Alive and well in Marigot, St. Martin

Written by Jack van Ommen on February 19th, 2020

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JO towed my inflatable to shore this early morning. I checked for moorage in the Marina Fort Louis. They had a spot for a few days but I needed insurance. My Boat US coverage stops beyond US territorial waters. I’ll try make some inquiries to see if I can get something temporarily as I did for Mexico. But in the meantime, just think of all the money I’ll save at anchor. It has been a nervous experience because of the strong winds. JO tells me that they will calm down from tomorrow. I cleared myself in at the marine chandlery. I got an address for a possible repair shop for the auto pilot. I plan on taking the bus there, to the Dutch side, tomorrow. By the way you can reach me on my regular US phone number. I got a call from Susan Kovacs last night. I hope to get in touch with Lisa who may be able to come visit me here. My plan is to sail to a few of the nearby islands, starting with St. Barth(olemy) and be back to meet my Gig Harbor friends the Clarks, Gordons and the Jameses for the Heineken Regatta, March 5-8.

I have a few more pictures but very slow wi-fi, will add later.

At the end of this rainbow is the “port of Gold” as in the Thelma Peterson song “Jack come Back” see previous blogs

A real sincere thanks for all your prayers that got me here safely, I pushed my luck a little further than I intended. I love you all very much.

“Fleetwood” center                                                               

 

Damage from the 2017 “Irma” hurricane

 

Monday morning February 10, 2020

I am at 27.46.7800 N and 57.57.7700 W. The wind changed during the night by about 90 degrees and it looks like I might already have reached the S.E trade winds. I am a little better than halfway to St. Martin from where I started last Monday, at Beaufort N.C.

There have been a few short periods of decent sailing, but, for the most of it, I would not recommend it for a fun retirement voyage. For reasons which I have already explained in earlier blogs, I got a late season start. I do not have any way to check the weather from the boat without internet, other than a short-wave receiver; I used to have a regular SSB radio on the first “Fleetwood” which gave me access to continuously updated Grib files.

All I needed was a decent one week forecast to get to where I am as I write this. I used Predict Wind, which has been quite accurate. It showed a low coming through from the S.E. with 30 plus winds on Thursday and Friday and I would miss the worst of it if I could get beyond it at around 32 N and 70 W. That should have been possible. But I got a late start from Beaufort, my anchor was stuck on an abandoned anchor chain. It took me about two hours and bruises to get it free. Once in the Atlantic, the waves and swells made for slow going and then during the night the winds and waves piped up to near gale force. That was not in any predictions, but might have been a local Cape Hatteras surprise. That slowed me down. Sailing was reasonable on Tuesday and Wednesday. But on Thursday I got into survival mode with a storm from the S.E. that I had hoped to miss. The only good part was that the wind direction was from Starboard and not closer to the direction I needed to be. But the wave height had to be near 15 feet. The worst was the constant falling in the holes, slamming hard. My wood plywood hull becomes a sound box. At one moment, on Monday night, it slammed so hard that I swore I hit a hard object, like a floating container. I rushed forward and then on deck to check if the bow pulpit had been crushed. No, just one of the hardest hits on water I ever recall, other than the knockdown in 2006 in the Strait of Madagascar. Wave crests ran over the cabin top. These water collisions stop the forward motion and the windvane takes a while to put the boat back on course.  Monday night was zero sleep. On Friday I tried to get a hold of the Coast Guard by VHF but I was too far off. I wanted to get weather forecast to possible diversion ports because I suspected that I had a slow leak; water was slushing over the floor boards when on a steep heel. Then I tried to use my satellite tracker to send a message on Face Book, to try a relay to the Coast Guard. But I must be doing something wrong, since there have not been any replies.

Friday night I sailed out of the east edge of the storm and determined that there was no leak. It had to have been water that spills from my stuffing box when I motor. I had motored 200 miles from Norfolk to Beaufort and totally forgot to dry the bilges before I left Beaufort.  Then on Saturday I fell into a hole for the better part of the day and night. No wind. To add to the agony, I could not motor out of it. My 12- volt tiller steering had pulled the cord from the cockpit socket. One of the waves into the cockpit must have had it out with the mechanical helmsman. I tried hand steering but that did not work either. The water was still so restless from the storm of the past days that the cockpit bulkhead compass spun like a drunken sailor and there was no other point on the horizon for me to steer by. What I had looked forward to, for the storm to calm, now became another challenge. The sails and boom were slamming around and when I finally got the boat moving the puff would die down again. Late in the evening the wind came back and slowly grew to many sail reductions, down to the third reef and in the end only a storm jib. This morning after a two-hour nap, I discovered that the wind had made a big change from East to North. Now I am sailing in what I believe to be the S.E. trade wind. Much closer to the wind direction than since my departure on Monday. Still with three reefs in the mainsail and now with the 100% jib. Both sails were the original sails when this NAJA version was launched in 1986. I have a nice newer mainsail aboard but it has only two reef options and needs some maintenance.

