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I said last time that I didn’t know how often I’d write these snapshot blogs moving forward. I’m still not sure, but this was our last intense week of sailing so it couldn’t go uncovered.
If the last snapshot covered our most triumphant week onboard, this week was probably one of the worst, for me at least.
After our last week, we had a few days in Deshaies, and our friend Laurie joined us onboard for a couple of nights. We loved seeing her, and having her brother and girlfriend hang out for a couple of hours. Daphne the duck had her last outing on Mirounga – she’s gone back to Laurie for a new life in a friend’s pool.
Everything got a bit dramatic when we were boarded by the Douane, who seemed intent on finding some contraband. Of course, they found nothing. We think they singled us out for our Jersey flag. Equally though, they could have been targetting us because the harbour master in Deshaies had a grump about where we anchored. Either way, they decided that they would fine us €150 for Laurie being onboard. We had no cash, so they took Laurie ashore to an ATM (and the boulangerie). After some investigation, and help from people in the sailing industry, we think they were charging us for chartering illegally. We weren’t, but they didn’t seem to need proof to charge us.
Basically, we weren’t feeling too positively towards the French authorities when we left. We decided to move on ASAP and went down to Iles Les Saintes the day after Laurie left. That’s where we start this week, with the aim of being in Bequia by Friday after a short stop in Martinique.
Sunday 6 February
We’re awake at 7, and somehow have the boat tidy, the sunshades off and the washing in very quickly. We’re pulling up the anchor by 7:25, just as the kettle boils. Colin makes pizza dough, and otherwise, we’re on the lookout for dolphins after seeing some yesterday. The wind is good, giving us up to 7-8kts. We still get 5kts once we’re in the lee of Dominica. I get a reminder from our friend Mark that Colin and I met 23 years ago today. I tend to forget some years as we celebrate the day of our first date, the 14th, instead.
As we pass Portsmouth we try to hail the coastguard to request permission to anchor overnight but have no answer. We keep going, as we’d rather get down to the south of the island anyway. The wind dies eventually and we take in the sails. At 12:15 we get a proper dolphin show. They aren’t close, but they’re doing acrobatics alongside us. It becomes clear that the show was for us when they stop after we get a certain distance away. Bravo dolphins.
We get the wind back and bring the sails out. The wind goes again, the sails go in. It’s one of those days. We snack on pain rustique with butter rather than having a proper meal. When we arrive at Rousseau at 2pm and hail the coastguard, he asks us to go back to Portsmouth. Thankfully when we explain we’re heading south not north, he allows us to stay. A local named Marcus comes to help us with a mooring ball. We’re reticent as the coastguard said no contact with locals. We try to confirm with them but get no answer, so call Marcus back to help us take a ball seeing as he’s adamant we can’t anchor.
We’re on a ball and settled by just after 3. The friendly coastguard comes to check we’re staying onboard. We spend some time planning for tomorrow’s sail to Martinique and then watch some TV. We get a little spooked when our anchor alarm goes off (a very odd occurrence on a ball), but decide it’s fine based on our transits.
Colin’s pizza is unfortunately a fail. We think we just bought some weird flour by accident in one of the French islands, as the crust is far from edible. We make a final decision on our route tomorrow – we’ll stop in Saint Pierre to clear in, then continue to Anse d’Arlet so we’re as far south as possible by the end of the day.
It’s a muggy night, and I feel too warm. I’ve been sleeping really badly lately so take some melatonin in the hope it will help. Accordingly, I fall asleep while we watch Archer in bed.
Monday 7 February
By the time our 6am alarm would have gone off I’m standing on the bow with a head torch, like some tattered old figurehead. The melatonin did not help me sleep. We woke up early, so we figured we might as well set off early, by around 20-25 minutes. As I’m standing on the bow, it starts to drizzle.
At around 7am, once we’re out of the lee of Dominica, the wind picks up with gusts up to 28-30kts. We end up in waterproof jackets and reefing in the headsail. It’s safe to be out, but we’re glad we’re not doing this in the dark. It’s after 8am when we can finally see Martinique.
