Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Homeward Bound


Mark and I are finally aboard a flight home, and I have time to reflect on the last few days. 

Saturday was still hectic as we stowed equipment, cleaned and polished, and in the end didn't finish until sunset.   However I did manage to rent a car from EconoCars, and very ramshackle it was for £15/day. Bald tyres, doors about to fall off, and a limp drivers mirror.  However the boot opened OK, and enabled me to load my two heavy bags in, but then refused to ever open again!  We had to take the back seat off and just managed to squeeze the bags out through a hole.

So Sunday was our one day off, and we drove along the North Coast with steep cliffs and deeply indented bays to Maracas Beach, and then onwards through little communities until we came to an incongruously large road sign and junction, where we turned right to climb over the mountains towards Acarina.  The road was really only single track, winding up through gorgeous dense tropical forest.   However it was tarred, although some sections were badly in need of patching.    We stopped under one tree which had carpeted the forest floor with vivid pink from fallen flowers. 

An hour later we arrived at the Asa Wright Conservation Centre, established high in the mountains with a large area of forest under protection.  The rather grand 110 year old colonial style buildings welcomed us to grand high ceilings dining and sitting rooms, and a long verandah overlooking the steeply sloping forest below.  The centre is famous for its bird life, and there are 17 species of humming bird to be seen.   There are humming bird feeders hanging just outside the verandah, and we spent a long time watching many different humming birds darting up within a foot or two of us to hover absolutely stationary whilst they dipped beaks into the sugar syrup.     Later we joined a guided walk in the forest, being introduced to extraordinary birds such as the white bearded manikin, which perched on a slender stick above his "lek" where he tries to attract a mate by proudly displaying his nicely cleared circle of forest floor.  Of course he chucks leaves and twigs into his neighbour's lek, and has to spend lots of time clearing all the stuff they chuck back.  We also saw a yellow headed mannikin, a black bird with bright yellow crest, which does his display in a shaft of sunshine up in a favoured lek high In the trees.   Then there's an astonishingly loud wattled bird, which produces deafening calls up in the canopy.  Deeper into the forest are caves where the Oil Birds live. Apparently they only fly at night and, like bats, live in caves and use echo location to find their prey.  Locals used to collect the fat chicks from the nest, to extract the oil used for lamps and cooking. They are now a protected species and we weren't allowed to see them unless we stayed for 3 nights at the Centre.

Monday dawned and we got all the laundry done. Mark rigged an awning across the cockpit, and we raised the dinghy and tied it down on deck.  There was a final flurry of contractors to chase, dealing with spray hood repairs, windlass servicing, sails and Outboards.   Before leaving the boat I had to get special letters produced by the boat yard and authorised by Customs and Immigration, and I was also pleased to find a Pharmacy which took charge of a big bag of out of date drugs.   Then with everything at last in good order we closed up at 6pm had a couple of beers andd a light supper and off to bed for a few hours before rising at 03:00 to drive to the airport.

So much stuff to sort out!


Friday evening is here much quicker than expected, and it doesn't feel as though we are anywhere near getting everything done.  

We got all the sails off on Thursday, before we lifted out, and also pickled the water-maker.   Then once ashore we were parked in one of the long tanks of boats, with a catamaran astern, with a French couple living there while they pack up.  It certainly makes for an easy living space, and they even had a dinner party last night!  

Then today we have had Jonathan Outboards collecting ours for service, Winch Works dealing with the anchor windlass, Dynamite coming to sort out the "heads", Greg and Dave from the yard looking at the paintwork, Ken from Ullman Sails collecting all our canvas, and then taking us to the sail loft to inspect each sail in detail to agree the repair programme.   It's salutary to see how the threads rot in sunlight and need restitching, and where the mainsail rolled in the boom has discoloured because the boom has got hot in the tropical sun.   In the end I had to replace the protective coloured strips on the staysail and Genoa, and do a lot of restitching on the main. The Parasailor is in good condition, apart from one string that has snapped, though badly needing an airing having sat on the foredeck for a long time in sun and spray.

No shows today were Curtis the Hydraulics man, who said that he would try to service the seals on our steering system before we leave on Tuesday. Neither did we get a repeat visit from Shaun of Superb Sails & Canvas who is going to repair our Bimini, which suffered some damage when "George" failed due to the hydraulic problems and we had an involuntary gybe.

