Is This the Right Bus? How About Now?

Guadeloupe is a large butterfly-shaped island full of french people, and cheese. Just south of the mainland lie Les Saintes. They are a series of small, beautiful islands only accessible by boat. One of the islands, Terre de Haut, allows you to clear in, and I made my way there first. There was some sort of extended lunch break going on when I arrived at the office, so I sat down on a bench outside with my book to wait. Presently, a ferrety man slouched up to me and sat down on the other end of the bench. He introduced himself in french, and I happily indicated that I couldn’t understand him. Unfortunately, he spoke english as well. He began the conversation by kindly suggesting that I shouldn’t get any more tattoos because they’re not ladylike. I made a ladylike grunt, and told him that I actually had forgotten, but I didn’t speak English either. The Ferret ignored this comment and asked if I needed a guide for the island. Luckily at that moment the building re-opened, and I curtseyed my way out.

Harbor in Terre de Haut

With the exception of my gentleman friend, I found Les Saintes to be charming and handsome. There were more cats than people (always a good sign), and I didn’t have to walk more than five minutes from any point on the island to arrive at an ice cream parlor. After a few happy days, I made my way to the big island of Guadeloupe.

Guadeloupe has an excellent bus system. It does not, however, have any sort of online schedule or list of bus routes. The tourist office ladies confirmed that there’s no printed schedule either, but that the busses will stop anywhere for you as long as you flag them down. Further south in the Caribbean, this system works really well. Instead of big busses, there are minivans with the names of their major destinations on a card in the front window. In Guadeloupe, each large city-bus had a very informative number and nothing else.

House in Les Saintes

I memorized the name of the town I was aiming for and the phrase: “are you go here?” Stationing myself by an official-looking palm tree, I waited for my first victim. After several minutes, an orange bus trundled down the road and I flagged it down. Stepping aboard, I asked the driver my question. He couldn’t understand the name of the town I was trying to pronounce, so I whipped out my phone and pointed to the map. The driver pulled a pair of reading glasses from his shirt pocket and squinted at the tiny screen.

“No”

Chicken Alley

He opened the doors, and I stepped back out. Another bus passed, and I played the same charade. Then, a third. Just when I was about to give up, I found my magical orange chariot: 22B. I crossed my fingers that I had pronounced the name of the town correctly, and sat back to see where I would end up. Miraculously, I arrived where I had intended. At the end of the day, there was a brief moment of panic when I forgot which bus line to ride home. But I was good at bus roulette at that point. I only went through two busse before I found the right one. Progress. That’s all I ask for.

Although Guadeloupe is beautiful and friendly, I started to feel lonely after a week. The language barrier made it almost impossible to make friends, and I was developing an unhealthy dependence on baguettes. It was time to clear out and move on. The clearance process in the French islands is the most relaxed of any other country I’ve been to. Usually there’s a computer at the back of the local marine hardware store. You filll out an online form, and bring it to the front desk. The hardware cashier stamps it, and sometimes even checks your passport. At Les Saintes I had cleared in at an internet cafe. Assuming the procedure would be the same in the town where I was clearing out, I didn’t bother smartening up. I had to take a bus into the next town, and was planning on spending the day hiking around. Since I only have three nice shirts, I try to save them for special occasions.

Storm Clouds over Guadeloupe

Checking the map, I saw that customs was located inside a town-sized marina. Paved paths snaked around ornamental trees and perfectly manicured grass. Everyone was wearing polo shirts and seemed to be in a hurry. I looked down at my flip flops, which I had recently repaired with 5200 caulk and seine twine. Thank god I’d fixed them! It would be so embarrassing if people noticed my shoes were falling apart.

At the end of an elegant path stood a round building called the Captainery. I paused to take a sip of water and wipe the sweat off my face before entering. There was a sign on the door in English and French that read: Formal Clothing Only. This was probably a mistranslation of the classic: no shirt, no shoes, no service. I pushed open the door and was dazzled by a shiny floor and giant counter. Oh good. If I stood close to the counter, no one would notice the glue line around the bottom of my flip flops. One of the coiffed secretaries pushed over a stack of papers, and pointed to a little desk across the room. I sat down. As I reached into my bag for a pen, I noticed that the floor was wet. I lifted my bag up, thinking I’d set it in a puddle. Ha! They call themselves fancy, but their floor leaks! A steady dripping now splashed from my bag into the puddle. I looked behind me and noticed a line of water from the counter to my chair. Then I looked in my bag and noticed the now empty water bottle. I’ve never filled out a form faster. Sloshing back over to the counter, I pushed my damp papers across to the secretary. My pack remained hidden under the mercifully imposing counter. I smiled my best smile, and tried to act like I wasn’t leaking water all over the spotless Captainery. The sweet sound of an official stamp filled my ears, and I scuttled out before anyone changed their mind. Once outside the door, I turned my bag upside down, and a little waterfall gently flowed out onto the perfectly manicured lawn.

