Le Marin – Martinique

After eighteen days at sea, it was during the night that Heidi spotted the lights of Martinique. A few hours later we rounded the southern tip of the island and then set course for Le Marin and arrived shortly before sunrise.

I doubt we have ever seen so many boats at anchor. The bay is filled with vessels in all directions. Here there is everything from super-yacht to barely floating hulks. We found a space and, after over 2000 miles and one Atlantic crossing, dropped our anchor.

After tidying up and pumping up the dinghy we motored across to the marina and “cleared in” online using a computer terminal in the office. This is civilized! No police, no customs and no immigration. Martinique is part of France and therefore part of the EU. The currency is Euro, our European SIM card (and data flat rate) works and the language is French. All the comforts of home but T-shirt weather.

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The second day we went shopping. The local supermarket has a car park out front and a dinghy pontoon at the back so you fill up your trolley and then cross load it in to the dinghy. Totally organised, totally stress free and fun. Once we got back with our two hundred Euros worth of shopping we created a spreadsheet that shows what we have stowed where. We are really getting organised.

On Saturday we took the dinghy across to the garage on the marina hammerhead. They sell petrol for the outboard, gas for the cooker and water at 2 cents a liter. You can tell that yachts are big business here and life is made easy for us cruisers.

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Later we went across to the beach and watched a local sailing race with boats where half the crew sit out on outrigger poles to keep the sail vertical and three men paddle with the steering oar. We also drank the local Ti-Punch during a torrential downpour and listened to the drums playing on the beach. After Cape Verde the rain is taking some getting used to.

Le Marin isn’t a pretty town but a great place to arrive, do the admin stuff and prepare for more adventure.

Atlantic Crossing – two weeks at sea

This morning I saw that Heidi had written the twentieth of January in the log. We left Mindelo on the sixth so today must be a Sunday and we must have been at sea for two weeks. Time, days and dates are not so important as you sail two thousand miles at an average speed of five knots an hour.

It is now nine days since we saw any other vessel. Since then we have seen nothing but flying fish and the occasional bird. Yesterday we heard some french on the radio but other than that no sign of people anywhere. We are now used to the vast emptiness around us and will probably be surprised if we actually see another sail any where near us.

We are approaching the full moon so, as long as there are no clouds, the night is no longer dark. The moon makes for beautiful seascapes but limits the stargazing. At least we have found the southern cross ready for when Polaris (the northern star) finally disappears below the horizon.

Two days ago we experimented with a lasagna made with corned beef, spreadable cheese and pasteurised cream. It was delicious. Yesterday we baked fresh bread, half with walnuts and half with bacon. We tested it warm and fresh out of the oven. No living on tinned soup for us.

Over a week ago we poled out the two foresails, one on each side and since then we have just lightly adjusted the lines each day to avoid chaffing. Each time the wind dropped we threatened to set the Parasailor but just the threat was enough to increase the wind. This morning we finally set it. Taking down the poles, tidying up, relaying lines and setting the sail was an hours work but it was worth it; we are now sailing 25 degrees off course but we are moving towards the Caribbean.

Our solar panels keep our electronics working, our lights on and the batteries topped up. With the water generator in the water we can also keep the fridge cool. The solar shower is warming up on the deck so that we can have a warm hair and body wash this evening. Apart from the gas cooker we are totally “regenerative” with everything powered by wind or sun.

We have no idea how much longer we need but that is irrelevant. We are in holiday mode.

Eight o’clock. An update. About an hour ago we were sat in the cockpit enjoying the sun when Heidi sighted a ship crossing our path just a few miles ahead. I thought she was joking but it was a real freighter heading to Brazil. We called him up per radio and he gave us the weather forecast for the next few days. There really are other people out there.

Nine o’clock. An update. Not just people out there but also dolphins. Just before sunset a group of visited us, did a few jumps, swam under the bow and then disappeared on their way.

A thousand miles from anywhere.

Today is our ninth day at sea and we are in the middle of the Atlantic. The Cape Verde Islands off Africa are almost a thousand miles behind us and French Guiana in South America is nearly as far to the south west. The Caribbean is still well over a thousand miles ahead.

