Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sailing again

After a couple of days at anchor off the seaside town of Ste Anne near the southern tip of Martinique, enjoying the fresh breeze and the solar panels doing their stuff, we had a really fun sail back to Saint Lucia in an exhilarating force 5 and bright sun. Returning to Rodney Bay was very different from our nearly-no-wind arrival at the end of the ARC (which seems eons ago).

It was great to meet up with Peter and Heidi on Stormvogel, their mammoth work list nearly completed, and so we had a great supper aboard, along with Matthias and Ulrike on Bella, whom we first met in Porto Santo.

We are now experiencing a very different couple of days. Thanks to the combined skills of Fergus and Richard, you may remember that we won the prize for the best blog photo sent from the Atlantic - click here to see it. The prize was 2 nights at a very smart resort called Windjammer Landings and this is the view from our room:

We had the pool in the foreground all to ourselves this morning so it's been great to relax without a list of boat jobs to work on. Mind you, we are taking full advantage of the novelty of relatively fast and reliable wifi to surf the internet for updates on our planned route ahead so we're still focused on the voyage. Tomorrow we'll return to Maunie, have a couple of days out in the anchorage at Pigeon Island and then head south to the Grenadines.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Boat work finished at last

Well, it's been a time consuming, exhausting and expensive week but we have finally left the boatyard and marina with all our jobs completed. Maunie now has a very tidy and shiny arch over cockpit carrying two 100W solar panels and, as we sit at anchor off the village of Ste Anne, the batteries are charging very nicely in the afternoon sunshine, in spite of the fridges running. The conversion of the forward fridge has also been a great success – hot air no longer wafts into the galley from it and it's running for about half the time it did before – and the unexpected job of having a new base welded into the holding tank has been completed and it's now re-installed with all new pipework for good measure. All the engineers we worked with proved to be very competent and in particular Bruno the Electrician proved to be excellent – he not only wired up the solar panels and control system but he reorganised the slightly haphazard wiring in the battery compartment for better safety and energy efficiency. We chatted as he worked and found that he has no fewer than ten transatlantic crossings to his name (one of them solo) so he was full of good tips.
The work wasn't without its snags, however. The initial construction of the solar panel arch was just far too flexible and it would have wobbled around alarmingly in a bumpy sea so we had to take Maunie back to the boatyard for two days (at least we could stay afloat) for additional strengthening tubes to be added. Graham and Franc the Welder talked engineering in Franglais, with pencil sketches and hand-waving. It's important with engineers to make the final solution feel like it was there their idea so we were glad that Franc adopted Graham's thought of a pair of buttresses on the tall vertical tubes and his top welder then did some really excellent work with his TIG welding kit and angle-grinder. By the end of the two days he was definitely one of the Maunie crew (though he spoke no English at all) so we presented him with a Yeo Valley cap which he wore with pride as he clocked off on Friday evening. We returned to the marina to scrub the cockpit clean of all the grinding dust and then had friends Tony, Anne and Mike (who sailed a very smart Broadblue catamaran called Serenity across the Atlantic at the same time as us, but not in the ARC) over for drinks in the evening.
So, whilst the engineering work and its associated mosquitoes was hard work and frustrating, we are very pleased with the end result and it has made Maunie very much ready for the next part of our adventure. Whilst at the boatyard we experienced a lovely random act of kindness from the French crew of a small and very racy trimaran, just when we were feeling a bit fed up. We helped them with their lines to keep her in position whilst they were hoisted out of the water on a giant launching trailer and afterwards one of them came back to us and explained that they had just completed a 15 day crossing. They were leaving the boat so would we like some food and drink that they had left over? He presented us with two black bags of assorted tinned foods and a nearly-full bottle of rum and would accept no payment. It was a lovely gesture at a time when we needed a bit of good news.
We now plan to spend the weekend at anchor – time for some swimming and relaxing – before sailing south to Saint Lucia on Tuesday. After a few days there we'll head further south to the Grenadines which sound fabulous – proper little Caribbean islands with coral beaches.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sacrificial Anodes, Bilge Ratting and Mosquitos

