Sunday, October 29, 2017

September 6 - Irma the Beast

This posting will be my final "Mowzer" blog post, but while it marks the end of this particular chapter, it will definitely not be the end of our journey.

I am posting this to share our story with all those who have asked for an update on Mowzer. What we can't forget is the sheer incomprehensible level of devastation for those people who live and make their livelihood on these special islands.  We are not alone in the loss of our boat and we sympathize with the many others who have been similarly affected.

Let's rewind back a few months to set the scene.  We had left Mowzer on St. Martin for bottom repairs and a paint job at Polypat boatyard.  She was situated in the yard, just west of Marigot by the lagoon entrance on the French side.  The repairs were planned for about three months out of the water and then life took a turn as we changed plans to return to Ottawa.  In June, Henry returned to the boat to prep for hurricane season and check on the repairs.  Given we were to remain in Ottawa for a while, thankfully he also took the time to remove and ship home most of our belongings and precious mementos of Mowzer life.  While we knowingly left Mowzer on an island often targeted by hurricanes, we weren't planning on being onboard and we filed our plan and received approval from our insurance company.  Little did we know that the hyperactive hurricane season of 2017 and September alone would host not one or two, but FOUR major hurricanes, three of which would make landfall in the eastern Caribbean.

September 6 saw the arrival of Irma with a direct hit that devastated the islands of the north-east.  Barbuda, the island where we had so much enjoyed viewing the magnificent frigate birds was completely annihilated with 95% of structures destroyed and all residents permanently evacuated from their home island.  Saint Martin was next in line for this hurricane which sustained wind speeds of 295 km/hr for over 36 hours and on the morning of September 6 we can only shudder to imagine the conditions on the island.

The first images we viewed showed the twisted and flooded remains of the boat-yards just outside of Marigot and at this point we could only assume that the worst had happened to Mowzer.  Reports came in over the next few days, from friends and strangers alike all sharing stories of horror and devastation and although we were miles away, it was a visceral feeling of dread that took up roost deep in our bellies.

Image may contain: outdoor
*Meteo Express (Facebook page)
It took another 6 days for Irma to pound through the Virgins & islands west, to finally diminish and die away over the mainland U.S. and by then we had watched category 4 Jose brush to the north and were now cringing as another formed off the coast of Africa.  Adding insult to massive injury, Maria wound herself up to category 5 and this monster took a more southerly route right through our beloved Dominica and the U.S. islands of St. Croix and Puerto Rico.  Between Jose and Maria, more tropical storm force winds and copious amounts of rain made lives even more miserable on St. Martin and compounded the damage left behind by Irma.  Thankfully it is now almost November and the end of the 2017 Hurricane season will soon be proclaimed to be one for the history books.

With communication and power outages on the islands, limited reliable information was difficult to find, but finally on September 13 we were put in touch with marine surveyor David Duong who was in the process of documenting many of the boat yards in St. Martin with his drone footage on YouTube. Here was our first glimpse of Mowzer:  at 4:16 in this video Mowzer appears bottom, slightly left of centre with a monohull leaning up against her - no mast, no bimini, keels collapsed.

As you can see the picture is not pretty so we launched an insurance claim and cutting quickly to the end of our story we have now had the boat surveyed and proclaimed a total loss.

The pictures from our survey report tell a more detailed story.  It would appear that the monohull leaning up against her helped push Mowzer over on her keels and come to rest on the boat next to her.  The aluminum RIB dinghy is amazingly still on the davits but is cracked and has bent the davit structure.  The aft port quarter is fractured, the hard-top bimini is completely gone, the mast lies bent and twisted on the ground in front of the boat and the list goes on and on.

Our insurance (Skipper's Plan backed by Aviva Insurance) has acted quickly and efficiently, especially considering the volume of catastrophic losses they must be processing and we are satisfied with that part of the outcome.

Irma may have taken Mowzer, but we have memories, experiences, the fulfilment of dreams and the most amazing, expanded set of friends who have supported us throughout the whole ordeal.

The following pictures were taken by the surveyor (Harbor & Ocean Services Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Florida) and provided in the report to our insurer:

Now, let's remember happier days as we plan our next adventure.  Irma may have taken Mowzer but the pursuit of the simple lifestyle and the dream will continue!

R.I.P Mowzer

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Changes in Latitudes

Over the past 10 years as is typical of most wanna-be and then out-there cruisers, I've assiduously followed numerous sailing blogs.  As with any good story, the desire to know the outcome is often bitterly counterbalanced against the selfish desire for the enjoyment of the journey to continue.  As I look back through my browser bookmarks list, it is like walking memory lane seeing the names of those who came before and have now moved on to other adventures, mostly on land and under the title of a different blog, or returned to their former land life for jobs, school, health or any myriad of other reasons.

When setting out almost two and a half years ago, we deliberately set out without a planned timeline; it made the adventure more real for us and with no concrete plans, we didn't have to deal with reality for a while.  For us, no deadline looming over us meant that we were free to live in the moment and enjoy every one of those moments to their fullest.