Three days ago we sighted a sailing boat but we saw nothing of the crew and they didn’t answer our radio call. That is the only vessel we have seen in the last week. No boats and no planes. We are the only two people in our part of the world.

Most days we see flying fish and one or two birds fly past but otherwise the ocean is empty. One day Heidi spotted a large field of seaweed floating past. Finally something new and interesting.

The moon follows the sun across the sky and new, unknown stars are appearing to the south. We both spend much of the night watches in the cockpit enjoying the moonlight, stars and shooting stars.

No mobile phone connection, no television, no Internet, no radio and no popping out for half an hour. No appointments. No stress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 3

We had already been at sea a few days and had just passed our first “waypoint” at 030°W. I was sound asleep at three thirty in the morning when Heidi woke me with a coffee to take over the watch. We were flying the parasailor so she had been busy ensuring we stayed on course despite the variable wind and she was sleeping deeply within minutes of lieing down.

I took my coffee outside to enjoy the stars. We have a new moon so most of the night we can enjoy the light of the stars with no other light sources. I am still enjoying the novelty of the North Star being so low and Orion directly above my head.

It has now been two days since we have seen any other vessels and tonight we were, once again, alone on the ocean. No navigation lights, no radio chatter and no radar pings. The wind stayed variable but the tendency was towards stronger gusts so I had a careful eye on the Parasailor. At dawn I decided to change to the genoa so woke Heidi and fifteen minutes later we were on our way again with less sail. Just as well as shortly after we were seeing 16 knots of wind.

On the deck we found an unlucky flying fish who had failed to clear our hull. I realised why I had been hearing thuds during the night as others had hit the side of the boat. That must really hurt.

We drank coffee and decided to hoist the main sail to add a little more speed. Later the wind turned behind us so we dropped the main sail. Another while later and the wind dropped so we rehoisted the parasailor. And that was the morning almost gone.

At eleven we totalled up the miles for the last 72 hours and were happy to see that we were still averaging almost five knots. We are following a great circle route and have “waypoints” every few hundred miles where the planned bearing changes. It was nice to have passed waypoint “Atlantic 1” in the night.

In the afternoon we heard a small creak and discovered that the roller holding the parasailor sheet was not attached properly. Repairing that required rerouting the guy line through a temporary roller to take the load, changing the roller mounting, substituting the starboard roller for the port roller and then moving the load back on to the sheet. And that was the afternoon gone.

I collapsed for a nap while Heidi made dough which we later converted in to home made pizza for dinner (with a cup of wine – much more stable than glasses) and onion bread for breakfast tomorrow.

And now it is dark again. I am sat outside on watch and Heidi is tanking up on sleep for the coming night.

Santo Antao (the track to nowhere)

Everyone in Mindelo was telling us how stunning the neighbouring Island of Santo Antao was so in the morning we took our bikes to the ferry. The day before we had been given a price for bikes but now the lady said “no bikes!”. Panic! But we have a local Mr Fixer who basically blocked the ticket counter until we had bike tickets and were on the ferry.

From the ferry the cobblestone road went uphill. Not just a bit. Non-stop up. 1100 meters uphill through a desert. No houses. No people. No animals. Just up. And cobblestones all the way.

At about 1100 meters vegetation slowly appeared and goats and donkeys and then people. But it was still another 300 meters uphill until we reached our guest house. At the top of the volcano we reached the edge of the crater and looked down in to a perfectly flat, fertile, patchwork of fields. It was just like a scene from “the land that time forgot”.

The guesthouse is a farm with restaurant and a few rooms. Basic but luxurious after a days cycling. Tea on the verandah, a shower, dinner and life was good.

On the second day we cycled down in to the crater and around the inside before taking a track downhill. The start was a flowy track slowly losing height through the bushes. A little further on the trail got smaller, steeper and rocky. Lots of pushing and carrying. Once we had dropped about 500 meters we entered a gorge and the path disappeared. Before us was just a scree slope and an impassable cliff.