It continues to be a fast, wild sail even once the sun starts weakly peeking through the clouds. I lie back with my eyes shut but not sleeping for much of the journey. The wind mercifully calms in the lee of Martinique. By 11am the sails are in and Colin is making French bread pizzas.
Approaching Saint Pierre, we see wind gusts of 32kts. We’re relieved that we have the sails in, and when the wind calms closer to shore. We anchor and Colin is immediately on his way to clear in just after 12. He’s back and we’re on our way by 12:30.
For the rest of the journey, we have alternating low wind and loads of wind. I spend the time reading, but stop as it becomes very gusty crossing Baie de Fort de France.
A patch job
As we go to turn on our engines and take in the sails, neither will start. This is worrying. We end up overshooting the anchorage at Anse d’Arlet as we figure out the issue. Attempting to clear air from the lines, Colin has the bolt from the bleed valve shear off in his hand. At his request, I scramble around for blutack (from the back of photos) and he uses this and duct tape to make a patch. Thankfully this gives us enough power to get into the anchorage and settled safely. Having originally been on course to anchor by 3pm, it’s 16:15 when we’re finally set.
We’re exhausted, but still, we tidy up and shower before passing out on the sofa with a plate of pasta to watch The Morning Show.
Tuesday 8 February
We’re awake before 8am. My back, has been hurting for a couple of weeks, and is really bad this morning. I at least had a better sleep but it’s horrible waking up in pain. I stretch out slowly as I tidy up.
It turns out that part of why our engines failed us yesterday was that we were very low on fuel. This may have exacerbated the issue of air in the lines. Colin heads ashore at 9:30 to see if there’s a gas station nearby. There isn’t and there’s no taxis, but there’s a bus in an hour. We decide that we’ll try to limp around to Sainte Anne on our patched engine, then get a jerry can filled and the engines repaired there. I already have a headache, which isn’t helping on what seems to be likely to be a stressful day.
A long journey to nowhere
We set off soon after 10am. We use the sails when there’s wind, but soon switch back to the engine as we need to be more head to wind. The engine is barely moving us, and definitely not functioning well. It stops totally as we try to head through Diamond Rock passage. This is a notorious area for navigation, with gusting wind, rocks and reefs to avoid. We race to get sails up and safe. We try to make big tacks under sail to get closer to Sainte Anne, but Mirounga, as a heavy catamaran, just won’t tack to wind enough. We’re just going back over the the same course when we tack to the north.
Escape from Diamond Rock
We keep coming close to Diamond Rock so we tack out to the south again. It’s becoming very clear we won’t get to Sainte Anne this way. We manage, with more blutack, to get the engine on again and the sails in but it just can’t move us forward. The engine stops. Again. We pull the sails up and decide we have to turn back. In the end we’re out for the better part of 5 hours, and have covered 14nm, but didn’t even cover a third of the distance to Anse d’Arlet.
Colin gets hold of a taxi driver who will do a run to a petrol station once we’re back in Anse d’Arlet. No matter what we do, the engine won’t start again and we’re out of fuel. We’ve never been in this position before. Despite it meaning having to sail towards the wind, we manage to anchor under sail. I’m so proud of Colin for his helmsmanship. We’re not in an ideal depth of water, at 40ft, but it’s closest in we can get to shore and we have all of our 180ft of chain out.
Once we’re sure we’re secure I make cheesy fried egg sandwiches. I cancel our PCR tests, which were booked for tomorrow, and all anniversary plans in Bequia next week. Colin goes to get fuel, and I tidy up and watch TV. My headache is back, which isn’t surprising. Colin gets back with 17l of fuel, which cost €30 on top of the €40 taxi. He adds it to the starboard engine in the hope that it was playing up because of low fuel. There are still issues. We try various things, with advice over WhatsApp from our friend Steve, but there seems to be a persistent issue with air in the fuel line. I even check our props in case something on them has also caused issues but they’re clear.
I’d been planning to go back to work next week, as they asked for some help during a busy period. I have to let them know that there may be some changes in when I’m available. We give up work on the engines as the light fades. We’ve tried everything and have to concede we need a mechanic. Colin has a beer and I have a virgin mary as the sun sets. As we sit and chat, a manta ray leaps out of the water twice in the distance.
