to have a little wind to keep everyone from swinging every which way but loose.
- In the spirit of if a tree falls in the woods but no one is there to hear it......if you anchor too close to a boat (however safely) BUT it's in an anchorage on a French island, is it really too close?
- Is our French neighbor really concerned we are too close or just shocked Americans would anchor so near?  Bahahahaha
- As cruisers we often say "we are collecting memories and not stuff" as we cruise along.  However, with three of the best ships chandleries we have ever seen, cash will be spent here.  Bling bling for the boat if you will.
- Le Marin is truly a sailors candy store (see above). Way better than Annapolis, Newport or Ft Lauderdale in our opinion.  But then again, sailing is not only a recreation and hobby in France but sailboat racing is a real sport in France that the entire country follows.  There is media coverage including tv.  Imagine that turning on tv to see sailboat racing vs say.....poker!   I don't care what anyone says....poker is NOT a sport and does not belong on sporting tv - EVER!
- The largest sail loft in the Caribbean is located here with 6000 sq ft and 10 machines.  Omg!  
- They can and did repair on a dodger zipper in our windshield in one morning - walk in service AND on the Monday of carnival.  Unbelievable and awesome!  Merci, merci, merci!
-  1/ 1/2 years since we had our cockpit enclosure made and the first zipper blew up.  I have been very careful to rise with fresh water as much as possible and treat the zippers on a regular basis with zip lube.   
- A sailor chick's true bling is stainless steel for her/their boat!
- Is it wrong that I am thrilled to get 6 small stainless steel hinges for our overhead hatches?  Nay....see the above
- The French don't really seem to believe in the use of any sort of dinghy lights at all


St Anne 
- Lovely little beach town 
- For some reason, the best souvenir shopping in the Caribbean (for us).  We bought several things here last year and again this year.  Who doesn't love a good slide whistle!  
- So many Kewl little foreign cars (to Americans):  Peugeot's seem to rule, Citron, Opel, Twingo, Nissan's, and Kia, Audi and BMW but models we don't have in the USA.  Car lovers we know would go crazy for all these Kewl cars 
- We saw the biggest hawksbill turtle we've ever seen.  Near the size of a small leatherback....meaning a small kitchen table.   Omg!  Right in the anchorage.  So kewl.  
- This is the land of small inflatable dinghies with tiny outboards.  It almost seems to be a contest to see who can have a smaller while many other cruising nationalities think bigger it better and faster.  
-  Seriously....what the hell do French people do with all the banquettes they buy?  They buy no less than 2 and more often than not 4-6 at a time each freaking day.  What the hell do they do with all that bread?  It turns stale uber fast.  And see the above about skinny French women.  

Sail from Le Marin to Fort de France 
- Weirdest sail ever......I think it's called broad reach and the other is downwind run.  I am not 100% sure as we have never done it in s/v Honey Ryder.  Never!  As you well know dear readers, the wind is usually what.....come one.....you know this.....on the nose.  So broad reaching and running was truly an odd sensation for us but delightful. 
- The sail across the bay to Fort de France did not disappoint.  We learned last year that the wind can scream across here so we reefed ahead of time.  Zoom zoom on a nice beam to close reach.  Lovely.
-  Martinique must be trying to set the record for most fish traps of an island in the Eastern Caribbean.    Sheesh!  
-  In terms of visibility, one quart and one 16 oz CLEAR pop bottles are not the best choice for fishing floats.  They in fact are the worst choice from a visibility choice. And the most common.  Argh!  