Photos, above: Sacrificial Anode before and after one season; the hot and sweaty 'King Bilge Rat gets the holding tank out
Sorry, with all the maintenance work going on, the last blog had a few technical boaty terms which maybe should be explained. The Sacrificial Zinc Anodes are important bits of kit which protect our expensive feathering propeller (when we are sailing, the prop's blades fold back to reduce drag). If you did O Level / GCSE Chemistry you will remember the Periodic Table of Elements and perhaps the Galvanic Table. Basically if two dissimilar metals are connected in an electrolyte solution (such as sea water) the one at the anodic end of the Galvanic Table will corrode and the one at the cathodic end will be protected. Our propeller is made of a bronze alloy and is fitted on to a stainless steel shaft so the propeller would corrode and the stainless steel would be ok. So a zinc anode bolted to the back of the prop will take all the corrosion leaving both the shaft and prop protected. As you can see from the photo, it corrodes quite quickly , particularly in warm water, so it's really important to replace it before it losing its protective powers.
Anyway, Chemistry lesson over, we are still in a hot boatyard, waiting for Franc the Welder to finish our solar panel frame. Unfortunately the proximity to a large mangrove swamp makes the place a mecca for mosquitos and, despite liberal sprays of repellent, burning mosi-coils and rigging mosquito nets, the little buggers are getting us. The only consolation is that we've bought a zapper, which looks like a plastic tennis racquet and has 2 AA batteries in the handle. There's a definite sense of delight when a forehand drive sees the mosquito burst into flames on the electric wires but the score of 'kills' vs 'bites' is still stacked in the mosquitoes' favour.
Whilst we have been waiting for Franc we have continued with other jobs that we have been putting off. Graham has been doing some advanced Bilge Ratting, having discovered that the toilet holding tank has a small leak when in use (not A Good Thing). Bilge Ratting is the term for crawling into confined spaces in the bilges (below the floors) to access hard-to-reach bits of kit and he's quite good at it, even though he's the wrong size; the perfect boat engineer is 4ft tall with 6ft long arms. So yesterday, in very hot temperatures he climbed into the cockpit locker, disassembled the shelf, disconnected and removed the central heating system and then discovered that the offending tank was built in to the boat in a way that removal would not be easy. Unfortunately the builders, Northshore, have made quite a habit of this with Maunie so we keep finding things that are almost impossible to reach, which is fine until they go wrong. Anyway, after an hour with a hacksaw blade cutting through fibreglasss, he managed to slide the tank out and, having removed the cockpit lid, it came out into the evening light with millimetres to spare. This was truly extreme Bilge Ratting and he deserved the honoured title of 'King Bilge Rat for his efforts.
As darkness fell, we lowered the tank to the ground and Graham opened up the access hatch and cleaned it out with a not-quite-long-enough-handled brush (this unpleasant job became known known as 'going through the motion's ) so a hot shower and a cold cider were very welcome after it was done. Close inspection in daylight this morning showed five pin holes in the stainless steel plate and some corrosion in one of the welds (another chemistry moment here – stainless steel will actually corrode if there is no oxygen present, so where it rested on its base there was a airless trap which allowed corrosion to take place). One of Francs' men has taken it into the workshop to weld it up and make it watertight again – it's not delaying the main job as apparently they have just realised that they don't have enough tubing of the right diameter to build the legs of the solar panel frame . Aaaaaaarg! We're staying remarkable calm – must go and kill a few more mosquitos!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Winter maintenance and boat improvement projects

This morning we left the Marin marina and came round to the nearby boatyard for Maunie to be hoisted out of the water for a few days. Boats need a dose of annual maintenance, on top of the regular work we do when we're afloat, and at home this involves shivering in some bleak, windswept yard in the midst of winter trying to get jobs done as quickly as possible. It's therefor a bit of a novelty to be out in hot sunshine, trying to keep in some kind of shade as we tick off a list of things-to-do after around 6000 miles of sailing.
The good news is that Maunie came out of the water looking very good. The brilliant Coppercoat antifouling that we had applied by the great team at Baltic Wharf Repairs in Totnes last November has lived up to expectations – no weed and just a few barnacles whose grip on the hull was very poor. So it's great not to have to apply any noxious antifouling paint and, after quick hand-wash down, our below-the-waterline jobs are limited to servicing and re-greasing the folding propeller and replacing a sacrificial zinc anode.
The other reason for being ashore is to get our new projects done – all being well, Patrice the Fridge Man will arrive tomorrow to convert our fridge to water-cooled (we'll be delighted to not have its hot air venting into the already hot galley, and the power saving will be substantial) and Frank the Stainless Steel Welder is all set to build us a frame to carry two solar panels which Bruno the Electrician will wire up for us on Wednesday. Fingers and toes are crossed in the hope that this will all go to plan.
Meanwhile we have been busy with the sewing machine and have a new rain cover over the deck hatches in our cabin and the galley. A heavy rain shower last night showed that it works – we were able to leave the hatches open without getting drenched below.
Our friends Penny and Peter on Roysterer arrived here yesterday so we had a lovely meal out with them last night. They are also thinking of a few boat projects so we were able to share some of the contacts that we have made here.
The only downside of all of this is that we are now in a slightly shabby boatyard with distinctly poor toilets and a view of some industrial buildings so we'll be counting the days until we re-launch on Monday.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

British remnants on Dominica and back to Martinique

Dominica changed hands from France to Britain peacefully but only after lots of colonial tensions. At the north end of the island, the British built a 600-man garrison to ward off French attacks (Guadalupe is only 30 miles to the north) and Fort Shirley must have been quite a set-up, with gun emplacements on the two hills, East and West Cabrits. The fort was abandoned in 1845 and left for the forest to reclaim it; about 20 years ago it was designated a national park and work began to protect and rebuild some of the main fort buildings. It makes for a fascinating walk.