However two dehumidifiers appeared today; one for rent from "Blues" the big yard foreman with the gold tooth, and the other for sale on behalf of a departed yachts-woman by Mark from Dynamite. I chose to buy secondhand.

This morning I finally got Steve the Taxi man to take me to an ATM in town to get some cash, which is long overdue..... normally the first thing I do, but somehow here it felt more difficult to fit in between all the contractors visiting.   He offered to take us on a tour, but like several other locals was anxious about our safety. Trinidad has a high crime rate, which must have totally stopped the tourist industry.  It's all driven by the big money coming from oil, corrupt politicians, a huge gap between wealth and poverty, a lot of drug running through Venezuela, and lots of illegal guns.

Steve suggested that I could hire a car through Stuart at Peake's Yard, but when he arrived he was very unwilling to hire me a vehicle to tour the island, but only if we wanted to run to the supermarket and back!  

Peter Peake of Peake Yachts has been most welcoming and attentive. We mentioned that Tin Tin had suddenly dropped down an inch this morning, and he immediately had the yard team putting in more blocks and props.  It seems he is a man of many talents as we see the Peake logo on air-conditioners and dehumidifiers too.


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Laying up in Trinidad

The Peake Yachts yard in Chaguaramas has been a welcoming place.  It's one of several yards along the south edge of Trinidad in an almost landlocked bay.  Ashore there's a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the bay serving the kind of big portions of fried food one expects in America.  This is very different from the French Caribbean. There's a small dock with 5 good sized yachts and Tin Tin moored stern-to facing out into the bay.  

We've been having trouble with getting from our stern onto the dock, despite Tin Tin's special gangplank (a lovingly engraved and varnished scaffolding plank from Travis Perkins).  The problem is that one has to pass under the stern arch which carries the solar panels, wind generator and assorted aerials, in a sort of crouching limbo dance and to then teeter up to the dock with everything going up and down.  Returning is worse, because initially the boat was too far away from the dock to be able to grab anything so  one had to set off without any hand hold along a narrow seesawing plank with a long way to the water below.  This was because when we had reversed into the slot between other yachts, our bow rope attached to the mooring buoy was only just long enough. I had to motor at full throttle backwards to get our stern lines to the dock, and then there we sat with all lines thrumming unable to get any closer.  Obviously we fixed it eventually by attaching more rope at the front and sliding back a few feet, but this was only after we had welcomed some brave boat contractors on board!  

It gives me a slightly anxious moment to think about times ahead in the Mediterranean where this is the norm.........
En route from Barbados I had already written out a list of 35 items from our maintenance log that needed attention, and my first challenge on Monday was to try to identify, meet and interview the appropriate contractors to deal with the things that we couldn't handle.   Our first day passed with little sense of progress but then, on Tuesday, people started turning up and filling our cockpit as I ran through the list.  

Gary the yard manager to look at paint repairs, Jessie from Caribbean Marine Electrical to tackle wiring issues, Mark from inspiringly named Dynamite Services to replace blocked toilet hoses, and Jason from  Liferaft Servicing. 

Rainer for electronics wasn't interested to come, ditto Calypso Canvas, but I managed to find Curtis for the hydraulics who will come tomorrow, and I got Sean from Superb Canvas as well to deal with repairs to the bimini, plus Ken from Ullman sails on Friday, and maybe Bates the watermaker man too. That leaves me to get hold of the speedy maintenance man, Dwayne Schuffler to agree monthly boat checks, and Jonathan to service the Outboards.

It has been particularly difficult to find a dehumidifier to combat the mildew problem in this humid climate.  Lots of stuff is going green onboard, and we need to have a system to prevent that.  Many boats have an air conditioner fitted to a hatch to keep things cool and dry.  Others have dehumidifiers.  But I cannot find a single chandlery (there are about 5) which stocks them, nor any hardware store.  The chandlery here had sold out of its stock of 50, so I think we are a bit late, as the yacht parking lot is already very full.  Luckily, today I spotted a fading advert put up by a departing yacht offering a 4 month old dehumidifier for sale.    It turned out that the yacht was long gone, but the unit was still available and being stored by a boat service company - Dynamite in fact!