Fort de France and Carnival
*  This truly deserves it's own blog posting but we will see if that happens.  In the mean time thoughts below.
- The French don't really seem to believe in boat nav lights for their boats or at least they don't seem to use them.  Many powerboats leaving carnival zoomed through the anchorage on their way across the bay with no lights.  There was the one fancy powerboat with blue mood lighting and a red light for additional decoration but in no way did it constitute any sort of regulation nav light.  Much to the contrary, it would totally confuse any other boater.  It would me had they not passed right by us in the anchorage.  However, this is not true of the ferry boats.  They all had Offical nav lights and used them.  So it only seems to be recreational boats and yachts.    
- Carnival crowds dress up as much as the parade people.
- The people watching is 10x better due to the above.
- Burlesque and cross dressing day seems to have been extended from day two to day three.
- At least 50% of all the men (crowd and parade) were in skirts and frocks (dresses) including men of all ages, orientation, single, married, families.
- A good parade Marshall would be a nice addition....not to sound like an impatient American but it was sometimes 30 mins between parade groups.  30 mins!
- It takes a really confident man to be in a parade in his red underwear and fishnet hose playing the bass drum.  We saw loads of them in each parade group.  Drummer Tom took special notice.
- French parade street food isn't really like our parade street food.  We sat down at a little table under a tent and eventually got our food - pork with rice, fish and rice.  The table next to us was enjoying a nice, cheap bottle of wine.  So civilized.
- Plastic air horns are everywhere during carnival and hooting constantly......And I do mean constantly!
- Plastic air horns are WAY cheaper than their marine counterparts.  We bought two.  One for the dinghy and one for s/v Honey Rdyer to replace our official "marine" air horns that are badly rusted. 
- Did I mention the carnival air horns are way cheaper than the marine air horns found in any ships chandlery? 
- As expected the smallish anchorage at Fort de France was crowded for carnival.  We dropped anchor safely but close between two cats.  Of course they swing different than monohulls.  One Fench cat captain said "You are too near."  It was ironic since it is universally known amongst cruisers that the French invented anchoring too close.  We moved.  He will probably regret it as more boats pour into the anchorage.  We would have been close but ok there.  At least we care.  He will probably get some chart boat next to him that doesn't care or another French boat that will anchor even closer.  C'est la vie.  Urgent update....the above Captin was not French but Swedish.  His flag was not out yesterday but it was out today.  No wonder he thought we were too close.  He is not French.  
- OMG leg warmers are back in style...at least for carnival....big time.  I do mean big time.  Everyone had on leg warmers from little kids to Kewl hip hop wannabes, teenage girls, to everyday schmoos like Tom to grandpas.  Different colored ones on each leg and often layered.  Let me say it again....leg warmers are in style again at least for carnival.  It still sounds weird to write that out loud. You get that it's not cold here, right?  And while chipping is the offical Carnival dance, I really don't know that it requires leg warmers.  It's really just a shuffling/stomping of your feet while moving your hips and bum. Never the less, apparently leg warmers are back in style.  
- The other carnival standard seems to be the tutu.  I don't know if it's because we are in a French island but the tutu is the costume of choice for every preteen and teenage girl as well as many teenage boys, tiny tots and the occasional gray dreadlocked grandfather.  We saw entire families decked out in tutu's - mom, dad, teenage girl, 8 year old boy and little 3 year old girl....all accompanied by tutu wearing grandparents.  
- And fishnets.  OMG.......everyone had on fishnet hose/tights.  Everyone!   We were the only ones not wearing fishnets.  Seriously!  
- Pimp my hunk of junk Renault is alive and well here in Martinique.  Many, many were on display and in the parade.  The graphics were colorful and at times....er....graphic.
- There were several of the above cars that were set up to backfire and did on command, frequently and loudly.  It took the place of fireworks and went on all night.  We first encountered them in St Anne.  Then we heard them in Anse a l'Ane.  And finally they were in the parade here in a Fort de France each day.  We took to calling them the Backfire Boyz when we heard them.  It was so loud.  
- Day four after the parade was ruled by motorcycles and scooters of every make, model, and size.  Hundreds line the streets.  Some were parked, showing off their ride, while others were riding around the streets, showing them off.  A few were doing tricks on them.  
- We saw 2 different groups of people gathered singling traditional songs/chants in patois language (island language) and drumming as various fighters entered the circle of people and were half wrestling/fighting and half dancing.  It sort of looked like the fight scene from "Westside Story".  I was worried the wrestling/fighting would escalate but each ended with smiles and handshake or hug.  There were elders there to be sure it was all in good fun.  One serious woman even took on a guy.  She seemed to be a bit angry overall but not nesseccarily at him, perhaps all men in general.  
- s/v Honey Ryder hosted a pre-parade party on day four.  Three German boats, and a Canadian boat for a total of 10.  Fun time.
- The day after Carnival and only a few feathers from colored boas can be seen.  I woke up pre-dawn and heard the street cleaners busy at work.  Impressive clean up.  