We’re both exhausted. At one point we hug and end up just leaning on each other, convinced we could sleep standing up. We treat ourselves to our favourite truffle mac and cheese, the last non-wholewheat box in our stores. We manage to stay awake to watch How I Met Your Father and The Morning Show. I’m trying to remember when I last stood on land – it was Saturday night when we went out for dinner in Les Saintes. I’ve been trying to avoid using my codeine prescription but tonight I give in and take some before we watch Archer in bed.
Wednesday 9 February
The codeine didn’t help me sleep much, but I manage to lie in until 8:30. Colin is up earlier trying to find a mechanic. He finds one but they aren’t available today. We decide there’s really not much we can do other than take the day to rest. I finally detangle my hair after days of not brushing it, then settle down to watch Drag Race. Colin has another go at getting the starboard engine working, and I help where I can, but we have no luck. I make us egg sandwiches for lunch again.
We’re both feeling really run down so take lateral flow tests just in case, which are thankfully negative. Then I spend the rest of the afternoon in bed watching Queer as Folk while Colin sprawls in the saloon. Dinner is comforting corned beef stovies, and we watch Snowpiercer and The Afterparty. After an episode of Nora from Queens in bed we’re fast asleep in minutes.
Thursday 10 February
Colin hasn’t slept well, and the anchor alarm went off twice in the night (both false alarms, they usually are). I’m nowhere back to my normal sleep quality, but it was a better night than I’ve been having recently.
Colin heads ashore to get the mechanic at 8:30. Within 15 mins of being onboard he’s replaced the bleed valve unit on the port engine with a refurbished part and has it running. Within another hour the starboard engine is running. It’s pre-filter was totally clogged, so its currently running without that part. The engines have two pre-filters housings (unnecessary), so we just need to replace the filter on the second once we get to Le Marin. To help that engine get started, they added a spare dinghy fuel line priming pump to the engine fuel line. This meant they could hand prime the engine. Basically, we have power.
A final mission
After dropping the mechanic back on land Colin gets hold of the taxi driver from the other day on WhatsApp. He asks her to buy a 20l jerry can at a store and pick him up. She manages to combine what he needs with another fare so it will save us money, which is a relief. He goes ashore with our existing jerry can to meet her, and I tidy the boat ready to move. I publish a blog, letting everyone know that Mirounga is for sale. Then I have nothing to do but wait, so I lie down to watch Queer as Folk. I’m so tired, it’s a challenge to stay awake.
I get up and potter outside just as Colin is getting back with 40l of diesel. It’s very windy. When I go to take in wind scoops the one that was in the bedroom minutes ago is gone, along with the catch that holds the porthole closed. Thats a frustrating loss. I get confirmation that we can get our PCR tests in Le Marin tomorrow.
We’re fuelled up and on the move by 2pm. It’s slow going getting around Diamond Point, but we make it then things get a little better. It’s still after 5 when we start approaching Sainte Anne. We hear a whistle from a nearby boat and it’s our Norwegian friend Harald waving. We haven’t seen him since Bequia in July. Colin enjoys a turtle surfacing as we motor in. Of course I don’t see it as I’m watching for anchoring spots, but I hear it exhale. It takes us three attempts to anchor, and its approaching sunset when we’re set, so we decide against going ashore for a bokit for dinner. Instead, we watch the sunset, shower, and watch our respective TV choices . We have pasta for dinner, watch Resident Alien and Panic, and then Archer in bed. It’s another night where we fall asleep quickly.
Friday 11 February
By the time our alarm goes off at 8:00, Colin has already been up for a couple of hours. For whatever reason we’re not sleeping anywhere as late as we were a couple of months ago. Within 25 minutes we have day bags packed and are on the way to Le Marin. It’s a hellish 20-minute, 3 mile dinghy ride into the wind. We’re both soaked instantly and the bumps are agonising for my back.
We make it to the PCR test center place by 9, for our 9:15 appointment. There’s a queue, but at least it’s a chance to dry off. I’m seriously regretting wearing denim shorts. It’s a novelty to see pale holidaymakers from the US getting their tests to travel home. Moving out here in lockdown meant that we didn’t see ‘tourists’ for so long. We’re finally done by around 10:00, and head to the boulingerie for pain au chocolat. After that, we visit the chandlery and Auchan supermarket.