I also went through all our extensive drug supplies and took out all the out-of-date items,  plus all those due to expire before we return.  I hope to dispose of these through a doctor somewhere here. Going through the list I was pleased to see that I had signed out very few medicines to treat maladies during the trip - mostly antibiotics.

Then Mark has been dealing with sails, drying out our spinnaker, which has been on the foredeck getting wet, and we have also removed folded and bagged the Genoa and staysail. The main will be next, and they will go for valeting and storage. Ropes are removed, labelled and washed in fresh water to get rid of thickly ingrained salt.

It's annoying that there's no ATM near here, and we will have to take a taxi into town. We asked our waitress about how to do this and she advised us only to get a taxi from the yard to take us, wait and bring us back.  Yachties who had hailed a cab had been beaten and robbed apparently.  However the Maxis, yellow minivans, are apparently OK provided they are full of people.    We will have to adjust our perceptions of risk again, and I wonder whether it's safe to hire a car and explore on our own........ but then again, that's what people said in South Africa, and we were fine.  

So here we are after two days, and there's a lot more to fit in before lift out on Thursday morning.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Barbados to Trinidad



Mark and I had an enjoyable few days in Barbados, finding the people welcoming and friendly. We rented a car and explored the east coast, surprised at how extensive the areas of housing are, but then I read that it is the most densely populated island in the Caribbean.  

We found a lighthouse under renovation at Rugged Point, and were allowed to climb the 114 steps to the light where, balanced on scaffolding, we could see the jagged cliffs below being pounded by the sea.
Long streamers of the golden sargassum weed were driving into the coves and later, at Long Beach, we found a dense mat of seaweed covering beach and bay, undulating in the incoming swell like a huge golden shag pile carpet, and stifling the breakers.  This is apparently an unusual occurrence and must be depositing thousands of tonnes of weed on the east coast beaches. 



We stopped for lunch at Bathsheba Bay where a restaurant, painted a lovely lurid purple and green, stood in a seafront park amidst coconut palms.   I took time to sketch and paint here after our meal, with a view  strange coral formations, undercut by the sea to leave jagged islands balanced on a narrow base.


Barbados was under uninterrupted British rule for 300 years, and still has the Queen as Head of State (although not evident on the currency).  So there are red ER II letterboxes to be seen, tea time is observed, The Anglican Church is established in all ten parishes, and cars drive on the left. All very civilised.   Yet the buildings have an exuberant style and thrilling colours, interspersed with rum shops painted bright red and adorned with huge painted signs advertising "Banks, The Beer Of Barbados!"  It felt safe and happy, with few people in obvious poverty on the streets and, apart from the enthusiastic taxi drivers touting for business, there was little sense of being hustled.
Rum shop
Later we explored town, and found the rum showroom, where we decided against tour and tasting, and instead Mark went off for a tour of the cricket ground at Kensington Oval.

Over on the west coast the beaches are sparkling white coral sand, clear of any weed and, with a gentle sea in stunning aquamarine colours, make a most attractive sight.  We stopped in Speightstown, and enjoyed strolling the colourful streets, lunch in a beach side cafe, and exploring St Peter's Church.  It would be a good place to rent a room for a peaceful holiday.  

At the northern tip of Barbados I ventured into Animal Flowers Cave, descending steps into a wave cut grotto looking out to the surging sea.  The limestone formations allowed one to imagine a shark, a hand and a map of Barbados, and then one could swim in the saltwater pool that extended out to the cave mouth, where an occasional wave sloshed foaming water into the pool.  Naturally I was in there straightaway!


The Barbados Yacht Club deserved a visit in Bridgetown, and we found an established elegant club, with members using the tennis facilities, dinghies being launched down the beach, and a shady beach bar with a gnarled tree on the sand, where I spent a happy morning painting and reading.
The beach at Barbados Yacht Club.


Then for our last night we drove out to the Fish Fry at Oistins which turned out to be a huge event, with large numbers of tables set out between competing kitchens, all serving meals of freshly grilled dolphin (dorado), marlin or swordfish, with Bajan specialties such as the unlikely sounding Macaroni Pie, all to the throbbing pulse of a big sound stage pumping out reggae competing with a steel band. On a table next to us old men were animatedly playing dominos, slamming down the tiles with determination.  Next to them a small boy begged us to play dominos with him, and then proceeded to slam his tiles down just like his elders.