My favorite anchorage in Guadeloupe

I Need the Water for my Boat!

My best friend in the French Islands was the Google Translate app. Unfortunately, I’d retained about as much vocab from high school French as a one-year-old with colic. Therefore, the translate app became my sidekick and wingman. Before any interaction, I would look up the required phrases on my app and try to commit the words to memory. Then I would walk up to the store clerk or street food vendor, and boldly butcher the language. If they understood what I said (rare), they would respond in French. If I understood the response (rarer), I would smile and hope they didn’t require further verbal interaction. Usually, this worked perfectly. My vocabulary slowly expanded as I talked to more people. I began to feel confident that I could struggle through any situation. That is, until the memorable day when I needed to fill my water tanks. Although the anchorage was right in the downtown area, there were no marinas in sight. As far as I could tell, there was nowhere in the city to fill up. This meant finding the closest marina that sold water. I took to the streets to crowdsource some answers.

To set the scene:
I am in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Everyone is wearing a stripey shirt and carrying a baguette. Red berets are pushed back on heads because of the heat.

I ask in French: Where are the water?
I get pointed in the direction of the ocean, lapping at the harbor-front

I ask in French: I require drinking for the liquid
I am told that noon is too early to be drunk

I declare in French: My boat! She needs the water!
I am told that there is deeper water to anchor in if I go further away from the beach

I implore: I need the beverage to drink on my boat
I am pointed towards a food vendor selling bottles of water

In desperation: Where is the big water for the filling inside my boat?
Ah! You wish to fill your boat? Go to the marina around the corner and…… the rest I didn’t understand, but I had enough to go on (or so I thought).

Excitedly upping anchor, I motored around the corner to the marina on the other side of the fort. Normally, the etiquette is to call the marina on the VHF before arriving. However, flushed with the success of my previous venture, I decided it would be better to sort everything out in person. The marina consisted of a series of private slips for boats, and one long pier that had no boats on it. It also had no cleats on it, and no visible evidence of water or fuel hookups. But I wasn’t about to let that stop me. Bringing Gecko alongside, I left her on the mystery pier, and walked through a gate that locked behind me. The marina office was dead-ahead. So far, so good. I realized that I had accidentally left my trusted best friend, Google Translate, on board. Since the gate was locked, there was no turning back. Luckily I had memorized the phrase: ‘I am searching for the water for my boat’. Using this phrase, I proudly announced my presence to the lady at the desk. Her name tag read Marcella. Marcella said … something… to me and indicated the area outside her office door.

“The man. He is coming”.

Ah, I thought. The man who has the water. I can wait. After about 15 minutes, a scruffy old man appeared, wearing a dirty Tshirt and board shorts. As he reached for the door knob, I noticed that he was missing the tips of three of his fingers. His hair stuck out around his head, and his shoes were held together with string. He seemed an odd bird to be working at such a fancy marina, but I was in no position to question things. Nor could I, even if I wanted to. I smiled at him.

Coconut vendor in the mountains of Martinique

“I am searching for the water”, I announced in my best French. He nodded and pushed open the office door. I grabbed it and stood in the doorway while he talked to the Marcella in rapid French. Seeing me on the threshold, she beckoned me to enter. I sat while they talked for about ten or fifteen minutes. Then the man got up and left. Marcella turned to me and I repeated my request.

“Where is your boat?”, she asked. This one was easy to understand, and easy to answer.
“There” I pointed.
“And you have a reservation?”
“No. I need the water for my boat.” I’m a one-trick pony.
Marcella’s expression changed. She opened Google Translate on her desktop and started typing furiously. Then she turned the screen towards me.
“You just showed up and took a place on the dock without telling us? What if someone needed that slip? You cannot arrive without a reservation. You might have someone’s spot! Where is your boat?”

Thinking of the long empty pier with no cleats, I sincerely doubted that anyone coveted that particular real estate. As I wasn’t able to tell her this, I smiled and pointed at a large map of the marina that was hanging on the wall.
“I am here. I need the water for my boat”

Mountain Fern

Marcella didn’t look, but began clicking away again.
“Marcella’s mad!”, I realized. “But she can’t yell at me because I won’t understand. What a relief!” I sat serenely while the typing continued. She was telling me the price of staying in the marina. Suddenly I realized our problem. She thought I had showed up and taken someone’s slip! I motioned for the keyboard. Scowling, she slid it over.
“Please. I just need to fill my tanks with water. I am tied up on the long pier that has nothing”.