So, with no other choice, we climbed back up, pushing, pulling and carrying our bikes. Five hundred meters up a stony, loose desert trail with a bike is “character building” but when you don’t have any other choice you just have to “do it”.

Back at the top we returned to the guest house for more water and asked if there was a later ferry. We were sure we had missed the four o’clock ferry but there was one an hour later. It had taken us four hours to cycle up the cobblestone road. We made it back down in 35 minutes! Our hands felt like jelly but we caught the four o’clock ferry with five minutes to spare.

First bike ride in 2019 (Monte Verde)

We have officially recovered from New Years Eve and from the wine with Christina and Werner last night. So this morning the alarm woke us for an early breakfast and while Heidi packed our rucsacs, Neill ferried the bikes to land with the dinghy. On the pontoon, we assembled both bikes and left the dinghy with some Norwegians who we first met in Portugal.

From the marina we cycled through Mindelo and then uphill on a cobbled road. This is definitely not a place for race bikes. As soon as we left town the traffic reduced to almost nothing and we could cycle next to each other most of the time. The landscape is a desert and it is not hard to believe that the average rainfall is 98mm. In January it doesn’t rain at all. Not surprisingly there is little population, few houses and just the cobbled road.

It is a few weeks since our last bike ride so we could be fitter. Even so, when your front wheel leaves the ground you know it is steep and you aren’t too unfit.

As the road climbed to the summit of Monte Verde at over 700 meters and through the surrounding national park, we were very impressed by the rugged beauty of the volcanic cliffs above us and the stunning views to the beaches far below. As we neared the top we entered the “farmland”. Crops have been planted between the stones and stand dried out and brown in the sun. We guess the dew waters them.

Before we reached the summit with all its antennas we were stopped by a military policeman who waved us away and glowered until we disappeared. Out of his sight we stopped to eat our picnic lunch before the descent.

We have never cycled down 12 kilometers of non-stop cobbles before but now we know that it turns your hands to jelly.

Mindelo

At the end of the last blog entry, we had just dropped anchor in the dark off Mindelo and fallen in to bed and a deep sleep. Obviously we weren’t awake with the sunrise but some time later. When we got up and took a look outside we were presented with a colourful town, a bay surrounded by barren hills and lots of yachts at anchor. And lots of sun and wind.

We moved Artemis nearer land and amongst the other boats. We recognised Riki and Martin’s “aracanga” and their friend’s boat “Streuner” so anchored near to them. Once we had the dinghy out of the locker and the outboard attached, we discovered that the propeller was siezed. No problem; we are young and fit and rowed to the marina office. They told us that the shop next door would service the motor – on Monday – and immigration may be open – on Monday. Life in Africa is slow and relaxed. At least we found an open supermarket where a friendly sales assistant installed local SIM cards in our phones and got us online.

On Sunday we spent most of the day cleaning as much of the Sahara off the boat as possible. We washed everything in salt water and then cleaned all the ropes with fresh water. Artemis once again looks presentable.

A friend from home wrote that he had friends currently at the marina so we contacted each other. In the afternoon, after the cleaning and a warm solar heated shower, we rowed over to say hello to Christina and Martin and ended up leaving again just before midnight. A great evening with two really nice sailors.

Monday just after eight we reported to immigration and received two visas stamped in our passports for a grand total of five Euros. Then on to the maritime police to clear the boat in to the country. One formular and no Euros. Everything quick, efficient and easy. We were on a roll so we filled up with water for one cent a liter at the fishing club, found some one to look at the engine and bought a new bottle of camping gas. Then collapsed in to bed for Siesta.

Today was New Years Eve so we met up with Christina and Werner again and waited for midnight. We knew when it was without a watch. Both ferries were sounding off their horns, people were using up out of date flares and the town put on a great firework show. Straight after a concert began in the middle of town in the closed off streets. Big stage, huge speakers and thousands of people. Everyone from toddler to grandparents and every outfit imaginable from cocktail dres to diving suit (honestly). We watched people and enjoyed the music until past two in the morning.

In Mindelo they know how to party.