We upped anchor on Saturday morning, but not before we had taken the dinghy to the beach to return the hire car keys at The Pirate Cove car park.  I swam the couple of hundred yards back out to Tin Tin.

Out at sea, some 40 miles south of  Barbados we heard a distress call on the VHF from a fishing boat. We were the only vessel to respond, and the fisherman was very relieved to hear us. He'd been drifting since Thursday, and despite calling regularly we were the first response he'd had. It seemed that his batteries were flat or the starter motor wouldn't work.  I made attempts to get hold of the Barbados Coast Guard, but we were too far away, so as he was only 8 miles away we headed in his direction.   Luckily my attempts to raise the coastguard alerted another fishing vessel, and we heard the whoops of exuberant relief in the Bajan dialect when he heard his friend was on the way.  By the time we got close the Missy D had been taken in tow and was plugging upwind the 40 miles to home.

Later we ran over a fishing net, and had a struggle to disentangle it. Eventually the fishermen told us to cut the line, but we then rejoined the ends so they lost nothing.

The following day we raised Trinidad through torrential rain storms at midday and were sailing through the narrow channel to Chaguaramas between high cliffs by 1700.

We tied at the arrivals dock, only to find that as it was Sunday there were hundreds of Trinidad dollars to pay Immigration and Customs for overtime.  With no ATM available, no credit cards or US $ taken, and being not allowed to leave until we had cleared in we were stuck in Catch 22!  The immigration lady suggested that we came back after 0800 on Monday when no fees would be payable.  We asked the hotel whether we could stay on the arrivals dock overnight, but they wanted US$100, so we found a spare mooring and drank a celebratory Piña Colada and cooked supper whilst being blasted by intense music from a big party boat.   

We have arrived in Trinidad!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Barbados

We arrived in a strong wind and breaking seas, thinking that there would be little shelter from the swell in Carlisle Bay. Customs required us to moor at the cruise ship terminal, which was tricky alongside the big fender pads which keep the cruise ships off the dock. There was no way we could have moored unaided, but luckily someone was there to help.

We then climbed precariously up to the dock, and completed formalities in the cruise terminal, welcomed to Barbados by a big poster.

Back in Carlisle Bay it was surprisingly sheltered from the waves, and we joined two other yachts at anchor about a hundred yards off a gleaming white sand beach fringed with beach clubs and their sun umbrellas.

We took the dinghy ashore into The Carenage harbour which is reminiscent of Weybridge as the narrow channel curves into the town with boats moored along the quays. A lifting bridge lets boats into an inner harbour right in town, and we were surprised to see many moorings available.

Walking around we were constantly hailed by hopeful taxi drivers, or hooted at by minibuses touting for trade.

There is a grand stone church flying the Barbadian flag with Neptune's trident prominent on the yellow and green ground. We found a bank ATM, but Lloyd's bank was being cautious and refused to let me draw any cash. Luckily Mark got some.

Next stop was one of the beach bars called Pirates' Cove, where we relaxed with a Banks Beer and took in the view of Tin Tin through palm trees, white sands and clear blue water.


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Where next?

Tuesday 8th May 2018
It may have been a mistake to clear out of Surinam at the same time we cleared in, even though at the time it seemed to save so much hassle. That meant we had no slow time to discover any more of the country and had to leave on Saturday morning. Quite what else we could have done is unclear, but there are always encounters that unfold in unplanned ways.

So, as we set sail down the Commewijne, watching the early river taxis zig zagging from one landing stage to another, I felt rather sad that I had rushed it, having acted in concert with the pace of life that we encounter when visitors join us from the "normal" world with tight schedules, planes to catch and places to be.

Having reviewed Guyana as our next destination, I decided against, as the authorities insist that yachts head 50 miles upriver to clear into the country and, for safety, deter them from lingering at Georgetown on the coast. So now we had a week in hand before our planned lift-out in Trinidad.

As the strong breeze and tide took us rapidly out to sea in muddy water only 4 metres deep, Mark suggested an interesting idea; with spare time, and Guyana not seeming so attractive, why not sail north to Barbados, before we head to Trinidad?

So here we are three days later about 12 miles short of Barbados which is hidden in a rain storm ahead as I eat my muesli at 7am.