Everything changed.

“Oh!”, she typed. “Water is what the man wanted too. You must go around the corner.” Suddenly we were friends. She slipped her arm through mine and walked me out of the building. I asked her to open the gate for me so I cold get back to my boat.

“I am sorry my English is bad”, she said in English.
“No, I am sorry my French is bad”, I responded in French.

We smiled and parted. I breathed a sigh of relief, and vowed to never leave home without my rosetta stone again. And if I ever get in trouble, I’m pretending I don’t speak the language. Being type-scolded is so much better than the verbal alternative.

Paradise, Loose Pants, and Party Crashing

The secretary pointed at a corridor to her right. “First door on your left is customs”, she said. I had just arrived in to St. John’s Antigua and was preparing to clear in to the country. I thanked her and made my way to a door that was slightly ajar. Through the crack in the door, I saw a woman in a blue uniform with her head on a desk, snoring lightly. I knocked, then took a step back to give her time to compose herself. After a “come in” wafted through the crack, I pushed the door open and entered. The woman, who introduced herself as Sage, was sitting up and blinking. She motioned me to sit in front of her desk, and pushed over a stack of forms. As I started filling them out, I saw Sage stand up to fetch something from the other side of the room. Amusingly, she had unbuttoned and unbelted her tight pants while she was sleeping. Completely unfazed, Sage held them together with one hand while she walked across the room to grab a stamp. Not bothering to rebutton, she returned to her chair. Her composure was so impressive that I was convinced this was a normal routine for her.
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Antigua customs officials turned out to be just as friendly as all the other Carribbean countries I’d visited. Sage was a motherly woman, concerned about my well-being and sanity for sailing alone. She gave me her number and said she wanted to put me up for the night in her house. She couldn’t envision that I was getting good rest on the Geck. I thanked her profusely but explained that my boat was my home, and I didn’t want to leave her for the night. I also wasn’t happy with the place I’d anchored and was planning on leaving once I was cleared in. We bid farewell, and I returned to Gecko.
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The next three nights I spend in Five Islands Bay, halfway down the western side of Antigua. Five islands is a magical location. It’s a huge bay, surrounded by green hills. Most of the land around the bay is national park, so there were almost no houses in sight. Right in the middle of the bay is an island called Maiden Island. I anchored in the lee of Maiden, and didn’t see another person come within a mile of my boat for the next three days. The water was clear and beautiful, the air sweet, and the nights full of bright stars. I set up the sailing rig on my dinghy and explored the shallow head of the bay. It was lined with deserted white sand beaches and tangly luscious undergrowth. I had finally found paradise.
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I ran out of freshies on day four. Since I don’t have refrigeration, it’s hard to keep fresh vegetables for very long, and I hadn’t provisioned for more than a few days anyway. I also needed to top up my water tanks and make a hardware store run. It was time for civilization.
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Jolly Harbor is just around the corner, and the perfect place to resupply. I arrived early in the morning and completed my errands by the afternoon. Like a hopeless addict, I upped anchor and returned to Five Islands for the night, telling myself that I had to leave for good the next morning. My plan was to sail to Falmouth, which is located on the southern side of Antigua. However, I hadn’t factored in the strong headwinds, and after a full day of sailing, and two hours spent trying to get around the southwestern corner of the island, I gave up and headed in to Carlisle Bay.
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Carlisle is a tiny bay with a little beach resort and not much else. I wasn’t crazy about the location, but it would be a fine place to stop for the night. I had just finished putting away my sails for the evening when two kayaks approached my boat. They were paddled by three jolly British vacationers. We chatted and I invited them onto my boat It turns out that they were three of one hundred and fifty pharmaceutical reps who were on a work retreat. They informed me that this was their last night and they were having a big party at the resort to celebrate. “It’s an open bar. You should sneak in”. I didn’t need to be told twice.
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That night, as the sun set, I heard the beginnings of the party. There was a live band, and the colorful lights twinkled all the way out to my boat. I heard what sounded like speeches and clapping. When the chatter was replaced by music, I decided to make my move. Easing into my dinghy, I rowed silently towards the beach and tied up on a small dock at the far right. Once my feet touched the sand, I straightened up confidently, and strode down the beach. The key to sneaking is looking like you belong. As the dance floor came into view, I paused and scanned for the friends I’d met earlier. Perhaps they weren’t there. Should I just go back to my boat? Suddenly a flamingo shirt caught my eye and I spied three familiar faces by the bar. My friends loudly introduced me around as the American on the boat, and quickly realized that my initial caution was unnecessary. Everyone was friendly, and nobody seemed to care that I was crashing their party. They were a lively bunch, and the rum flowed freely. Literally. Their company was going to need a crane to pick up the tab we must have left behind. We danced and chatted until the wee hours of the morning when we all parted ways. I waved to my friends as they retired to their hotel rooms. As I got back into my dinghy and rowed home, I decided Carlisle Bay wasn’t so bad afterall.
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Home (freezing cold) Home