Saint Pierre
- Customs office (in the tourist office) closes at 15:00 and does not reopen until 9:00.
-  Many shops close for lunch 12:30 to 14:00.
-  Many restaurants close between 15:00 and reopen at 17:00.
-  The above restaurants are the ones with wifi or wefee as the French pronounce it.
-  Laid back town...see the above.
-  Kewl little town that deserves more time.
-  Story of the sole survivor of the 1900 volcano eruption that buried Saint Pierre and killed everyone else has more than likely been exaggerated.  The historical plaque said strong evidence suggests others besides the prisoner survived.  However the thick prison walls did save this one prisoner who went on to live in enfamy as the solo survivor.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Birthday's Can Be A Drag - Literally

Blue boat with blue sail cover, furthest back in the pic- original anchor position

Febuary 22, 2015
Fort de France Martinique
Warning -  The below is told in real time.....ie.....it's long but exciting....at least we thought so and therefore real time is the only way I know how to tell it.  Deal with it!

We were headed ashore at 14:00 yesterday to have a few birthday beers for Tom's birthday at our favorite place, Hotel L'Impeatrice.  There were some really strong gusts blowing through the anchorage.  I commented to Tom how close these two boats (s/v Gin Rummy and s/v Cluck) looked as we dinghied past.  But then I always think boats are too close and that everyone is dragging anchor when it's super wind.  Worry wort type stuff.  I know it, Tom knows it.  That is just how I am.  As we were tying up the dinghy to the worlds best dinghy dock (stainless steel face plate with big SS rings to chain your dinghy to) Tom commented "Man, it's gusty today."  I turned once more to look at s/v Honey Ryder in the anchoring field before we headed down the street to the hotel.  "Tom, that blue boat that was really close to s/v Cluck is now behind it!"  Tom looked.  Omg!  The boat was dragging and the next target was s/v Honey Ryder.  Of course we unchained the dinghy and zoomed out to the blue boat - s/v Gin Rummy, a camper Nicholson 35.  There was no one aboard so Tom climbed aboard.  Luckily their windlass was still switched on so he let out all the chain he could which really wasn't that much maybe 20 or 30 ft.  We hoped that would catch and hold.  Tom did take note that the key was in the ignition if needed but the boat was locked up otherwise.  

We headed to s/v Honey Ryder to just watch and wait.  Slowly s/v Gin Rummy continued to drag towards us.  I suggested powering up and motoring off to starboard slightly - hopefully enough to get out of the way but keep our anchor in place.  Not really a great idea but something.  But Cap10 Tom was patient and wanted to wait and see.  We got all our fenders out and tied them on the port side and Tom moved our dinghy over there to act as a fender as well.  I put out a general announcement on the VHF for the anchorage.  A few people popped their heads up but most were ashore or didn't have their VHF radios on.  *In fairness....there were a couple of big tankers using the frequency as a working channel and the crews were speaking Russian throughout the day on and off.  Additionally there are about 5 cruising boats here in Martinique that seem to hail each other a minimum of 6 times a day  and that gets really old really fast and therefore some people turn down their VHF radios or off completely.  
Way too close

Anyway.....s/v Gin Rummy slowly inched closer and closer to s/v Honey Ryder.  Bruce off s/v Wild Matilda zoomed over with two big fenders from his boat so we added them to our port rail.  Then I had him go over to the Norwegian boat astern to port of us and warn that captain.  He was on deck but facing aft reading and I knew he had not heard my radio announcement about the dragging boat.  After Bruce told him, he took a great interest of course and sat watching.  He was next should this boat miss us.
After fending off

