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!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

$$$: Cost of Cruising the Eastern Caribbean - An Island Exploration

There are many cruisers who will not share their costs because cruising, just like life on land, is an individual lifestyle choice and everyone’s choices are different.  However, I know when we were in the planning stages and trying to figure out how we could make this life work for us, a big question was, “could we afford it and for how long?”

Of course everyone has a different style of cruising and a different boat with different issues and different requirements.  Did I stress that word enough yet?  “Different”.  That means of course that your mileage may vary from ours.

We spend very little time in marinas but we do occasionally visit one for leaving the boat.  Other folks spend more or less time in marinas, and of course your cruising grounds will greatly impact cost.  The Eastern Caribbean is not cheap - let me make that clear.  Yes, we expect to pay less than $3 for our beer but boat parts are expensive and difficult to obtain, food can be cheap if you eat local provisions and fish along the way but if you have a yearning for some special treat expect to shell out for it.  We eat out a couple of times a week, will happily partake in happy hour with drinks and will eat lunch out if we are running errands or hiking over the lunch-hour.  And then there's communication (i.e. internet) costs.  We often spend $70-80 a month but for those dollars only get about 5gb of data.  Also for us this past couple of years has been difficult with the Canadian dollar falling in value against the US dollar.  Remember that all those islands that use the East Caribbean Dollar are indexed to the USD so we are essentially spending USD most of the time.

We know that there are many people out here who spend more than we do - and as I said at the start, that is a lifestyle choice.  We also know that we could do this cheaper, but would we be happy and enjoying ourselves and would Mowzer be a comfortable safe boat? - perhaps not.  There are many reports that you can live on ridiculously low amounts but I would hazard a guess that these reports are not from the East Caribbean, and perhaps their crew is just a little bit more salty than us.

Please read through to the very end and then you can make your own decisions as to whether this information applies to you.

Mowzer:  2009 36’ Fountaine Pajot catamaran in good condition
Crew:  Henry & Catherine - 50-somethings also in good condition ;-)
Accounting:  We track every dollar spent (did I mention I was an analyst and Henry an engineer in our past lives?)  We divide our tracking into three categories:
  • Boat expenses
  • People expenses
  • Annual / One time expenses
Within these main categories are further subcategories but our basic premise is that if we spend it on ourselves it is “People”, if we spend it on the boat it is “Boat”, and if it is a once a year or an otherwise non-recurring event we use the final category.  Being Canadian, we actually run our numbers through conversion to the Canadian dollar - that’s how we have to pay our credit card bills and the currency of our bank accounts.  However, given that most of the information you will find regarding costs and expenses on the internet are in US dollars, I have converted our numbers using the exchange rate in effect at the end of each month.

  • Annual budget is $60,000 USD and to be honest we spend a little more than this but are not too far off our budget.

Here’s the breakdown of our 2016 spending into the three main categories - our 2015 data was very similar:

Here’s the next level of detail with the breakdown of each category:

*Careful with our tracking = no miscellaneous expense.

* Zero spent this year on charts & guides - purchased in previous years

Okay - that's all good information that you can use if you are planning on sailing in the Eastern Caribbean soon.  However, the Eastern Caribbean is made up of many island nations and each one will present a different spending experience.

I was interested in comparing our costs between islands and also wanted to get some average numbers around daily spending.

I took all our data since April 2015 when we arrived in Sint Maarten/St. Martin (SXM) and started our trek south through the islands.  Since then we made our way south to Grenada where we spent hurricane season 2015, then back north all the way to SXM only to return once again to Grenada for hurricane season 2016.  For each time period in a country, I pulled the data for how much we spent in each category and also calculated the number of days of our stay.  Here's a sampling of the data:

Careful, these data are in Canadian dollars.
Are your eyes glazing over yet??  No worries, this is where it all comes together.

In the timeframe we're reviewing we spent 193 days in Grenada (by far the most of any country) and our average people cost is $91 CAD ($67 USD) per day.  Do we really walk around Grenada shedding that much from our wallets on a daily basis??  Well not really of course but it is quite customary to spend $350 on one shopping trip to the grocery store, the hardware store and the bulk supplies store.

So here's what I was really interested in - a breakdown by country.  These numbers are CAD so divide by 1.35 to get equivalent in USD.  Remember - keep reading below the chart to get just a little more insight.