March 2nd was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and blowing. The airport had lost my bag, so I made my way to Gecko with just a backpack and a down jacket clutched around me. My mom was visiting for a break from the cold Maine winter, and she followed me down the dock wearing all the clothes she had packed. Luckily our friends Tim and Jennifer had loaned me a space heater, and we were soon huddle around the tiny white beast while I put the kettle on and grabbed blankets. I felt like I’d never left.

Not many moms would visit their kid on a cold, snowy, unheated boat

 

For my mom’s entire visit, the temperature never got above 50 (in the sun, out of the wind). She can do anything, so she never complained. When she left, her shorts sat unworn in the bottom of her bag. That was when my work began.

Day 1 of being home. Note the clean hair, nice clothes, and well-rested face. Yep, definitely day 1

My work list looked something like this:

-Working jib (get one)

– Fix stupid leaking anchor chain locker

– Sew new slugs onto main

– Sun shade (make one somehow)

– AIS receiver

– Waterproof foredeck hatch

– Get charts

My first task was acquiring a sail. My dad had loaned me his working jib for my trip down with the stipulation that I send it back to him when I arrived. I was trying to figure out how to get a used jib inexpensively when I ran into Crazy Joe and his newly purchased marine surplus store. Oriental is home to a large population of sailors, both transient and local. It also has a marine surplus store with a colorful history of owners and inventory. When I sailed in in November, it was under different ownership but I had gone in to check out their vast inventory of sails. Nothing was marked or organized, and I spend a fruitless morning sifting through jib after jib and finding nothing. When I came back in March, Joe had purchased the place and he offered me a deal: if I helped to measure and organize the sails, I could take what I needed in return. I agreed, and thus came into two beautiful new jibs.

Sail inventory at the marine salvage shop.

The other projects on my list were more straight forward. To waterproof the anchor chain locker, I first rebedded the hawseholes themselves. There was a tired gasket under each one, and the screw freely turned in the deck. I realized that most of the water that had been getting in was probably washing between the ports and the deck. This might have accounted for much of the large volume of water I’d been pumping out.

Re-bedding the anchor chain ports

I entirely sealed up the starboard anchor chain port. The ports themselves are too big for the boat and are an enormous hole to have right in the front of your boat. I figured with half the hole volume, I’d get half the volume of water. I then bought an inspection port and installed it into the door of the chain locker. I used putty and boatlife caulk and sealed the door in place. That done, I decided to see how the locker did at sea before I drilled a drainage hole in the bottom. It’s always better to wait before you drill holes in your hull. Perhaps the water coming in will be insignificant enough that I can get it out with a pump occasionally and not worry about flooding the compartment.

Waterproofing the anchor chain locker. It’s so nice to work from bed

I’ve decided I would like an ais receiver for passages. If I can set a guard alarm for ships, I’ll be able to get better sleep offshore, and I’ll be able to hail them at night if I’m unsure of their course. I looked into several options, including a receiver with a wifi antennae that I could pick up on my iPad. However I soon realized that the cheapest option would be to buy a new vhf that came equipped with an ais receiver. That way I wouldn’t have to install a new antennae, run new wires, or spend a surprisingly large sum of money on the string of electronics I’d need to make the luxury of wifi work.

Wiring in my new VHF with AIS capabilities!

For a sunshade, I found an old sail and cut it to make it fit over my cockpit. I sewed a slit with velcro to fit around the toppinglift, and then lashed the ends to the mast and shrouds. My only complaint is that it’s a bit bulky, but it’ll be great for catching rain water and withstanding heavier winds without tearing.

Sewing my new canopy from an old sail

I’m hoping to leave Oriental in the next few days! I still have a few projects to get done before I go, but I’m almost there. I’m so excited to get going!