Wednesday, June 14, 2017

French Hop, Skip and Jump Part I

The weather looked good for a move.  It's funny how so many of my blog posts begin, or at least mention... the weather.  But that's how it is out here.  Weather is KING!  You move on a weather window or you get smacked!

An early morning departure from our anchorage in Fox's Bay gave us dramatic views of the volcano.  The sun's rays burst through the drifting smoke leaving us speechless as we slipped silently down the southwestern coastline of Montserrat.

The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) website gave us the green light for sailing as close to the shore as we dared.  We've been at risk level 1, which is the lowest category,  for the duration of our time here.  The area we are sailing in is the last of the exclusion zones.  No one is allowed to overnight in the Plymouth area and seagoing vessels must not stop while sailing these waters.

We had no intention of stopping but we took our time... hardly taking our eyes off of the scene of such total destruction.

Bruce raised the sails at the first hint of a breeze... one reef in the main and the blade hanked onto the baby stay.  The forecast called for winds of 15-17 knots from the east with 5 ft. seas.  Here in the lee of the island, things are deceptively calm and we had to motorsail to keep a steady speed.

We've heard that the Windward Islands are known for compressing the winds between islands causing about a 20% increase over the actual wind speeds.  We are about to find out if this is true.

South of Plymouth.  This is where we were on our tour

Plymouth.  The dock on the right is still in use

South of the dock, lots more of the town is burried

A huge flow in a valley with sulphur smoke

A huge flow meets the water's edge with abandoned buildings on the hillside

This is the southern shore

Then one more huge river of melted earth on the south shore of Montserrat

There was a boat far out in front of us and we watched as they left the lee of the island.  This prepared us for the sudden gust of wind we experienced and we were grateful for our conservative sail configuration.

Suddenly, Montserrat was behind us. There was some current so we kept the engine going... Plus... remember that engine trouble we experienced on our approach to Montserrat?  Well, we had changed our fuel filters and wanted to see if that fixed the problem.  At this point, things were going just fine and we were hopeful!

Once we got away from Montserrat, conditions improved.  Unfortunately our engine issues did not.  The engine died again and it happened when there was a lot of bouncing going on.  This had us worried that it was gumbah in our fuel tank that must be getting stirred up when conditions were sporty.

Well nothing to do but continue along with sails alone and hope that the engine starts when we need her at the other end!  Bruce put out a fishing line... and we actually hoped we would catch a fish!  People ask us all the time if we fish a lot.  The answer is... no.  We don't.  The reason?

Thus far, most of our offshore sails have been in conditions that were too rough for us to have any desire to add to it by first, backwinding the boat, then wrangling the fish onboard, and then dealing with the fish cleaning and cleaning the boat UP!  And... it would probably have been a stupid barracuda anyway!

If it wasn't rough conditions that deterred us, it was time constraints.

We plan our passages to arrive at our destination in safe sunlight conditions...  Getting there sooner is usually better than getting there later, so we're sailing as fast as we can... But this time, we had the luxury of plentiful time...

The 37 miles from Montserrat to Guadeloupe was the perfect sail.  We averaged 5.5 knots with top speeds of 7.8!  It was a straight shot with only a brief bit of drama (that's the 7.8 part) as we neared the northernmost point of Guadeloupe where currents, wind and waves are fluky.

Guadeloupe HO!

The skies clouded up as we reached the island.  Once we reached the calmer waters of the lee, we held our breath and turned the key...  Thankfully the engine started right up.  We dropped the jib but kept the main up as long as possible, just in case the engine decided to crap out again... but it purred along all the way in...

The first anchorage coming from the north is Deshaies. We found a sandy spot amongst the rocks in about 26ft depths to drop our anchor along the northern wall of the anchorage.

We have heard that many of the anchorages in these islands can be rolly and we were hoping that the swell wrapping around the northern coast would not reach us here.

Our strategy worked!  We weathered several squalls here in calm comfort!


Although we arrived in plenty of time to go ashore and clear in, friends from Pura Vida saw us and dinghied over on their way to snorkel the nearby point.  They advised us that the store that houses the customs and immigration computer (French island - easy clearance by computer) was closed... So we relaxed and enjoyed a peaceful sundown with the joyful blood of our arrival high still running in our veins!

The next day we took our time getting the dinghy down, hoping to give the C&I place plenty of time to we dinghied ashore to clear in...

Yesterday, John-Michael had listened to our story about our engine woes and suggested that it could be something as simple as a partially clogged fuel tank vent.

Bruce's early morning investigation had shown that our fuel filters were NOT full of gumbah... so this possible solution made sense.

Bruce removed the outer vent cover, which was kind of a mess anyway, and dug out some salt deposits in this little vent hole... With no way to test the theory other than to see if the engine would run on our next passage, we prepared to go ashore and clear in...  at about mid afternoon...

Remembering that in the French islands, everything closes down for 2-3 hours mid day, we figured we might find some lunch if the store was still closed.

What we hadn't counted on was that once the lunch hour was over, many of the restaurants close until dinner!
The C&I place was STILL closed... their sign promising to be open at 4:30 pm... So we wandered the streets in search of a place to get food!

We found one place open... sort of.  By this time we were hot, starving and feeling the deep let-down that often comes after the arrival-high of the previous day.  The language barrier was adding to our depression... my mind feverishly searching for the words to inquire about getting a meal...

The lady inside the restaurant left her bar customers and listened to my lame attempts to speak French with sympathetic eyes.  Not enough sympathy to break out in English and relieve my torture... but enough to speak slowly enough for me to understand that yes, we could still get the buffet lunch.  And there were drinks with or without rum... Why would we want juice without rum???

We seated ourselves at the primo table, perk of lunching after everyone else is gone... and devoured the authentic Creole meal.

Et voila! Once again our spirits soared... We had achieved the procurement of life-giving FOOD!


Our prospects continued to improve as we made our way back to the C&I store and found them to be open.  Again, in French, I made our wishes known and was shown to the back room of this little shop to use the Customs computer.  A charge of four Euro changed hands and, with my French cheat sheet from our clearance back in St. Martin, I did it quickly and painlessly.  WE're IN!

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town, knowing that this was only a taste as we would leave here in the morning... weather says go!

Loving the pop-up-art!
Church, complete with a bell tower that played on the hour.
We found the grocery store still open so we checked it out...
We didn't need much... so we bought ICE CREAM!
Land crab holes everywhere... They were coming out in the growing dusk

They come out, then zip back down their hole as we approach...
Time to head back to the boat

Dinner!  If you've never tried Rum Raisin... it's delicious!
The ups and downs of arrival to a new island were now behind us.  We had cleared into the country, found food and even ice cream.

Chances were good that our engine woes were fixed... and we were on our way to new places...

Hurricane season and weather are weighing on our minds so we will skip further exploration and hop on down to Les Saintes in the morning... To be continued...

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