Wednesday, 15 August 2018

2 August Are we nearly there?

Yesterday we were sailing around the world. Today we have sailed around the world. No longer nearly there - we are there.
As we sailed into Prickly Bay on the south coast of Grenada we crossed our outward track from August 2009. In 2009 we were bound for Venezuela, certainly not somewhere you would choose to go to today, and points west. Today we've taken four days to come from French Guiana.
The circumnavigation by numbers; 52,000nm and 52 countries in 9 years and 9 months and one great boat. Jackster has been superb: a comfortable home and a safe boat to cross the oceans in.
David had the ambition to sail around the world before I met him in 2005. We met on a diving holiday in Galapagos which is where he revealed his idea to sail and dive around the world. I said 'Perhaps I might be able to join you for a week or two.' Look where that got me! Married to a sailor.
David has realised his ambition and now I've realised an ambition I didn't know I had!
And the adventure isn't going to stop here....more places to see, people to meet and more diving to do.

29 July Leaving St Laurent

Depth and current are the influencing factors on the best time to leave St Laurent and make the trip back to the sea.
Today's HW at St Laurent was at 7.00am, sun rise 06.30 and HW at Les Hatte 07.30am. Meaning if we dropped our line at 6am we'd have the first light of day and be at the shallowest part of the river where outflow meets the sea at half falling tide.

Pre dawn is my favourite time of day; it's a new start, quiet. This was a beautiful morning without a ripple on the water as we slipped away down stream. For the first 2 hours / ten miles there was a knot of current against us. But for the last two hours we had up to 3 knots with us. The stream was fast as we raced out in to the sea, past channel marker leaning over in the current. The journey took us four hours from mooring to safe water mark.
As we motoring down the river we asked ourselves if the time and effort of a 50nm round trip up the river was worth it to see visit a scruffy town with two days worth of things to do (prison and market)? I would say no. It's not wonderful, not a 'must see' in my personal bucket list whereas I rated our visit to Ils du Salut highly. Definitely recommended. However there was a redeeming factor for St Laurent. Being self confessed gourmands the Super U store was The Redeeming Factor. Where would we next be able to buy all those naughty, wonderful French foods and French wines at cheap prices?
So it's good bye to St Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana and good bye to South America. Next stop Grenada.

Monday, 6 August 2018

26 July Prison visit

This afternoon we went on a guided tour of the prison. Being the only English speaking visitors we had a private tour with Robbie as our guide. You can walk around the outer building at no cost, the guided tour takes you inside and costs €6 per person.
Prison kitchen and admin buildings

despair of the inmate

In the maximum security area we were shown the isolation cells and the communal dormitories where the men slept forty to a room in a space intended for 20, side-by-side shackled at the ankles. For the first two years of their sentence all prisoners had to do hard labour for twelve hours a day and were slept in these dormitory cells.
solitary cells

high security

Robbie and David enjoy a joke

Prisoners who infringed prison rules were tried by the judges and could be given solitary confinement or the death penalty. Robbie told us sixty prisoners were executed here and showed us where the guillotine would have been placed in the middle of the yard and all prisoners forced to watch.
Those that survived the first two years were moved from maximum security to the outer prisons, or Class 2 and 3 cells, which were larger and less prisoners per room. They also earned 'lighter duties'.
regular inmate accommodation

24 July St Laurent town

looking back to the dinghy dock
Town hall
July is the end of the rainy season. While we were here it was still raining heavily every afternoon. It was better to do our exploring in the morning and to get back to Jackster for lunch before 2 o'clock. A sail repair that was required to the main sail also had to be done in the morning before rain stopped play.
the prison
On our way to immigration yesterday David gave us a tour and history of the town. St Laurent began as a penal colony; the first port for all prisoners transported from France. Some stayed at the prison which they built and the rest were redistributed to islands near Cayenne or to Ils du Salut.

France supports French Guiana financially. There are grants for restoration of the historic buildings and economic support for the community. The mother of any child born here receives €450 per month for child care and every child has a place at school. The policy had encouraged large families and large scale immigration of Surinese people from across the river. David told us in St Laurent there are 10 babies born every day and the average age of the town is 15 years. Just 40% of the adult population are employed.
St Laurent seems to have three distinct zones; the historic centre dating back to the penal colony, the Surinese community I government provided housing and the native Amerindian town. The last one is clean, the houses and gardens neat and well maintained. This area is safe to walk as is the historic town. But. David told us not to walk south beyond the water tower in to the Surinese community. This unkempt area was definitely not a safe place for tourists.
Later when we were walking or cycling around town we noticed a strong police presence. Many armed police men and women were on the street. Of course they could have stopped us for cycling on the wrong side of the road, or behaving like tourists, but they didn't.
at the Wednesday market

Our cycle tour started from the jetty up the main street past the prison, the town hall and the law offices. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings there's a fresh market held in the town square with a nice selection of local produce. The bikes were great for trips to Super U. We love French supermarkets with their shelves laden with cheese, pate, sausages, baguettes and, of course, the wine section. When we left St Laurent we (us and Jackster) were definitely heavier with the good food we'd eaten and stored under the floor and in the freezer.