So close

What to do?  Raft her up next to us?  We worried that might cause our anchor to drag and then we would be two boats rafted up dragging.  The same was true for tying a line to her off our stern.  I thought it still might cause both boats to drag down on the next boat.  Or climb aboard and try to re-anchor a boat that is not yours?  Or fend her off and let her go?  No way we were going to let her go on to hit someone else - there was another boat astern to starboard and that crew was ashore.  Additionally, we were not going to just let her drag out into the bay to hit one of the four tankers anchored out there.  
Tom manually setting the fortress anchor


French captain lending a hand by securing the fortress anchor line to the dragging boat

Tom got the idea of getting out our folding Fortress aluminum anchor.  He put it together while I grabbed a long line we had handy - old halyard.  We keep it ready to go for anchoring stern to shore or emergencies.   He had to stop once to fend off the bow of s/v Gin Rummy from hitting our port stern.  I was on the swim ladder with the boat hook doing the same.  She was slowly passing us but still causing issues as both boats swung this way and that with winds gusts.  The Captain of a French boat on the other side rowed over.  I told him we were going to try to deploy our Fortress to stop her dragging.  "You don't have chain on it?  Only rope?" he asked.  "Ah, yeah....it's our third anchor and a backup so at this point we don't have chain on it  but it will just have to do won't it!"  He shrugged.  I asked him to help.  Tom took the anchor out in our dinghy and tossed it out, testing that it was hooked on the bottom.   The French captain tied the line to the bow of the dragging boat and then rowed back to his boat.  Tom then climbed aboard the dragging boat and tightened up the line, tugging to test that it was set.  It was.  Bruce came over again during this to help and agree that it was set as best Tom could given the situation.  Tom came back to our boat and we just waited.  S/v Gin Rummy was still very close and in the wind gusts it was nerve racking.  
Fortress anchor line attached



Tom securing the fortress and testing the holding


Bruce and Tom - "Best we can do for now"
In the anchorage more and more crews were returned to their boats from shore but not this crew.  Where were they?  It was 15:30 on Saturday afternoon and everything ashore is closed for the most part.  "Where are they?"  We could see the dinghy dock.  I watched through the binocs for the crew to arrive.  Finally, I spotted someone running along the shore.  It turned out to be the captain of the dragging boat.  He and his wife dinghied up and asked what happened and if their boat had hit ours.  Tom calmly told them what happened.  "That is our Fortress anchor and line on her.  Take your time getting re-anchored and settled in.  No rush to get those back to us."  They had been anchored for 3 days with no issues.  They had gone ashore to shops and such but the one day they were gone all day, the winds pipped up and the boat drug.  One of a captain's nightmare come true.  Seems they were across the bay hiking and only spotted their dragging boat as the ferry was passing the anchorage to return them to this side of the bay.  
Crew back aboard
They got re-anchored in the corner and then Philip (Captain of s/v Gin Rummy) came over to return our anchor and line as well as say thank you again and give us a bottle of wine in gratitude.  We chatted a bit and then he left.  Nice guy.  Soon Bruce and Carol off s/v Wild Matilda showed up for Tom's planned happy hour  birthday celebration and things were back to normal. 

I am very proud of the way Tom handled the situation.  He was cool and calm, thinking things through.  It reconfirmed some things for us.  1.)  Leaving the windlass power on when anchored is a very good thing.  2.)  We either leave our key in the ignition or we have it in the cockpit pocket right next to the ignition.  This is good as well.  The chances are much, much, much greater that there will be an emergency and someone other than us may need to move our boat in a hurry than the chances of someone stealing her.  3.)  Daily checks of the anchor and snubber are wise.  4.)  Stuff happens.  Even the best captain will drag anchor at some point.  5.)  Cruisers take care of cruisers.  6.)  The Fortress performed well in a pinch.  When s/v Gin Rummy pulled it up, the entire anchor was caked in mud - it went deep and was holding.