We then found ourselves returned to Ottawa with no real plan.  Is this a mark of the distance we have truly travelled?  Have we become such gypsies, blowing in the wind, that we've even let go of that intense trait of planning out every step of the journey that got us out on the high seas in the first place?  Is this a mind-space to treasure?  I'm going to say, "Yes!"

The flip-side of that coin however, is that reality does intrude and with a little number-crunching (probably all begun long ago but now percolating up to the surface) we've decided that while it would be lovely to stay out cruising indefinitely, we should take some concrete action to refill the bank accounts and think of the future beyond the next five years.

Fate has a lovely way of intervening, and the decision was made particularly easy when within a week of reaching out to my professional network, I was rewarded with a position I have coveted for a number of years.  How could I say no?  As of February 13 I will be starting a new job at PricewaterhouseCoopers!  I won't go into the gritty details but suffice it to say that it's a position that will challenge me, allow me to travel across Canada and I will be specializing in an area that I find fascinating.

Favourite line on my resume:
1st Mate & Navigator, sailing vessel Mowzer  (October 2014 - present)

So now that we've made the decision to return, the reverse of all those actions taken to divest ourselves of our earth-bound connections has to be undertaken.  Job, housing, transportation, furnishings, WORK CLOTHING!!  Yikes!

We're not done yet though - Mowzer remains patiently in St. Martin and Henry at least will be returning to her welcoming decks in the spring.  Stay tuned for the next chapter!

Meanwhile - I think we have a new ride.  Imagine just how much fun we have had buying a car in sub-zero, wintery conditions.

No two-stroke outboard on this new ride.  Guess I don't have to worry about dinghy chaps either.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Martinique to St. Martin ... and On To Canada!

It's been a while since I posted here so to close out 2016 I thought I should do a little catch-up on our adventures since we were last hiking on Martinique.

Ah, Martinique!!  One of our favourite islands in the Caribbean and would that we could still be there.  However, Mowzer needs some warranty work and the yards here are just too busy to fit us in until later in 2017, so off to St. Martin we went on word that we could be hauled and repairs started before Christmas.

Martinique, as always had her grips on us and just as we were leaving we lost a set-screw in the pin that held the boom to the mast.  After our initial shock, we turned around, effected our repair and were on our way again a few hours later.

Just one little set screw, stripped of its' threads, caused a heart-stopping moment as we got ready to hoist sail and head north.
We had the perfect weather window for our trek north.  We could have done it all in one go but we decided to enjoy ourselves and took day sails instead:  

  • Martinique to Dominica, 
  • Dominica to Guadeloupe, 
  • Guadeloupe to Antigua, 
  • Antigua to St. Bart's,
  • and then a small hop from St. Bart's to St. Martin.  
As the rainy, squally weather cleared over the first couple of days we were treated to sunny skies once again.  Along the way we met up with friends, firstly in Anse d'Arlets we had a final dinner with Laura & Jerry on their charter boat.

From under her thick duvet of early morning cloud, Martinique awakes to the sunrise.
We caught up with Joe and Greg on Serenade as we reached Dominica, and from there to St. Martin we were boat buddies.  It was still raining heavily on the island and we were treated to views of spectacular waterfalls and a 'river' of freshwater run-off along the coast.

Waterfalls from above and you can just make out the colour change of the fresh water running south along the coast.

Early morning sun lighting up the water and Serenade's sails.  What perfect conditions!
As we approached Guadeloupe we were treated to a rainbow over the anchorage and then a little squall as we anchored - seemed to be the routine we had hit, but on this occasion we were able to celebrate with a little reunion.  Bill and Wendy on Overstreet were already in the anchorage.

Rainbows mean sunshine and rain - we were already in the sunshine so we assumed we might be about to get wet in the anchorage.  Not for long though and then we were primed for a beautiful sunset.
And so the days went - up and sail early for 8-10 hours and then settle into an anchorage for the night.  Conditions were near-on perfect with beam reaches between the islands and easy-to-dodge squalls few and far between.  Once we reached Antigua we were hoping for the forecast northerly factor in the winds as we made our turn north-west towards St. Martin.  Unfortunately, the winds do not always listen to the forecast but we weren't complaining - calm conditions for a motor-sail, no drama, and a mid-afternoon arrival in St. Bart's.  The only excitement we had was when we were just over 10 miles off the coast of St. Bart's and running in 70-100' of water, we could just make out a freighter up ahead that appeared to be stationary.  Once we were in range with our AIS we were confirmed, he was anchored - and RIGHT on our rhumb line!

Easy for us to tell that freighter wasn't moving, with the peaks of St. Bart's in the background.

Really?  Right on our rhumb line to St. Bart's.  Diversionary tactics were called for.
Not that exciting in all reality - just a little tweak on the auto-pilot, and mostly a way to break up the day.