In truth it has been a trying voyage as neither of us has got our sealegs, and are both struggling all the time with feeling so queasy that we are having trouble eating. Most unusual and it's made this leg a mini-trial rather than the relaxed enjoyable sail that we'd expected. The wind and current gave us a fast ride, and the sea has been very lumpy as we buck and smash along at 9 knots, making 195 miles from anchor in the first 24 hours.

Mark heroically made spaghetti and tomato sauce on night one, but we couldn't look at it, and ate cold rice pudding instead. I managed to reheat Mark's spaghetti on night two but, although he ate his, most of mine fed the fishes. Then last night Mark did a spaghetti in cheese sauce with crispy bacon, but although I enjoyed mine he couldn't look his in the eye and it sits there under clingfilm waiting for happier times.

However we have both made soda bread for lunch, and yesterday Mark produced drop scones for tea. Some still sit forlornly hoping to tempt us!

We've had problems with the hydraulic steering, which is worrying. It gets very stiff and "George" the autopilot struggles to steer the course. By hand it feels all wrong as though the rudders are sticking on something. We will have to investigate and get it repaired. It's fortunate that it hasn't been a major problem yet.

There have been more birds around; white tailed tropic birds with their long white tail feathers and yellow beaks, a booby (or maybe it's a gannet in the Atlantic) diving repeatedly into shoals of fish near us, storm petrels fluttering like little black bats close to the surface, too fast to make out their defining tail shapes and give them their full name. Yesterday I saw a skua fly past, Arctic I think, and again later an immature one bullying a tropic bird to get his fish in a wild aerobatic fight.

The sea has been stranded with long lines of golden ochre sea holly, or sargassum seaweed, somehow channelled into long lines trailing downwind, giving a curious sensation as they writhe and undulate with the passing waves. The waves breaking over Tin Tin have festooned the guard rail netting with holly in a rather festive way.

So now for a few days exploring Barbados, and then a 24 hour sail to Trinidad to deal with repairs and laying up. As I look up from writing I am rewarded with the unmistakable grey outline of land ahead, with a shaft of sunshine picking out one white building in the gloom.







Monday, 7 May 2018

The Commewijne River

Friday 4th May dawned, and we motored down the Surinam River with the tide, and after three hours turned right at Nieuw Amsterdam and up the Commewijne River. We were heading for the restored plantation house at Frederiksdorp, and also looking for the best way to get Richard to the airport that evening. We had prearranged to meet our taxi driver, Ram, at the fort on Nieuw Amsterdam point at 4pm, and motored close in looking for suitable places to get ashore. There were several water taxi landing stages which might do.

Busy water taxi landing stage



Surinam jungle at the river's edge

House on the Surinam river

Attending to the fish traps

The waterfront at Paramirabo
Colonial houses and the Castle, Paramirabo
The Commewijne River was flowing fast against us now so, despite motoring at 7 knots, we were struggling to make headway. The name of the river is thought to derive from the local language meaning Tapir Water. There are River Dolphins here, and tourists come on trips in the long river taxis to watch them. We spotted a few dark shapes curving out of the brown water in the distance.

We found a good landing dock at Frederiksdorp Plantation but, with the river running so fast, it took three attempts to get the anchor to hold reliably. Then getting ashore in the dinghy was fun, as we barely made headway, ferry gliding across to the bank and then hugging the mangrove roots to stay in slower water.
Frederiksdorp Plantation House
The Plantation was a pleasant surprise with a grand, balconied, house in white with a red tin roof, matched in style by the doctor's house, and other buildings from the original establishment. These were augmented by tasteful additions to provide accommodation for visitors. We had a good wander round, and then enjoyed lunch on a shady terrace surrounded by Dutch tourists. The hotel were able to arrange Richards airport trip via water taxi and car, so we cancelled the previous plan.

After lunch, Richard organised a guide to take us for a walk into the wilderness, and we were delighted to see macaques leaping from tree to tree, the big footprints of capybara, bubbles and a sudden swirl as a cayman submerged in the swamp, brightly coloured jacana lily trotters flying by and lots of iridescent red and green dragonflies. There were also black and yellow Weaver birds which had made long pendulous nests. Later research showed that these are not Old World weaver birds from Africa and Asia, but a New World bird that has independently developed similar coloration and nesting behaviour.