 The guns overlooking our anchorage

We hiked up West Cabrits hill, through dense forest, and arrived at the crumbling remains of the West Battery perched precariously at the top of a 300ft cliff. The remaining canon (how did they get it up there?) doesn't look as though it'll be there much longer!

On Friday we sailed back to Martinique and were lucky to have a glimpse of the volcano that destroyed St Pierre as the usual cloud cover parted briefly:

We are now in Marin at the very southern end of Martinique. It's an incredibly busy yachting centre with a huge marina and many hundreds of boats anchored in the sheltered harbour. We were lucky to get a space in the marina and will be here for 10 days or so to do some Serious Boat Work.

The wear and tear on a yacht crossing the Atlantic is more than most boats will encounter in a whole season and, of course, we are now in hot sunshine so the degrading effects of UV light are even more pronounced. We also have learned about some of the challenges of operating Maunie in tropical conditions; in particular the fridges have to work really hard and consume lots of electricity. Marin has lots of boat engineers and suppliers used to dealing with these issues (several charter companies are based here) so we have decided work here to do some maintenance and make some changes.

The big (and expensive) projects are to convert the air-cooled fridge to a sea-water cooled system (which will cut its power consumption in half) and (if we can organise the contractors to a reasonable timescale) to have a stainless steel frame built over the cockpit to carry two 100W solar panels. If all goes to plan the combination of these two jobs will make us much less reliant on the diesel generator. We will also have Maunie lifted out onto the hard for a few days so that we can do a few winter jobs below the waterline - mainly doing the annual maintenance on the folding propeller and changing the sacrificial anodes which protect the expensive bits of the boat from corrosion. Meanwhile the sewing machine has been earning its keep again, with some running repairs to our sprayhood and dinghy cover, both of whose stitching was beginning to come apart because of UV degradation.

In between all the work we'll hope to hire a car and explore some of the rugged eastern side of the island. We'll upload some photos...

Friday, 11 January 2013

Exploring Dominica

Dominica is the next island north of Martinique; about 30 miles separates the two but the contrast is immense. Dominica is beautiful - with huge volcanic ridges and dense rain forest and has a population of only about 70,000. Of these, 10,000 live in the capital city Roseau towards the south and it was here that we arrived to clear in with customs.

Customs clearance is a new game that will become a big time-wasting element of our life over the next couple of years. Every time we leave a country we need to get an exit clearance and then we have to clear-in at the next destination. This involves filling a form in triplicate (complete with carbon paper, if you can remember that) to be handed in to a very bored Customs officer. The rules on arrival are strict - the yacht must fly the yellow 'Q' flag, together with the country's ensign, and only the skipper may venture ashore to complete the clearance process. If you fail to obtain the correct exit clearance documents then your arrival at the next destination could be met with blank refusal to give you admittance.

So, as we arrived in Roseau on Wednesday evening after a very brisk sail, Graham dinghied ashore and walked the mile or so into the centre to find the customs office. The walk clearly demonstrated the poverty here though everyone he met seemed friendly enough; the shops, such as they are, proved to be very basic. Returning to the comfort of Maunie, there was an opportunity to study the techniques of seine net fishing at close quarters.

The net is cast and the swimmer makes splashy arm movements to drive the fish into it. A few make a vertical break for freedom

The catch is hauled aboard, with not much freeboard left on the boat!

Yesterday we sailed further north to Portsmouth which has a 2-mile wide bay, not unlike Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia ( but without the hotels and marinas). Dominica has a small airport but it doesn't carry international flights so the kind of mass tourism familiar to most other Caribbean islands is absent here. We met Martin Carrierre, a local guide and boatman who we first saw when he visited Saint Lucia in a commendable effort to try to encourage ARC yachts to visit his island. He sorted out a mooring for us and we arrange to visit the Indian River with him at first light this morning.