It’s a slightly less unpleasant dinghy ride across to the boat yard to get our fuel filter replaced. I check the nearby hardware shop for cafetières that our Bequia friend Daffodil asked for but they don’t sell them. We dinghy back over to the marina chandlery, but nothing of what we need is there. Next, we retrace our route, this time to the Leader Price dock so we can visit Carrefour for one last cheese shop. We stop to talk to some cats, but they seem to be more wary than they were in November.
The journey back isn’t too bad, but its hard getting back on board in the waves. It’s clear that Mirounga has moved a few feet in the high wind, but the anchor has clearly set again stable again. We rest and dry off, and put our shopping away. Then we decide we’re secure enough to leave the boat, so we both go into Sainte Anne. Of course, we’re instantly soaked again.
In Sainte Anne, I visit the pharmacy to buy back pain gel, and some lateral flow tests for our friend Kathy in Bequia. Then it’s time to visit Snack Boubou for bokits and clearing out. As expected it’s an amazing lunch, but my back gets wrenched when I’m asked to move to a smaller table so I’m frustrated and in pain. We pay quick visits to the small supermarkets to buy saucisson, Lorraine beer, and bug spray, and I buy a bracelet from a gift shop. As we drive back to Mirounga, I’m glad this is last time doing a long drive for a while.
Back on board I shower, rinse and condition hair, which got a soaking. I wash the salt off my face and give myself a pedicure, then spend 2 hours curled up in bed. I emerge for sunset despite a headache, and it’s worth it as it’s the second green flash night in a row. Dinner isn’t necessary as we’re both still full of bokit, so we just snack on just mini Twix bars. We watch Panic and The Afterparty, and then Everyone Hates Suzie and Nora from Queens in bed. I really need to sleep tonight so I take sleeping tablets and apply all the pain patches.
Saturday 12 February
We’re awake before 8, as seems to be the norm now. I actually had some deep sleep according to my watch but I feel like I’ve been in a car crash. That dinghy ride yesterday has given me pulled muscles in my back and what feels unpleasantly like whiplash. After breakfast we tidy up, then I watch an episode of Drag Race as we’re trying to take it easy for the morning.
After some final boat prep and making some filled baguettes we set off for the Le Marin fuel dock at 11:40. I’m dreading having to jump ashore with lines so I give in and take my prescription painkillers again. It takes 30 minutes to get to the fuel dock, then we have to queue. It looks like we’re third in line, but the boats on the dock show no signs of leaving. First one then another boat queuing gives up and leaves – one lets us know there are issues with the fuel pumps.
An hour after we arrive a space becomes free, but only after a big Outremer takes a chunk out of its hull moving. It looks like a tight spot between the Outremer and another catamaran. We’re not sure we’re going for it, then, to both of our surprise, Colin crab walks Mirounga into the space perfectly. I’m delighted when the lady from the Outremer is on the dock and offers to take our stern line, which makes it easy for me to jump off and tie the bow line. When I have to do the stern line myself it’s a huge leap from the deck to the dock.
We have to wait to see what’s happening, so we eat lunch, and just as we finish the attendant says we can fuel up. It’s a quick process, and we fill our petrol tank as well. As Colin fills the tanks, I retie our lines so I can slip them from on deck. As usual as we leave another fuel dock patron offers to release our lines for us, but I’m much happier slipping them myself. It’s partly because I keep control, and partly as I don’t like being reliant on others to get on and off a dock. That first line aside… We neatly get off the dock at 2pm, and are officially on our way to Bequia. We like Martinique but it’s crazy busy, so we’re glad to be leaving the thousands of boats behind.
The journey begins
By 14:30 we’re doing 8kts downwind on a very comfortable track. I attempt to nap, but there’s a diesel smell in our cabin that keeps me awake. I’m back on deck at 4pm, but soon feel chilly so I change into warmer clothes. There are lots of boobies catching the flying fish we disturb as we pass through the water It’s a symbiotic relationship – they use our slipstream and wake, and we get the pleasure of their company. This is a particularly chatty flock.