And here's my final set of notes on this data:
  • This chart does not include the major boat expenses category (insurance, haulout, major projects, bottom maintenance, vacation travel, etc.)
  • SXM and Martinique are both major boat spending centres - this is where you get your annual and expensive repairs done.
  • Antigua, St. Lucia & Grenada also have good chandleries so boat bucks are spent there as well.
  • Montserrat, Dominica and SVG all look relatively inexpensive but major provisioning is done on the surrounding islands before/after going there.
So that's it.  What does this really do for me?  Probably not a lot but it does help me be aware of the 'danger' zones and where our money can slip away.  While we recognize that SXM is where we get most of our expensive boat shopping done, it is also a huge cruiser's gathering place and also home to the Heineken Regatta with lots of social time spent in bars and restaurants - perhaps this year we'll try to eat more on the boat!  Just look at Antigua - lots of social and regatta time but we know that island is expensive so we've done a better job of controlling our costs there.

Hope this might be helpful and please send any comments or questions our way.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Making tracks to Martinique

Just four days of almost perfect sailing saw us make a quick transit from Grenada to Martinique.

We said our goodbyes to friends in Grenada, but time was marching on and we had to leave.

Marie, Codey & Cathy - just missing Allen in this picture.  Wonderful young friends who are on the verge of making their marks on this world!  Can't wait to see what they get up to.

Day 1:  Mt. Hartman to Carriacou (43 nm).  Wind almost the whole way right on the nose, we took the western (leeward) coast and didn't even bother taking the sail out of the sailbag.  We hoped once we cleared the northern tip of the big island we might see some wind, but it just stayed right on the nose.  There was a big weather cell sitting just to the east of St. Vincent and thankfully it didn't move into the area but the effect was the northerly wind.  At least it was only blowing 10-15 knots and the seas were nice and calm too.  We arrived just in time to clear out of customs for an early morning departure the next day and to fill up all our diesel and gas jerry cans with duty-free fuel - the cheapest in the eastern Caribbean!

Day 2:  Carriacou to Bequia (41 nm).  Sailing through the Grenadines, the wind came round to the beam and we saw 8.2 knots SOG at one point!  The only excitement we encountered was when the reef in the sail decided to come undone.  Even though the winds were such that we could have deployed the full sail, we often find the boat more balanced and she sails better with the first reef, even in winds at 15 knots.  This day however, we didn't bother to try to reattach the reef and instead put the full sail up, and promptly lost a half knot of speed.  We had removed the sail for our time in the boatyard (required by the yard) and apparently when putting everything back, someone (ahem, me) obviously forgot how to tie the right knot - back to basics I guess.  All was fixed when we arrived in Bequia and is now performing quite nicely.

Sailing the Grenadines - pretty sweet.

Bequia treated us to a dramatic showing with the sunset.

Day 3:  Bequia to Rodney Bay (74 nm).  Up at 3am for an early morning departure under an almost full moon.  We had to motor to the top of St. Vincent and then again hit great conditions with almost flat seas across the channel to St. Lucia.

An almost full moon played hide & seek behind our sail.

In the early morning with the sun rising behind St. Vincent and the moon setting over the Caribbean Sea we had this intriguing lighting effect looking west.
Here's an interesting little study in perspective.  We were tracking up the leeward shore of St. Vincent with this monohull who left Bequia with us.  From our viewpoint, they were sticking awfully close to shore and we were hanging out a bit trying to pick up some wind.  However, when we checked their AIS signal on the chart plotter they had plenty of room.  Just goes to show how big those hills really are!

A bit blurry but Marinade appears to be almost on the shore.

Their signal on AIS (the little triangle) shows they are actually closer to us than to land.

Rounding the top of St. Vincent with barely a breath of wind, and then BAM!  20 knots on a perfect beam reach.

Early morning drama with the sunrise behind St. Vincent.
Approaching St. Lucia from the south provides beautiful views of the many moods of the Pitons.

I still maintain they look like cat ears in the early morning haze.

After a dry crossing, rain showers ahead.

There's an anchorage between the Pitons - bet they're getting wet today!  I love the twin 'smoking' volcano tops.

Almost obliterated in the intensity of the rain.

And then the sun came out and the whole fury was done.
Day 4:  Rodney Bay to Ste. Anne (25 nm)  With our early start on the previous day, we lazed around a little, let the sun rise, used up the last of the data on our Grenada SIM card (it doesn't work in Martinique) and then picked up the anchor to head north on a short little hop to the south end of Martinique.  Once again, another beautiful sail and amazingly few fish pots as we approached the anchorage at Ste. Anne.  When last here in July we had our pick of spots to anchor, now the anchorage is filling up and there are hundreds of boats here.  We found a nice sandy spot right between other fellow cruisers and here we will rest for a while.

Phew - what a trip and probably the best three days of sailing we have had in a very long time.  183 nm in 29 hours which is an average of 6.3 knots - very happy with this!