Once again, under sunny skies we headed on the next morning to make the bridge into the lagoon at St. Martin.  As a first for us, we carried right on through the causeway bridge, which is a swing bridge with an in- and an out-channel, proceeded just over the border onto the French side and dropped our hook.

Just two of us going through the bridge on that day.
We settled into the anchorage and with our arrival the winds picked back up to howling level and the sunny skies took a break.  We had timed our trip perfectly!

The sun said farewell for a few days with a nice showy sunset on the clouds above.

Our home in the French-side lagoon, just below "The Witch's Tit".

They may be stormy skies, but a little ray of sunshine created the perfect light for an evening sail.
While we awaited our haul-out date and hoped that the winds would die down a bit, we socialized and caught up with new and old friends.

One of our favourite spots - Little Jerusalem for most excellent shawarma, this time enjoyed with Jo and Greg.

Here's a new one to try - an interesting combination!
St. Martin is a wonderful cross-road where people heading north, south, east and west all converge.  Here we met up with first-time Canadian cruisers Matthew & Kathleen on Kinship (friends from Ottawa) and Tess & Al on Ingomar (from St. John's, NFLD.)  We then reunited with Danish friend Peter on Mandalay and with that we had quorum for a hike and a beer or two.

Matthew, Kathleen, Tess & Al joined us for a lovely French meal on a patio in Marigot.

Getting lost up on Pic Paradis - it's amazing how quickly the path can become overgrown in the rainy season!
Our haul-out date arrived on December 15th, and ironically it was the only day on the forecast that had winds under 20 knots.  We hightailed it over to the yard early in the morning and before the winds could change their minds, we were lifted out and settled on the hard.  

Getting the lift straps carefully positioned.

And quick as that Mowzer was lifted by the crane and carefully positioned in the yard.  The whole operation took about 15 minutes.
A dusty, dirty yard is not a fun place to stay so we were very lucky to get an apartment right on Marigot Bay, about 15 minutes walk from the boat yard.  A friend of a friend of a friend owns the place - so wonderful what a good network of friends can accomplish!

Our living room and a tiny kitchen.

The view from the bedroom and patio completely made the stay delightful!
Mowzer now has to sit on land for about four months, so being homeless for a while we decided to head back to Canada for Christmas and spend the holidays with family.  On top of that, we celebrated my amazing mother's 93rd birthday with everyone in attendance except Jim, who joined us by Skype from Belgium.

93 years strong - celebrating with the family.
Winter has of course arrived in Ottawa and with fresh eyes we are enjoying the winter views.
Changes in latitude.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Exploring the South Side

Our route along the south shore of Martinique led us through some diverse scenery and wonderful seaside towns.
We were treated to a hike last weekend out on the Diamante peninsula, right at the south west end of Martinique. Our friend John had a car so off we went to explore an area we hadn't visited much before. The hike between Grand Anse and Anse d'Arlet gave us a good view of both pretty anchorages (we stopped here briefly last July).
Grand Anse is chock full of boats at this time of year, but still retains the quaint charm of a seaside town.
Anse d'Arlet is a smaller bay, nicer town and definitely a beach destination for locals on this sunny Sunday.
On the walk over the headland between the two bays, Morne Champagne, Henry thinks he has found a great little real estate offering.
On the south shore we stopped at this great viewpoint overlooking Diamond Rock.
It's hard to believe but at one time the British navy took control of this rock, called it HMS Diamond and kept tabs on the French.  This is the first time I've seen a layout of where they located their operations (enlarge the photo for a better view.)
The drive back along the south shore took also us past a memorial statue that we had heard of but never found in the past as it is not marked on the tourist map. This statue (these statues) was erected as a memorial to the 46 lost souls on a slave ship that went aground on these shores during a strange manoeuvre by the captain in 1830. It is still unknown the name or nationality of the ship. The memorial is white, the traditional colour of mourning in the Caribbean, is approximately the same size as the burial ground, is in a triangle formation representing the axis of the slave trade and points to the location in Africa where the slaves were taken. An incredibly moving site.

We finished up the day at the Baraqu'Obama restaurant in St. Luce. You can't get your seafood any fresher than here: sitting at the tables on the beach watching the lobster begin sorted into holding pots, pulled out and placed on the grill just in time for your order! If you go on a Sunday, just make sure you get there early or there won't be a table available for you, it was a busy little place!

The story goes that the owner opened his restaurant at the same time that Barack Obama announced his run for the presidency.  He was so proud that a black man would run for president that he named his restaurant in honour of the event, never imagining that he would actually become the American leader.  Notice the Creole spelling.
Sitting at our table watching the lobsters being sorted as they are brought in by the fishermen.
The waves are almost lapping at our toes.
Can't get any fresher!
Our many thanks to John (Seamantha) who introduced us to these new sights. Not sure how he managed to avoid the camera for the day, but we'll get you next time!