I boil the kettle to make sunset pot noodles, and of course it starts to rain as I’m preparing them. My priority is to get Colin his waterproofs before he gets wet. Then I can get into mine before bringing our food out. The worst has passed, but it’s even colder and the deck is wet so I’d rather be prepared. Colin changes our courtesy flag after dinner in the last of the light.
We don’t lose speed in the lee of Saint Lucia, and we’re both surprised and happy to see the Pitons in the last of the light. I pass the time by reading old blogs, and Colin stays at the helm until a little before 8. Then I take over while he goes to sleep. Not long after he goes down I see the fin of a dolphin. Unlike our past night sails, we have bright moonlight. I can still see the Pitons in dark. It’s not a bad watch, but I have heartburn so I’m feeling pretty miserable. We’re half way through our 95 nautical mile journey when we switch places at 10pm.
I don’t really sleep, the diesel smell is still bugging me even though I’m burying my face in a blanket. At best I doze for around an hour. I feel us pick up speed considerably and know there’s no hope of more sleep, so I pull my oilies back on and head out to relieve Colin. We’re doing up to 9kts, and the swell from the east is rolling us all over. I’m disoriented and uncomfortable but I will myself to smile and say I’ll be fine when Colin checks that I’m okay to take over.
On our other night sails I’ve felt relaxed, and have enjoyed the stars, or listening to music. I spend this watch clinging to the helm seat, wide eyed and telling myself we’ll be fine. I know we’re safe, but the volume of the wind on the sails, the waves crashing, and the motion of the boat are just too much for my senses. Every time I complete a 15 minute chunk of my watch and do my little look around I congratulate myself for not waking Colin up.
Given our ETA read 4am when he went down at around 11:45, he’s back on deck by 01:30 anyway. This is half the time resting we’d usually give ourselves. After trying the cabin, I resort to curling up on the sofa. This time whatever sleep I get isn’t enough for my watch to register. Ironically, as I rouse myself we’ve lost the roll and slowed right down, to conditions I could usually sleep in.
The longest leg
It’s around 3am when I come back on deck, I think. Truth be told I was in too much of a daze to keep notes. Colin is happy at the helm so I settle on to the comfort seat on the bench beside him. He’s had a more fun watch than I did, and saw a pod of dolphins. I curl up and close my eyes for a lot of the remaining time, but never really sleep. We have to turn the motor on for 20 minutes a couple of times when we start to lose the wind passing the south of Saint Vincent, but thats it. It’s ironic that we put so much stake on fixing our engines then barely needed them, but we’d never have set off without them.
The wind picks up again in the St Vincent passage, but we’re glad to have been slowed down. Had we not been, we’d have arrived in the dark. As it is, the sun is just rising over Bequia as we enter Admiralty Bay and take down the sails. We have enough light to anchor safely by, and get set quite far out off Lower Bay bluff soon after 6am. We have a snack, I shower, and we crawl into bed for sleep, at last, by 7am.
It’s so good to be back in Bequia. To already have eaten at familiar restaurants, visited familiar shops, and stopped to chat to familiar faces in the street. I’m particularly happy to have been reunited with my chiropractor. We already have social plans, and with me going back to work our calendar is filling up. Bequia is far busier than we’ve ever seen it, and it’s wonderful. Of course, we loved having this little slice of paradise to ourselves, but we care deeply about the community here. It’s so good to see restaurants packed and vendors doing well, even if it means the ugly sight of a cruise ship every day or two.
We don’t know when we’ll move again, save for a day sail or two with Mirounga’s former owners. We may have some potential buyers come to see her, and we may feel like a weekend jolly. Other than that, we want to just enjoy Bequia life until my dad comes to visit in late-March.
A time which could start to feel like the end of a journey, and be bittersweet, is made easier being back somewhere we know. We feel like we’ve done our exploring and coming back to familiarity gives us a taster of what moving home will be like.
We’re tired after going from the BVI to Bequia, covering over 500 nautical miles, in 3 weeks. But for now, we’re grounded and content.