23 July St Laurent du Maroni

We left Ils du Salut at 5pm and motored in no wind until nearly midnight. Then the breeze picked up to a wind and then a strong wind as we reached the safe water mark at the entrance to the Maroni river next morning.
We arrived an hour after LW at Les Hattes tidal station at the start of the river.
It's 10nm from the safe water mark Les Hattes and then a further 16nm to the town of St Laurent. The South America Navionics chip in our chart plotter proved to be inaccurate for the channel markers. However, the Navionics app on the tablet had the correct positions for the markers and the channel. Following this the shallowest water we saw was 3m, 1 hour before LW immediately before M2 and M3.
With 22 knots on the beam and a current flowing NW we had to be aware of our leeway to avoid being pushed out of the channel at the entry.

 Once past the westerly cardinal depth increased as did the flow and we made a fast passage. The journey is a motor, not particularly interesting; some birds, the mangroves. It is not the Kinatabangan in Borneo!
When we arrived at St Laurent at 2 o'clock marina owner David was in his dinghy waiting to show us to a mooring. The marina has about 20 moorings, no slips to go alongside. Without a line to pick up and pull on board our alternative would have been to thread our line through the metal ring on top of the buoy from our stern and walk the line forward.
MV Edith Cavell

bow out to the centre of the river
still flying the flag
lies stern to shore

Protecting the up river moorings is a man made island. The base of the wooded island is a metal cargo ship named the Edith Cavell which went aground 90 years ago. In the intervening years she has split in the middle and now rests with her stern to the dinghy dock and her bow to the river. Mud collected around her hull and plants, as they do, found a new home and grew. At first sight it is an island. Only on taking a a second, closer look can you see the hull which has no marine growth below the waterline; testament to the cleaning powers of the Maroni river. (When we left all growth from Jacare had disappeared.)
locking dinghy to jetty
Once tied up we took our dinghy to the nice dock being careful to lock it as we'd been advised by David. There is a lot of pirogue traffic back and forth across the water between French Guiana and Suriname and non of it is legal; no border controls, no immigration unless you use the car ferry which does have border control.
David drove us to the ferry terminal to have our passports stamped and he did our customs clearance on line on his computer in the office. Cost to join the marina which includes clearance in and out and a lift to the supermarket each morning is €20. Moorings are €12 a day or €80 per week. The marina office is conveniently the first building on the right at the top of the jetty. We received good internet on the mooring for €5 for seven days.
looking across the river to Suriname

Friday, 27 July 2018

21 July Il St Joseph

Il St Joseph is the smallest of the three islands.  The ruins here haven't been restored and many of the buildings are without roofs.  We saw long sheds which may have had dividing walls for cells.  

the island is reclaiming the buildings

Entrance to solitary confinement cells

Some of the solitary confinement cells were open to the elements and allowed the guards to watch everything from the walkways above.

It is about 80 years since the last prisoners left and the islands abandoned.  It doesn't take long for nature to reclaim it leaving a unique and eerie landscape.

cemetery emtrance

On the north side of the island there's a cemetery for the guards and their families, but we also found graves of sailors. Presumably crew from the transport ships who also never left Devil's island.  The bodies of prisoners were thrown in to the sea to become food for the sharks.

a naval head stone

20 July Il Royale

We tied our dinghy on the inside of the jetty and went off to explore. When it was a prison island Ile Royale was where the governor, the guards and their families lived. It has the administration buildings, houses and a prison. The central and highest building is now the hotel. Guests also have the option to stay in the barracks.
We began our visit at the museum to familiarise ourselves with the history, then with the aid of a free map from the hotel took a tour of all the buildings and paths. It's not big. Our walk around the coastal path took a leisurely 50 minutes.
You can see Devil's island from Il Royale, but it is closed to visitors.  The given reason is danger and difficulty of landing boats.  At one time the two islands were joined by a cable car.  Now they are divided by strong currents.  The first resident prisoner, Alfred Dreyfus in mid 1800's, was charged with treason and interred on Devil's.  It was later a place for many more prisoners.

Devil's Island

Governor's house

the military hospital

There is one small cemetery on the island with the graves of fifty children.  Only the children of the guards were buried, all others went elsewhere, due to lack of space.

children's cemetery

helicopter pad and lighthouse

entry to cells

We were surprised to find monkeys living here.  They are Capucins although we didn't see many.  We did see lots of agoutis.  We're told they are similar to the dassies of South Africa - these are larger and eat coconuts.