Our guide showed us a map of the region, marking the dense grid of plantations that had once lined the river, each with an identical 500metre frontage and extending back for 5km. They had once grown sugar or coffee, until that was wiped out by the coffee borer insect plague, and most had been abandoned. Each had a system of drainage canals which provided a transport infrastructure to move crops to the river.

Finally we waved goodbye to Richard, as the river taxi set off the mile across the river to the waiting taxi, sorry that he couldn't spend longer with us to explore further afield, but very glad to have shared the only bits of South America that Tin Tin has reached on this voyage.

Richard takes the water taxi 

That night the moon was very bright on the wide waters of the Commewijne River, and it seemed very peaceful anchored out near the middle, but for the first time we locked the hatchways down and locked ourselves in. This was because the staff at the plantation had been worried about us in the wake of the dreadful piracy attacks that had taken place on fishermen just off shore Commewijne district. Four boats had been attacked and twenty fishermen forced to walk the plank, some with batteries tied to their feet. A second attack had occurred the previous day, and only five survivors had managed to get ashore and make their through the muddy mangrove swamps to safety. Whilst I was reasonably confident that this was gang warfare between fishermen, it seemed best to take precautions.

I'm glad to say that we had an undisturbed night!






Friday, 4 May 2018

Surinam

Our 24 hour sail from Devil's Island had great wind and a 2-3knot current for most of the sail, bringing us to the fairway buoy off the mouth of the Surinam River at about midday as planned. We followed the green channel markers towards the distant smudge of grey coast for almost 10 miles in water that was often between only 2 to 3 metres deep, and rich cappuccino colour with all the sediment. Finally we could begin to distinguish form and colour, with bright white shell beaches to the east at Bramspunt, and vibrant green where the occasional ray of sunshine cut through the overcast gloom to light up the verdant forest shore.

We had passed many fishing boats in the night, wary of their fishing technique which involves anchoring one end of the net with flags and flashing lights, and then reeling out their nets from the bows as the fishing boat drifts down wind and current. We had a close call with one as we made up the channel, only just spotting the tiny net floats before we ran through them.

Heading up the Surinam River
The wind picked up to 32knots as we creamed up the chocolate river close hauled under full genoa to the point where the Commewijne River joins the Surinam River 15 miles from the start of the channel. Then we bore away to starboard to follow the Surinam river up past Nieuw Amsterdam to port and Paramaribo to starboard, passing row upon row of moored fishing vessels.

Surinamese fishing vessels
Just before passing under the 40m high bridge spanning the river we encountered a big wrecked cargo vessel split in two mid river. It was another 15 miles before we reached our destination at Domburg at 1830, but the heavens opened and instead of mooring there we followed Richard's suggestion that we carry on up river to the Waterworld Marina Resort. It turned out to be a magical six miles, as all sign of human influence disappeared and we were gliding along within a few metres of virgin jungle in deep smooth water. The marina proved to be of high quality, and although the resort restaurant couldn't offer food or drink, they opened up a guest house so that we could enjoy hot showers.

We took a taxi back to Domburg to find somewhere to eat, having to slowly navigate a deeply potholed flooded jungle track until we got to a main road. Even then the vicious Drempels (sleeping policemen) lay across the road and slowed us to a crawl. Domburg proved disappointing initially as every restaurant was shut, but eventually, having deterred our driver Denis (a low loader driver by day) from driving us an hour and a half into Paramaribo, we found the riverside Yacht Club restaurant and bar that we had passed earlier. They provided a nice welcome, good food and lots of Paribo beer which was all most enjoyable.

Paramaribo waterfront
Next morning at 0800 we took a taxi into Paramaribo to complete clearance formalities. It was a long hour or more through heavy traffic until we reached our first stop; the Marine Authority of Surinam offices. We were all, as advised, wearing collared shirts, long trousers and shoes to meet officialdom and the necessity of this was borne out by the notices on many doors banning sun glasses, hats, tank tops, T-shirts, shorts and flip flops. The MAS official was efficient and spoke English well in an orderly air conditioned office. He handed me a great sheaf of papers to fill in, mostly aimed at cargo vessels, and all asking essentially for the same set of information about the boat and crew. Then passports, yellow fever certificates, crew lists, boat registration papers, and insurance policy had to be photocopied.
 