Last night I managed to get some entertainment from my small short-wave receiver, but the noise from the vibrating mast and rattling of the loose wiring PVC tube in it made the lyrics inaudible. This morning, I had a good reception of Radio Martin, the Cuba Libra station from Miami. Salsa sounds good from both sides of the Cuban wall. The station choices will get better by the day, Puerto Rico, soul music from the Virgin Islands. I’ll never forget, on my sail from Trinidad to the Chesapeake in 2007, I heard my first “Prairie Home Companion” on a Saturday, after having been out of reach of my addiction for the “Irreverent Reverend”, Garrison Keeler, since I set off in 2005.

 

Feb 12 Wednesday morning

25.21 N 67.05 W

Making decent progress averaging a little over 4 knots. As hard to the South East trade wind as possible, not the fastest way to sail. But it looks like if this holds, I will be able to stay on this tack until I reach St. Martin. With another 500 miles to go I should arrive late Wednesday the 19th. Had my coffee and egg and done last night’s dishes. I am listening to SW channel 5970. A mass in English by Radio Cattolica Mondial, a solo is just now being song, my favorite, “Pie Jesu”. Just lost it. Yesterday was one of the most perfect ocean sails I have had. With a 15-knot breeze close to the wind with full main and my second hand 120 % genoa, cruising at 5 knots. Just a smooth ride over the swells. By evening I had to put in two reefs and exchange the genoa for my 90% jib. I had hoped to be able to shake out those reefs by now, but the wind is more in the twenties still and a bit of the usual wave slamming. But it is a glorious day. Yesterday afternoon, a rainsquall caused a short fire drill, the wind changed quickly and threw the boat on the opposite tack. But it was short lived and your skilled fireman was back on the road within five minutes. And the short shower got most of the salt out my hair.

Yesterday was also the day to change my winter blues into my summer whites. No socks, just shorts and t-shirt. For all those first days fire drills I had to be dressed/sleep in my foul weather bib pants, boots, long underwear, hoody, PDF and safety harness.

Today’s project is to try and wire the 12-volt auto pilot. I have already cleaned the inside as best I could from the salt water intrusion. Wish me luck.

Contemplating my 15 year “SoloMan” voyage:

Since my 2009 North Atlantic crossing, I had not been more than a 100 mile off shore, in the Med in 2012 and the last part of my circumnavigation in 2016-2017 and the longest overnight parts were 4 days. After I lost the original “Fleetwood” in November 2013 off Ibiza, I told everyone that my ocean crossings were done with. This February the 28th I will be 83. But from these 10 days sailing and the 4 days on the ICW, I’ll have to find a better excuse to quit this, than to claim advanced age.

The weakened muscles are being re-tweaked. I am stiffer than when I left for the circumnavigation at age 68. I have to assist my feet, bending my knees, with an arm to get up through the small companion way entrance. I reduce sail quicker and add sail slower. Whereas at a younger age I went by the seat of my bib pants, now I need pre-plan my moves.

The big advantage I have to extend my foolishness is the fact that everything is lighter, smaller, simpler on my 30-foot light weight plywood boat than the standard set up. I can still get my anchor up without a mechanical device, do without roller furling.

The reefing system on this boat was originally set up with three separate lines that could all be done from the cockpit. All those extra sheaves in the boom started to cause too much friction. I now use just one line and have to go forward to attach the luff reef grommet, then raise the sail again, put the reef line through the leech grommet and tighten the line.

Monday evening February 17. Arrival at Saint Martin.

I dropped the anchor at 3 pm local time (we are one hour ahead of Atlantic time zone).  It just seems all so long ago that I had to plan every move on deck, struggle dragging my safety line, in the cabin always bracing to avoid being thrown on the constant moves. I had one painful replay of the smack I took at Cabo Malo near the Panama Canal in February 2017, that caused the crushed vertebrae. Again, thrown back from the stove against the chart table. But not as severe. I find blood and discover a leg or arm scratch that I don’t remember what caused it in the heat of the fire drill, mostly in the frequent reefing exercises. This morning, at dusk, still too dark to see it coming, a squall came through. The mast starts shaking, the boat heels, the windvane gets overpowered. Quickly boat-shoes fastened, harness on, drop the main. It quickly blows by. Main back up.

The trade wind piped up later and I finished the day under just the 100% jib. I was reluctantly to shorten sail. According to my calculations I could reach the anchorage at Marigot, Saint Martin just before dark.

But before I dropped the main, I saw spurts of over 7 knots per hour and with just the jib I was still averaging over 4 ½ knots and seeing sixes. As you already saw, I dropped the anchor at 3 pm. In the meantime it is Tuesday morning. Two weeks to carnival. Had a good sleep. There are at least 150 boats spread out throughout this anchorage, next to the wagon-wheel Marina Fort Louis. A few super power yachts further in the open channel. I am very close to the entrance to the marina, but I fear that it is too difficult a row in the strong winds to row to shore. I am close enough to shore to have flat water. But when the willy-waws come in strong blowing down the canyons, you see the entire fleet bow their bows in the same direction “to the mountains from where my help cometh”. I tried to contact the marina on VHF but they do not monitor Ch 16 and when someone else suggested channel 73, another deaf ear. It looks a bit run down from where I am. I will try to row to shore after the afternoon trade winds die down, or try hail a passing motorized dinghy.

