Oh! The Things You'll See!
We recently moved the boat over to the Big Marina—Le Marin—which is about two nautical miles further in to the bay than Ste. Anne. We did this to fill the boat’s tanks with fresh water (470 liters), and to be closer to the marina itself, because Chantal had a dentist appointment, and if we needed to take buses, this would cut one bus ride out. But we did not take a mooring ball; instead, we anchored just behind the mooring field. Still a good dinghy ride in, but close enough to be comfortable for us.
We had been here a couple of days when one afternoon we noticed a boat come in and try to anchor. It was obvious that the 53-foot Amel was having trouble setting the hook. It was also obvious that there was a disconnect between the silver-haired skipper and his platinum-blonde mate. They looked lost. And pissed off.
After one more failed attempt, the skipper brought the boat around and lined up on a nearby mooring ball, one that did not look adequate to support such a big boat. We watched from our cockpit, 40 yards away, but he was trying to pick up the ball on the port side. Suddenly the boat spun around, pointing downwind, so that his starboard side was facing us, hiding the port side. It looked like he was trying to secure the mooring line to a cleat amidships, and in doing so, had his boat stern-to-wind. We were sure they would quickly fix this, running a line to the bow cleats and pointing the boat into the wind.
But the crew disappeared below deck, leaving the boat facing in the wrong direction. Chantal and I looked at each other. Should we just leave them alone? But that mooring was sketchy. We decided to dinghy over.
When the skipper heard the dinghy, he emerged. He was all smiles, saying “Bonjour” to us in a German accent. We asked if he needed help, and he seemed flustered, but he welcomed us aboard. He explained that he wanted to get into a slip at the marina, but none were available, so he came out here. We offered to help him try to re-anchor and get away from that mooring, but he waved us off.
“First, we must have a drink!” His name was Gustav.
He came back with a bottle of Spanish Cava, and insisted we drink with him, even though we protested that there would be time for drinks later, after fixing the anchoring. He would have none of that. Soon he explained that “I am a shitty sailor, but I am a good navigator.” He also explained that his crewmate, Nena, was a Russian national, and that she had very little sailing experience. She also had a passport that was not welcomed in any port nearby, due to the war with Ukraine.
“I think I will stay right here,” said Gustav. No, we insisted, and to prove our point another dinghy puttered up and asked if he needed help because he was pointing in the wrong direction. Gustav smiled and waved them off, but we eventually got him to agree to fix the boat—however, he insisted on staying on the mooring. So we set about getting him righted. To our horror, he came over and began loosening the lines on the mooring without first turning on the motor. When we began to drift sideways in the direction of a hulking ferry boat behind us, we suggested some diesel power.
“Good idea,” he said, enthusiastically.
Under power, we were able to approach the mooring ball, hook it, and get the big boat tied off. The Amel yanked mercilessly on the rope, and we were sure it was going to snap at any moment. While Gustav and I worked to get the boat secure, Nena pulled Chantal aside.
“Everything on boat is broken,” she said in her Russian accent. “No propane for cook, only three liters of water. No food. Nothing work.”
We figured the least we could do is invite them over for drinks and dinner, because Gustav kept asking if we had French cheese and baguette on the boat. “These I will pay for.” He waved a 50 Euro note around.
We heard more of their story during dinner. Nena had joined Gustav in Brazil, and they had hopped from marina to marina, making their way up the coast of South America, then the Windward Islands of the Caribbean, finally arriving in Martinique.
“I have been sailing for quite a long time, but never very good at it. I prefer to pay,” Gustav said gleefully. We had made arrangements to dinghy them in to the capitainerie the next morning so that they could check in and inquire about a slip for the boat. After they were gone, Chantal and I were aghast. We knew that our sailing skills were still developing, but those folks had no anchoring skills, and in fact eschewed the notion altogether.
The next morning, I heard my name called across the water. I looked over to see Gustav waving and smiling pleasantly. The boat was miraculously still attached to the mooring ball.
“I am taking the boat in!” he shouted. Relief washed over me.
“Do you need any help?” No, no, no, he shook his head.
“I was visited last night at midnight by someone who told me I must move from this mooring. So I go in!” He pointed toward the harbor. Chantal and I shrugged and gave him the thumbs up, and in a few minutes, he was free of the mooring ball and gliding past us.
“Let’s grab the radio,” I said. We sat up on deck, sipping our coffee, listening to the chatter on VHF 09, the hailing channel for the marina. About ten minutes later, we heard Gustav: “Marina du Marin, ici Parisfall, un Amel 53. Nous avons besoin d’une place. Vous m’ecoutez?” Silence. He tried again, and was told to call back in one hour. We didn’t hear him again on the radio, nor did we see him come back around to the anchorage. It was out of our hands, and we were relieved.
Later that day, we were invited to lunch on a friend’s boat that was on Dock 4 in the marina. One of the distinguishing features of Dock 4 is that it’s home to about 20 Amels. As we approached our friend’s boat, I told Chantal to go in; I was going to walk to the end of the dock to see if Gustav had made it into the Amel community. My eyes glanced right and left, reading the boat names on the transoms of the stern-docked boats. It didn’t seem like he was there; maybe they had given him a mooring ball.
And then I saw it: the last boat on the long dock. Parisfall. Somehow, Gustav had managed to get himself onto the dock.
“Probably by waving C-notes,” I speculated later to our friends, as we related the story.
Maybe, but shitty sailor or not, Gustav and Nena, like many in their shoes, found a way forward. And there’s something to admire in that.