Second stop; Consulate visa section. Again a well appointed air conditioned place with comfortable sofas, and magazines. More form filling.

Third Stop; we all had to walk a few blocks to the water front and turn right to the Central Bank to pay €35 each for a single entry visa.

Fourth stop; we walk back to the consulate with our receipt to get visa stamps.
 
Fifth stop; the Military Police HQ where our details were inscribed again in detailed long hand.

Sixth stop: Along a corridor to Immigration. A handwritten sign on the door requires me to knock before entering, which I do, only to be brusquely told to get out as there is an applicant in there already. Eventually we get in, and the stern black official eventually softens and starts joking about Liverpool in the final of the football ~ something Mark can talk about in detail for hours, and so I keep quiet. Various people come in and are treated very differently. A young corporal gets high handed treatment, despite his exemplary stamping of polished boots and snappy salute. Various ladies get flirtatious remarks, and we get detailed football discussion! Eventually our passports are stamped and because I know that I have to go through it all again on Monday, I request outward clearance for the next day on Friday. To my amazement the official feels empowered to grant this request, and so we are stamped out for Friday evening.



Richard contemplating the peaceful sunset and the sounds of the jungle.

Clearance completed, and with the happy thought that I don't need to do it all again on Monday we head to the old Fort to look round the excellent museum, and have a drink. Later, we find our way along the waterfront to an elegant cafe for lunch before taxiing home with our taxi driver, Ram, down half flooded jungle tracks. The car ahead of us saw orange legged monkeys......how annoying to just miss that sight!

Back on board we decide to set off down river to Domburg for the evening and had a wonderful peaceful trip, motoring in 16-18metres of water within a few meters of the dense jungle with the sun setting over the river to the west. We anchored off Domburg and had another congenial evening on the terrace of the waterfront Yacht Club restaurant.

Jungle edging the Surinam river
Someone's home
 








Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Richard arrives to sail to Surinam

Richard arrived on Sunday afternoon, and on Monday 30th April we cleared out of France bound for Surinam. The muddy ebb tides the Mahury River took us swiftly along the ten miles out through the narrow dredged channel to the sea. It's very shallow along this coast and the water is full of sediment, much of it apparently carried round from the Amazon.

We soon picked up the 3 knot current heading west, and by 1400 we were approaching our evening anchorage at the three islands of Îles de Salut. Of these Ile de Diable, or Devils Island, is the best known as the place where Dreyfus was incarcerated, and from where Henri Charriere, of Papillon fame, made his escape on a sack of coconuts.

Richard and Mark on Devil's Island
We found calm water in the lee of Île Royale and picked up a mooring belonging to the Guyana Space Centre which administers these islands. Ashore we met a couple of heavily armed gendarmes from Toulouse, and then explored round the deserted penal colony buildings, eventually climbing to the top where there's an auberge in the Governor's old house.


In the grey rainy evening light everything seemed very drab, dark and despairing. However there were bright blue and yellow macaws in the coconut trees, and agoutis scampered about across the open spaces like leggy hamsters the size of fat rabbits, with a peculiarly ginger fur on their plump hindquarters. Mark even found macaques and watched one pounding a stick as if cracking open a nut or shell.

The auberge was surprisingly large with dining tables for a good hundred or so. There must be times when people flock here at the weekend to get away from Kourou. I tried the Punch Fruits Maison which would have felled a horse and certainly knocked me sideways. Pure white rum in a large glass, a hint of maracuja juice and perhaps a couple of bits of orange pulp but essentially free of fruit! Slightly stunned by this refreshment we wandered off again to look at the ruins, returning eventually somewhat more sober for our supper at the auberge, before retiring aboard Tin Tin for the night. The heavens opened and it absolutely poured with rain.

Stairway to the Penal colony
Next morning we took the dinghy across the tide rip between islands to Ile St. Jospeh. It's partly a military base, but we were able to explore the strange overgrown ruins of this notorious penal colony. Massive stone stairways and walls led up the hill through jungle to the main site at the top. A huge roofless building marked 1897-98 stood with its iron roof beams intact, with trees growing up through them, and curtains of fine roots reaching down to head height from the trees above. Tiny cells, rusting iron bars, all overgrown and crumbling, and yet in one building we met a taciturn man in army fatigues wielding a rake, and from then on we spotted rake scratches on all the paths around the island. We circumnavigated the island on foot and then, as three catamarans full of tourists arrived, we headed back to Tin Tin and set off for Surinam.