I need to get into a marina here or in Phillipsburg on the Dutch side. With the upcoming Heineken regatta, that might be a problem. I need to get my 12-volt tiller pilot repaired or replaced. I managed to reconnect the broken exterior plug and have power to the unit but it is not working. I was hoping that I could make it work with the remote-control line. Does not work. Probably ruined the wiring in the unit or the motor that runs it. The motor is probably the easiest to replace. The wiring appears very well sealed from any water intrusion. Yesterday I was able to steer the boat with the Monitor windvane , under power, when I had to go head to the wind to the anchorage and had to drop the sails.

One of my wind vane control lines needs replacement. The last, main part, of my windex wind-indicator, blew off the top of the mast in that storm of the first Thursday-Friday of the trip.

I have a ton of laundry, the winter clothes that were soaked, etc. Yesterday I gave up on putting dry shorts back on after getting hosed on deck, without an audience, I was dressed in just a life preserver, harness and soaked boat-shoes.

 

I have been reading Carl Robinson’s “The Bite of the Lotus”. A very interesting and very different perspective of the Vietnam war, than the many other books on the subject. Carl went to grade school in Redlands, California and moved with his Methodist missionary parents to the (then) Belgian Congo. On a side trip from his studies in Hong Kong, he ended up working for a few years in the South Vietnam delta for a US Government assistance program. He went back to finish his arts degree and earned a “cum laude” degree, in June 1966, at the University of Redlands with a thesis on the 1954 Geneva peace accords. He went back to work in the Delta at Co Cong for the USOM assistance program. He was fluent in French from his Congo days and also more adjusted to the post-colonial life style similarities that baffled most other Americans. Eventually he quit the US aid position, in disgust over the political ineptness. He joined Associated Press in Saigon working for Horst Faas the legendary war photographer.

He married a young student from Co Gong, who became his assistant for a few years and quit at the same time.

This book also contains one of the most authentic facts on the disappearance of Sean Flynn (Errol Flynn’s son) and his close friend Tim Page in Laos with whom Carl had a close professional and personal relationship. Robinson came to Vietnam shortly after I left in 1963. For me there are so many recognizable, places, events, people. The affection for the people and country of Vietnam, I share with Robinson. I knew a number of the press people he mentions in his book.

He also describes in detail his struggles with the then reigning drug culture, from marijuana to the opium dens of Saigon and Laos. The book was published late last year and is available in the usual formats and book sellers. I recommend it, especially for its historical details and why this ended up in one of our most embarrassing defeats.

It is now Tuesday evening and accomplished a few chores today. I thoroughly dried the starboard and port bilges. There is no leak. I was removing about 3 gallons every day since I suspected a leak on Friday the 7th. I replaced a frayed control line to the wind vane. Fitted the new ensign and staff that replace the one I lost on mooring in West Norfolk the first day out from Cape Charles, January 15th. The wind never let up today to dare row to the shore. I hailed my neighbor, who was returning from his work in his inflatable outboard. Jean Olivier, short JO, he will come by tomorrow morning, on his way to work, to get JvO and tow me in my inflatable to the marina. Then I can row back, down wind after I have talked to the marina for moorage and cleared in with the Marechaussee, and find internet to catch up with the 16 days in the wilderness and post this blog. There is still visible damage left from the 2017 Hurricane. Apparently, according to JO, the bridges are not repaired yet. Now, to get to Philipsburg in Sint Martin,

I‘ll have to sail twice the distance around the south end of the island. I shaved my beard this morning and, towards dusk, I got a long enough rain shower to wash the salt out of my hair and take a cockpit bath, I feel clean again.

Here is the You Tube video of what the storm looked like. Be sure to take your favorite anti-motion medication before watching this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDlgpnsjaws

 

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Doris Lajoie says:

    Jack glad that you are safe in St.Martin and thank you for your blog stay safe and healthy my friend. Miss seeing you here in Cape Charles you are always in our prayers. I will pSs on your blog to my friends here.
    Sounds like you have met a good neighbor there to help.
    Please keep us up to date when you can.

    💏💏 Doris Lajoie
    Cape Charles

  2. Linda Chancler says:

    So relieved you are safe and sound. Amazing to read what was happening on board while I was following your progress (a bit obsessively at times) on InReach. Glad you have had a wash and a good sleep. Take care!

  3. Ira Spector says:

    Hi Jack. First time I’ve read your blog in quite a while. Sounds like a “wild and crazy ride” to St Martin. Glad you made it in one piece. You’re a tough dude, Dude!
    Enjoy your time out there. We were waiting on the FL coast for a “weather window “ while your were bashing off 15’ waves. Now we’re sitting in Lucaya waiting for another one to get down to The Berry’s and onto the Exumas. You better check your Bday; I believe you’re younger than you think.
    All the best. Say hi to the Gang. Keep On Truckin!
    Ira

  4. John moist says:

    Aloha Jack! Your adventure sounds amazing. Stay safe and may God be with you. Wishing you fair winds and following seas!
    John

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