To the Cape Verde Islands

In the morning we walked with Max to the bus station and watched him start the journey back to “real life” as a ski instructor. Now, once again, there are just the two of us and our Artemis. One last trip to the marina office and then we left the pontoon and set off from one group of islands heading for another far to the south.

The wind was behind us and, once we left the island’s wind shadow, we were sailing happily downwind with the genoa pulling us along. As the sun set and the full moon rose we left the lights of Tenerife behind us and sailed off in to the Atlantic. As always on the first night out, we slept fitfully, not yet in to the watch system. No Max meant less sleep but we managed.

By the second day we were far from land and surrounded by nothing but waves and sky. The wind turned against us so we set the main sail and genoa for the port tack and left them there for three days. As the wind increased or decreased, we were reefing or rolling the genoa as needed but we never stopped. It was during these three days that we received a coating of sahara sand.

On the fifth night the wind dropped to zero and we were left bobbing under a full moon. It was six hours before we felt a breath of wind so we packed the sails away and went to sleep – alone, 400 kilometers from the nearest land.

On Christmas Eve the wind returned and blew until ten at night. We baked bread and added cheese, onions and bacon to the dough. The evening meal was delicious and warm out of the oven. This time the wind was gone for ten hours so once again it was a good night for sleeping and a bad night for progress.

On Christmas Day we finally had the chance to try our new Parasailor. While the sail converted the light wind to lots of miles, we cleaned all the ropes of their sand. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with a homemade pizza with everything on top.

Boxing Day and the next day we once again had the trade winds behind us and the genoa pulling us south. On the second night we met the second ship of the trip and checked on the radio that he had seen us. “Yes. Got you on radar and see your lights.” We watched as a huge oil tanker ghosted past us.

Finally, after eight days, we saw the islands ahead of us through the clouds. You know they will be there but it is still nice when they are where they should be.

It was past midnight by the time we arrived off Mindelo harbour. We had sailed all the way but now stowed the sails and started the motor so that the autopilot could take over while we took the anchor out of a locker and fixed it back on its chain. Then we motored very very slowly in to the harbour. The pilot book warned of wrecks and abandoned, unlit hulks so Heidi was on the bow with a torch as we crawled in to the bay. In seven meters of water we dropped the anchor and, at two o’clock, fell in to bed.

A Parasailor for Christmas

On Christmas Eve while sailing south towards the Cape Verde Islands we were becalmed. Two hundred miles off the coast of Africa the wind dropped completely and left us drifting at half a knot with the current. Alone on the Atlantic, we dropped the sails and went to sleep bobbing on the swell.

On Christmas morning we were woken by a light wind heading our way so we set the genoa and tried sailing with that while we ate breakfast but the wind was much too light and the sail flogged so it was time to finally unpack our christmas present – a Parasailor.

We first came across this downwind sail while in Spain. Stuart, from parasailor.co.uk, was also in Ayamonte and gave us a demonstration of the sail out on the river We were impressed; Shane said it was just what we needed and Stuart agreed to deliver it to the Canary Islands so the next morning we ordered a huge orange and black version.

Stuart delivered the sail as promised and also flew out from the UK with a bag of goodies to set the sail up for Artemis. Twice he came out with us and drilled us in hoist sail, jibe sail, strike sail, hoist sail, strike sail, … At the end of the second day we both had back ache and sore muscles.

So on Christmas Day it was finally time to hoist and rig the sail with no Stuart. The bad news was we were hundred of miles from anywhere if we needed help. The good news was we had another ten hours of daylight to get everything working and a few hundred miles of open water with no one in the way. To add to the fun there was the typical Atlantic swell rocking the boat and we had to do everything while clipped on to the boat with our safety lines. We tidied away the jib, rigged all the lines, brought the Parasailor on the foredeck, struck the Genoa, hoisted the sail in its sock, opened the snuffer and – were sailing. We only took ninety minutes from “OK let’s do this!” to “Yippee, we are Parasailors!”

In the last nine hours the apparent wind has varied between two and seven knots but we have an average sailing speed of 4.8 knots and no flogging sails. We are both happy with our Christmas present.