Digital Selective Calling


Or DSC as it is commonly referred to in any VHF radio manual or on chat groups, is an important tool.  All fixed mounted modern marine VHF radios come with DSC these days.  This feature allows you to directly call any vessel with an MMSI number that is within VHF range.  Remember the MMSI?  We have discussed it here before FCC Licensing -Clear As Mud .  In short, you get your MMSI number when you apply for and get your ships radio license.  In our case from the FCC.  Note:  US boaters planning to leave the USA waters should only get their MMSI number from the FCC and not the free one from BoatUS.  The BoatUS MMSI number is only good in the USA.  The FCC assigned MMSI number is good internationally.

Anyway....  Normally cruisers monitor channels 16 and 68 on their VHF radios.  If they want to hail another boat they usually do so on 68 and then move to another open channel (like 69) to talk.  Of course anyone listening can follow along and listen too.  Definitely a party line sort of system.  However, if I have another boat's MMSI number, I can use the DSC feature on my VHF to call them directly on the VHF radio.  It actually rings rather loudly like a phone on their end.  Once the other vessel answers, it automatically takes them to the open channel I selected.  The conversation can still be heard by others listening to that channel or any vessels that has their radio set on scan.  But the nice thing is that everyone doesn't have to listen to you hailing other vessels throughout the day.  This can get to be a bit much for others if you are trying to plan an outing or solve a problem or such.  It doesn't take long to identify the social butterflies, buddy boats or kids boats in an anchorage as they are hailing frequently.  Imagine hearing "Mousetrap, Mousetrap, Mousetrap, this is Blowhard.  Come in please."  "This is Mousetrap."  "Oh hi.  How are you?"  "Good.  How are you?"  Good.  Can we go to 67?"  "Going to 67."   multiple, multiple times throughout the day.  Argh!  Unfortunately, we have been guilty of this at times in the past.  Now we are trying to use DSC as much as possible.  

There are other great benefits of DSC.  A couple of big ones are as follows.  If you have an AIS (automated identification system) receiver then you will see the ship names and MMSI number for bigass ships.  It is my understanding that by law (maritime law I guess) they are required to have AIS and transmit.  Normally when we see a giantantic ship (usually at night...why is it always at night), we hail them on the VHF radio and say something like "Hello Captain.  I am the little tiny sailboat off your port bow.  I just wanted to be sure you see me.  Please don't run me over.  We will try to stay out of your way."  However, even though they are required by law to answer your hail, it doesn't always happen.  Some ships have a frighteningly low number of crew.  Special Note - they respond better to a female voice hailing them verses a male.  With DSC, we can simply call them directly, waking them up on the bridge with a loud ringing from their VHF radio.  Additionally, the call is then logged in their radio and yours, provided neither deletes the log.  Having a record of a VHF hail to a big ship might be a good thing.  You can also receive and send position reports.  This means I can actually send my exact position to the bigass ship.  Sort of a...."Hello....here is where my little tiny sailboat is.  Please don't run me over."  only using your lat and long position to say it!  Another good thing about DSC calling speaks to something I mentioned before, privacy, even if it's limited.  Because it rings another boat directly and then automatically goes to another channel you selected, fewer people can follow and hear your conversation.  Since many of our conversations are about events and activities, fewer people hear the details of your comings and goings and thus fewer people know when your boat is occupied and when it's not!  

The interesting thing that we are finding is that most cruisers don't use the DSC feature.  It seems most don't know how to use it and haven't taken the time to learn.  We were guilty of this but I thought it was because we are still newbies.  No....many seasoned cruisers don't know how to use it.   You need a buddy boat to try it out on.  We did our learning with s/v Allergro while in Trinidad.  In return, we recently answered numerous rings from s/v Karinya as they learned to use theirs.  "Bloody hell!  I've read 71 pages of this VHF manual.  It's actually quite interesting."  

If you have a marine VHF with DSC, do you use it?  Do you know how?  If not, maybe find a buddy boat and give it try.  I think you might like it.  FYI- some cruisers actually put there MMSI number on their boat card.  We did.  

Final Note - I am NOT a VHF radio expert.  For that matter....  I am not a MMSI, or AIS or bigass ship expert either.  The above is simply based on our experiences and discussions with a few seasoned cruisers.