Papillon's cell
Within half an hour of putting the fishing lines out we had a respectable sized fish, just right for supper. Now it's dark and I'm on watch as we make excellent progress westwards, with the current giving us 10 knots speed over the ground much of the time.

We should be at the mouth of the Surinam River by midday and then able to use the flood tide to travel the 30 miles up river to Domburg.



Rejoining Tin Tin in French Guiana 23/4/18

My two weeks in the UK passed quickly in a whirl of ophthalmology consultations, family reunions and DIY repairs at home. Luckily there was no treatment needed for the eye, so I was able to travel back to join Tin Tin in French Guiana.

I landed in torrential rain in Cayenne, and caught a taxi into town where I had booked a room for the night. In fact Tin Tin had made good speed with a strong push from the 3 knot Guyana Current and had arrived that very morning.

Tin Tin anchored off the live-aboard marina in Cayenne
Next morning I collected a hire car and made my way to the port at Degrad des Cannes on the River Mahury. Tucked away behind the container port was a small marina occupied by long term residents in boats draped with tarpaulins to keep out the rain, with piles of bicycles, boxes and all sorts of junk stored on deck under the shelter. Someone had a washing machine plumbed-in on the pontoon! The muddy river runs fast through the pontoons, and we had to rescue a couple fishing boats that broke free and jammed sideways against the other boats.

Tin Tin anchored in French Guyana
Fisherman walking his nets round in a loop
    Tin Tin was anchored up stream, with three other boats for company, which had all arrived within the same day. It was a great pleasure to find Mark and Justin safe and well after their 2,500 miles from Ascension Island. With a car we were able to get out to explore Cayenne and it's surroundings. The old town is full of colonial French architecture, with the outskirts provided with modern roads, and large commercial estates filled with every sort of entreprise as well as the "grand surfaces" of Carrefour, Super U, and even Hyper U. It is, after all, France, despite the hot, humid tropical climate just 3 degrees north of the Equator.

We drove a long way out of town to the Guyana Zoo, which houses indigenous species in the appropriate context of the deep jungle. We spent a happy couple of hours meeting tapirs, peccaries, giant anteaters, macaws, black puma and jaguar, various monkeys and rather disconcertingly large anacondas! Our day ticket was converted to an annual pass, so we could be back!

Iguana

Capybara

Scarlet Ibis

Anaconda

Cayman

Blue and yellow macaw

Emperor Tamarin monkey

Cuvier's Toucan

Spider Monkey

Anteater

Serval

Puma

Toco Toucan - the largest of the toucan species



Night Heron
Justin flew home, leaving Mark and me to prepare for Richard's arrival. We did a large amount of laundry, plus some provisioning, but decided against replacing the batteries until we get to Trinidad and can solve the the electrical issues.

Market in Cayenne

I had pre-booked a visit to the Centre Spatiales Guyanaise at Kourou, and we were on the doorstep as required at 0745. It's an impressive site with launch pads for Vega, Ariane 5 and Russian Soyuz launchers, and a new pad under construction for Ariane 6. At $20,000/kg it's an expensive launch, and the new generation of launchers provide fierce competition. The Space-X Falcon 5 with its twin boosters landing safely shows how costs can be cut dramatically by using reusable systems.

Ariane launchpad, French Guiana
Centre Spatiale Guyanaise

As we left the site a convoy of trucks with vast containers was swept in by blue flashing lights and motorcycle outriders. I just managed to get a photo, and saw that it was BepiColombo, the European and Japanese joint mission to Mercury which is due to launch in July.

Our final expedition on Sunday was out to Cacao to visit the Hmong market. The drive out was lovely through rich forest on winding roads as we climbed the hills. At the crest we found a cafe on stilts overhanging the view, where we enjoyed a bamboo mug of Maracuja juice. From here we could see how much of the jungle had been cleared for agriculture. When we reached the market we chatted to a restaurant owner who had arrived at the age of 2 along with 30 refugee families, escaping persecution for their role in helping the French and Americans in their wars against Communist Vietnamese. They now provide all the vegetables cultivated for sale in Guyana!