19 July Ils du Salut

Our first morning in the islands was uplifting after the disappointment of Jacare. Palm trees swaying on the breeze, blue skies and birds on the wing. We were on holiday again.
dock at Il Royale
Le Ils du Salut (Isles of Salvation) are three small islands and part of French Guiana and since 1965 have been owned by Centre National D'Etudes Spatiale, or, the European Space Agency whose rocket launch site is just 9 miles away at Kourou. When a rocket is launched it passes directly over the islands. For the three days around a launch no boats are allowed to anchor here and the residents move to the mainland. Residents are the hotel staff, officers from the islands' police station and the camp chief on Ile St Joseph.

day boats on moorings

Prior to being part of the Space Age, I read the islands have been a French territory since 1664, a site from which to colonise the interior of South America, but in 1854 Napoleon Bonaparte decided they were to be a prison for political prisoners, repeat offenders and anyone not wanted in mainland France. Convicts were last transported here in 1937.
The convict who is most closely associated with the islands never stepped foot on them. Henri Charriere, aka Papillon wrote a book which he claimed was an autobiography of his time on Ils du Salut. The real truth is he was incarcerated on another prison island near Cayenne and his book is a collection of stores he was told of life on these islands. Many people are very disappointed when they come here and discover the most well known resident wrote a book of fiction not one of fact. And the eponymous film wasn't shot here either. That location was either Hawaii or Brazil depending who tells you.
Before we sailed here we'd read the blogs of friends who've travelled came before us and trusting their accounts to be true we had been prepared for a rolly anchorage so we were happy to find all was calm during our visit.
When we arrived at 3am in the morning there was one boat, a catamaran called Magic Bullet with Australians Geoff and Kim on board, anchored close in to the day boat moorings (not available to visiting yachts). They left the morning after we arrived, hopefully not something we said, and we moved closer in to the bay. There was no difference in conditions to being further out, but we were 200m closer to the boat dock. It was still calm.
The boat dock is used by the catamarans which arrive at 9am each day from Kourou transporting eager guests. Some come for the day, others stay overnight at the hotel or camp for free. The dock and entry to the islands is free for visiting yacht.

18 July Passage from Jacare, Brazil to Ils du Salut, French Guiana

It wasn't an auspicious start to the passage. We left Jacare on a rainy day after spending twenty minutes scrubbing the chain. Once out at sea the rain continued, but we had current and some wind with us and reached the corner by breakfast next day. As we turned north west the intervals between rain clouds increased and we found we had wind on the stern. Perfect for our twin headsails.
With current and wind we were averaging over 8 knots and logged three 200nm + back-to-back despite discovering a tear in the luff of the ballooner sail on the second morning.
There was no choice. The sail had to be dropped and repaired. Bringing it down wasn't a problem in the light winds except the tear ripped further as came down. We think it caught on the deck light on the mast. The small patch had become a bigger patch. Where should I set up the sewing machine? We could bring all the sail into the cock pit. We could set up the machine on the rolling deck, or...we could leave the greater part of the sail in it's locker at the foot of the forestay and feed the top half through the forward hatch and set up the machine on the berth.
With just the headsail poled out to port we rolled slowly along. I rolled and sweated in the humid air to do the repair. Total time between dropping the ballooner to re-hoisting was two hours. I'm thankful we have a sewing machine capable of canvas work.
In the aftenoon of 14th July we crossed the equator – our fourth equatorial crossing since we began cruising in 2008.
After we'd passed the mouth of the Amazon the water changed from clear blue to muddy coffee. In the blue we'd caught five yellow fin tuna, now not a bite and the favourable current had slowed from 3 knots to 1 to 1½ knots. The wind died too as we encountered the western edge of the ITCZ and motored for 48 hours until we were far enough north for the breeze to pick up again. From here it was less than a day to our destination and we reached Ils du Salut a little before 3am and anchored in 5m at 05°17.02N 052°35.43W on the east side of Ile Royale. Entry in the dark wasn't a problem. We approached from the south of Ile St Josephe and encountered no hazards.
We'd travelled 1400nm in 7 days and 15 hours, an average speed of 7.7 knots. And it wasn't because the wind was strong. It was the speedy Guiana current which speeds NW across the mouth of the great Amazon river at up to four knots.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

3 July Joao Pessoa

Joao Pessoa is a twenty minute ride on the train up river from Jacare and an old Portuguese city. The old city is close to the river and a five minute walk to the top of the hill which looks out over the old and new towns.

old town decoration

church of the monastery
The houses are brightly painted and the cobbled roads steep. A top the hill are many churches, a monastery and a sixteenth century cathedral. To view the inside of the cathedral is it necessary to buy a ticket and join a tour. A tour which is entirely in Portuguese including the whistles and hollers when I walked away from the group to take a photo or two. Amazing how body language and loud shouting can convey 'stay with me or you'll be asked / told to leave'.
Most intriguing was to find the main entrance guarded by stone carvings of Chinese lions. The same style and shape as we'd seen in Asia. I never found out why. The vaulted ceilings of the cathedral are wood and painted with stories.



choir room

Teatro Rosa