The Indian River is pretty atmospheric (it was also used in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3). It's a national park so boats can only go up it under oar power; Martin rowed us up against the current for the 600 m or so that is navigable. It was pretty memorable 600m and we then hiked further into the forest where Martin (a qualified botanist) did a great job of passing on his enthusiasm for this amazing place. The photos don't do justice to it but maybe give you something of the flavour.

 Martin deals with a freshly collected coconut

Martin's gift to Dianne - a Hummingbird made from fern leaves

Our river tour completed, Graham had to endure another Customs event to clear out (we're heading back south in the morning) before we went ashore to explore the Cabrits national park which has the remains of the 600-strong Fort Shirley British garrison that was abandoned in 1843. More photos of that to follow.

The plan now is to head back to the southern tip of Martinique to a place called Marin. It's the yachting centre and we'll spend a few days (and lots of Euros, no doubt) on some maintenance jobs on the boat.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Martinique photos

The view of Fort de France from our anchorage

Martinique is a very green island and we have discovered why - we're getting lots of rain so life on board alternates between the hatches-open hot sunshine and the hatches-shut sauna conditions when the rain arrives. We're not complaining, though!

Today we had a very pleasant 10 mile sail north up the west coast of the  island to anchor off the beach at Saint Pierre. En route we crossed paths with about 30 dolphins, apparently engaged on a fishing mission as they ignored us completely. Until 1902 St Pierre was the island's capital until the ancient volcano above it erupted; warnings were ignored and the Governor of the island even moved his family to the town to allay fears. All but 4 of the 30,000 inhabitants were killed when the hot gas from the mountain hit the town and the 12 ships at anchor in the bay still remain as wrecks.

With the amazing optimism of people who live in the shadow of volcanos, the town has been rebuilt, though on a much smaller scale, but the remains of its former splendour serve to remind its current occupants of the risks they take in living here.

The entrance steps and ground floor of the once-grand theatre are still very visible, with even some of the electrical transformers for the lighting remaining, 

Meanwhile next door the ruins of the town jail tell a sad story. Only one inmate survived the eruption, protected from the murderous gas and flames by the thick walls of his cell; he went on to become famous, telling the story of the cries of his fellow citizens as they perished.

On a more positive note, the black sand beach and the forest behind it are strikingly beautiful and, as evening fell, we were bathed in a lovely warm light on the anchorage. We continue to pinch ourselves that we are here! We'll stay here tomorrow to explore further.

The availability of wifi is still pretty limited here. We found the recommended internet cafe but our enquiries of network availability were met with a Gallic shrug. "It is broken" explained the proprietor and, when asked when it would be fixed, he explained, "This is Martinique - could be a day, could be a week!" We found somewhere eventually.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Year's Eve, Self-Deprecating German Humour and Martinique

Happy New Year from the Maunie crew! We spent a great New Year's Eve in the company of the crews of Roysterer, Oystermist and Stormvogel with a superb meal at our now-favourite Jambe de Bois andn the spectacle of amazing fireworks all around the bay at midnight.

Peter and Heidi arrived for an impromptu lunch aboard Maunie wearing their new, specially-designed t-shirts:

They presented us with our own versions - who says that the Germans don't have a sense of humour?!

After a slightly slow recovery day on the 1st, we formally cleared out with customs and immigration in Saint Lucia and had a brilliant 34 mile sail north to Martinique. 

 Hoisting the French ensign and the Q Flag (indicating we are requesting clearance into a new country)

Beating towards the Fort de France anchorage

The contrast between the two islands is amazing: Martinique is prosperous, organised and very French. We sailed into the capital, Fort de France, which boasts high-rise buildings, traffic lights and well-tended parks, with modern air-conditioned Mercedes single-deck buses on well-maintained roads. The cars are different too - lots of Peugeots and Renaults but also plenty of Audis, BMW's and Mercs. Best of all, for us, even the little 'budget' supermarket has fresh meats, French cheeses and good wines at reasonable prices. We'll be stocking the boat here! We ate very well in a local restaurant last night.

In spite of the city's size, we are anchored just off the park (with no mooring charges). However this morning we had a heart-stopping moment when a 50ft ketch (very scruffy) left the anchorage with his sails set. As he moved towards us to recover his anchor his sails filled and he veered towards us (Graham had been watching him with some concern so he shouted a warning and had a fender ready). Luckily we had our dinghy hoisted alongside Maunie (a routine anti-theft precaution) so it acted as a giant fender and we were spared damage from the blithering idiot; Graham explained to him just what he thought of his antics in words that needed no translation!

We look forward to spending the next few days exploring various anchorages in Martinique before heading north to Dominica, which will be another big contrast. We'll be fairly reliant on internet cafes for wifi to update the blog but will check emails regularly via the sat phone.