I woke up moist and achey. It had rained during the night and my sloth-like closing of our porthole combined with the slow drip from our leaky teak deck resulted in a soggy bed. The joys of old wooden boats.
Our body clocks are quite in tune with the sun’s presence out here, only Micha’s sun rises slightly earlier than mine, so I get my coffee in bed.
I try to position myself comfortably on a dry patch of bedding to do my morning meditation – my new year’s resolution. It’s not actually possible to sit upright on our bed unless you are a small child, so I contort my body to fit the available space, and ‘recline’ with my eyes closed. I try to ignore the clattering of cutlery as breakfast is prepared outside my room, until Micha pokes his head around the door a few minutes later – “still sleeping Jozzie?” – doh. Finding place for quiet contemplation is not easy on a 16 x 4 m^2 area shared with 5 other people. I give up and head up onto the front deck, 6 plates, cutlery, cereal boxes and juice cartons are handed to me en route, until it is clear that unless I start to balance a tray on my head, my carrying capacity is saturated.
Despite our tropical location, our crew still enjoys the German style breakfast. Ah the guilty pleasure of eating cheese before 9am…mmmm. We are in the french West Indies now which means the cheese is GOOD and can be combined with real French baguettes.
Micha and I head to the immigration office to clear ourselves into the country by dinghy. For the first time in the 5 years that I’ve sailed with Micha, we’ve got a new outboard motor, an extremely generous Christmas present from our latest crew (thank you Diethard and Inge!). This has altered the whole ‘dinghy’ experience. It no longer involves a lot of shouting and swearing and instead involves gliding across the water at great speeds. So great, that I try to forget the story Micha’d told about driving across a mooring line and being catapulted out of the boat as he calls out “oh look a rock” as we narrowly miss a great hulk of stone hiding just below the water’s surface. Trumpet fish haul themselves out of the water in front of us and put on an impressive display of talent, racing along on top of the water, their long slender bodies wiggling back and forth at great speed, like a kind of nautical ‘road runner’. I wonder if they believe we’re chasing them or if they merely enjoy showing off.
Officially legal in the country, sun lotion and hats go on our new pasty white crew mates, the dinghies and engines are hoisted aboard and packed away, towels hanging on the rail are thrown below and the deck is cleared. The halyards are attached, sail covers unzipped, sea cocks closed, instruments switched on, the engine growls into life, and it’s time to raise the anchor and hoist the sails!
This morning’s anchorage isn’t too crowded, so we furl out a head sail and sail peacefully off the anchorage. A new crew member is keen to learn to helm, so I sit with her for the first few hours as she zig zags up the coast. With her long deep keel Panta is slow to react and it takes a while to get the feel of her.
We drop the anchor a few hours later in Saint Pierre, the former capital of Martinique, famously destroyed by the volcanic eruption of the Mt. Pelee volcano in 1902. Apparently the town governor had been so convinced that the situation wasn’t dangerous, he’d moved his family into the town to prove his point, who’d sadly died along with the rest of the inhabitants albeit one survivor, a prisoner at the time. A very sad story.
Saint Pierre is maybe my favourite town in Martinique, sun-bleached yellow, blue and pink walls of the buildings lining the seafront behind a beach of black sand, paint a romantic picture. Mt Pelee looms threateningly over their roofs, a permanent reminder of the power of nature. The small seafront vegetable markets and humble Boulangeries give it an understated charm as the locals quietly go about their daily business. There are no cruise ships here disgorging 100s of passengers every day and no noisy beach bars blaring our dancehall beats.
Once our anchor is fixed in the muddy ground, we reverse the morning’s procedure, repack the sails, unpack the dinghies, and the crew organise themselves for an excursion into town.
This is now ‘downtime’ for Micha and me to restore a bit of order to the boat and to contemplate our to-do list. I sit down to research our Galapagos trips, which are turning out to be complicated due to the strict regulations of the islands. A few minutes later Micha appears next to me with a bucket full of parts of our broken water pump and asks excitedly if I’d like to learn how it works. I decide to conceal my true feelings and nod enthusiastically. It is actually quite interesting to see how the magnet pushes and pulls the parts together to create a pressure difference strong enough to suck the water through. Next Micha decides to recondition the diving tanks now reinstalled on the deck and treats himself to a little test dive down to some wrecks nearby, leaving me alone on the boat… I try to do some writing, and decide that a glass of wine will help. Unfortunately the water visibility is terrible and Micha reappears breathless having nearly knocked himself out on a wreck that appeared out of the darkness half a metre away.
The setting of the sun, gives me the ‘go ahead’ to start rummaging through the fridge for inspiration for dinner. With big crews, we always have a lot of unfinished food items and I enjoy experimenting with novel combinations – “tonight I’m thinking of yoghurt and mushrooms darling” – Micha looks horrified. Halfway through cooking, the noise of an outboard motor signals that our crew is back. Giggling from a few cocktails, the bravest member dares to raise one foot out of the dinghy and onto the deck. Alas, the dinghy drifts slowly backwards, and the crew member adopts a ballet position I remember from childhood. His fellow shipmates are screeching with laughter as Micha stomps across the deck and grabs the painter pulling the dinghy back towards the boat and rescues the situation.
We eat our dinner peacefully on the foredeck under a starry sky whilst our crew continue their merriment in the cockpit, emptying their latest bottle of Punch Planteur.
It gets dark out here by 6pm, and by 8pm we are usually in bed. Lets hope there are no showers tonight. THE END.