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Who'll Stop the Rain?

We have been in Ste. Anne, Martinique, for two months, and we have loved it. From the French-influenced island culture to the proximity of chandleries for boat work to the stunning countryside and gorgeous beaches, it is the entire Caribbean experience in one impressive package.

But we were beginning to feel the rust creep into our sailing progress, so at the end of February, with friends from the U.S. scheduled to visit, we decided to sail up to Anse Mitan, located just across the bay from Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France. We had a visit with the dermatologist scheduled, so this gave us the push to get Camino back out on the water, rather than bobbing on the hook.

It would also be the chance to test the new anchor chain on the windlass, and as we cranked up the chain, it mostly worked. The chain still grabbed every so often, but that might be attributable the design and the windlass operator (me) not working smartly together. But it pulled the chain in and deposited it neatly in the chain locker. We were off.

The four days we chose were shaping up to be lovely, weather-wise, and we were soon sailing up the coasts, with the Rocher du Diamant on one side, the cape on the right. We had light winds to begin, 10 knots. After passing Diamond Rock, the wind picked up to 15 to 20 knots. We futzed with the sail plan: wind was on our stern to begin, so we tried wing on wing for a bit. Then we just put the headsail on the same side as the main and trimmed accordingly.

Seas were following, but not big: maybe 3 feet. We hugged the coast and headed north. The wind crept up onto the beam, then in front of us. Finally we had to motorsail the length of the bay, into Anse Mitan. Motorsailing always feels like defeat, but because we were coming around through the wind, we expected it.

Anse Mitan has regular ferry service several times a day to Fort-de-France, and while we could have anchored next to the big city, we enjoyed the ferry ride, even if the ferries create rolly conditions at anchor. With a little time on our hands, we set out on foot to check out the Anse Mitan area.

It does not have a real village feel to it, with no discernable downtown. There is a small marina called Pointe du Bout, and we decided to make that our destination, where we had a surreal experience. While checking out the boats in the marina, we found the boat we had chartered five years ago in Guadeloupe, Waltzing Matilda, a Beneteau Oceanis 461. The captain we chartered with, Denis Martinez, no longer owned it, but it was neat to see the boat that gave us our first inkling that we would love to live this life, as if a circle was closed.

Our visit to Fort-de-France was better than we expected. The city has architecture that could come from Saigon or New Orleans, and other spots that are undeniably Caribbean. We walked around to the fish market, the cathedral, and several shops in the morning, and to a creperie in the afternoon. In the middle of the day we mastered the bus network and found our way to the dermatologist, where we were both pronounced skin-safe, but I was admonished to remain out of the sun between 12h00 and 16h00.

Having had ever square centimeter of my skin inspected by a comely physician in a foreign, tropical land, we made our way back to the ferry, and were delighted to see our friends Mike and Jennifer gliding into anchor on Sanitas, offering us the perfect opportunity to skip the arriving ferry and take a later one.

Our sail back to Ste. Anne Bay was less than spectacular. The wind abandoned us at times, and when we approached Rocher du Diamant, the wind—incredibly—came around to our nose, directly from the south. This was preposterously maddening, and we again found ourselves motoring to an anchorage. And this might be the most surprising lesson we have learned while sailing this first season: motorsailing is an important and essential part of the sailing toolkit, making us wonder why the diesel engine on our boat is referred to as an “auxiliary engine.”

After finding a spot to anchor, I stripped and pulled on my fins and mask and swam the anchor. Satisfied that it had dug itself nicely into the sand and sea grass, I celebrated with a transom shower. I was looking forward to the warm afternoon sun drying my skin while I sipped a cold beer, when I heard Chantal’s voice from below. It was in alarm: “Our water tanks are empty!”

It seemed impossible, because the aft tank was at least 50% when we set out for Anse Mitan. I scrambled down the companionway to have a look, and indeed the freshwater tank gauge read less than zero. I suddenly felt the tentacles of a hazy shade of winter creeping over us. We lifted the floorboards and discovered the bilge had water in it. A quick taste revealed that it was freshwater; we weren’t sinking, but our tanks had been emptied out into the bilge on the sail back from Anse Mitan. How could this have happened?

Immediately we began ripping the boat apart, tracing every water line, checking for leaks, evidence of water, or anything moist anywhere. Owner’s manuals were busted out and schematics scrutinized. We dove into the lazarettes in search of ruptured hoses. Finally, we found it—we think. There is a freshwater line that goes to the water maker—which is currently not used, and pickled—and we believe that was the line that failed, because the water maker compartment was flooded, and it drained into the bilge, which cheerfully pumped the water out into the ocean, as designed. There was a lot of “Colonel Mustard-in-the-library-with-a-candlestick” evidence to support this.

So we isolated the water maker from the rest of the freshwater system. But now we had another problem. With no water in the system to pressurize and test, we could not be sure. We needed to fill our freshwater tanks, and that would take either rain or a trip over to Le Marin to jockey with the big cats for space at the fuel and water dock.

It started to rain.

We are supposed to be in the dry season here, and it has not rained much since we have been in Martinique. We arrived with full forward and aft water tanks, 450 liters. Now we had none. So the rain should have been welcomed. But with rain comes clouds, and with clouds comes…no sunlight. After two days of rain and heavy overcast and not a lot of wind, our batteries began to discharge. After three days, they were down to 50%, not good for our 495 amp hours of AGM battery storage.

Our friends from the U.S. arrived, and the batteries continued to tank, and the clouds continued to roll across the sky. Finally, the batteries were down to 31%. It looked like the batteries were failing. We would not be able to take our friends sailing. Fortunately, they had rented a small condo while they were here, so we were able to have power and showers at their place, while Camino bobbed dark and lonely and spent out on the water. We scheduled a trip up to St. Pierre, and we left the boat, not knowing if when we returned we would be facing thousands of dollars of new batteries, or worse.

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