We were anchored in a beautiful cove in Iles des Saintes, Martinique. The plan (I know, that should be "plan") was to bypass Dominica and go straight to Martinique, getting up before dawn to make the approximately 12 hour passage. In preparation for this we began to prepare some food to have along the way. This is where the problems began. Our vegetables chopped, we lit the stove and the flame briefly flickered and then it was no more. We were out of propane.
Currently we only have one propane tank, having tried unsuccessfully many months to find a second tank that will fit in the designated space. It is not easy to determine how much propane is left in a tank, we use the lift and shake method. Ideally we would have two tanks, let one run out and we would have a cushion of several months to find somewhere to fill the empty tank. However, we do not have that luxury, and now we were out of propane.
Difficulty #2, we cannot fill our tank in Martinique because the French Islands use European fittings on their tanks, and we have an American tank fitting (which it rather surprising since Rhapsody came from Europe) meaning we can fill the tank at every island down the chain with the exception of the island we were on (Guadeloupe) and the island we were headed to (Martinique ) both are classified as "insular regions of France", overseas departments, and both of these islands vary greatly from the surrounding islands. They use the Euro, vs Eastern Caribbean Dollar, they speak French vs English, drive on the left vs the right and they fill their propane tanks from a different fitting.
We make the decision to make a quick stop in Dominica. We had our tank filled there in Portsmouth last year so we know it can be done. Portsmouth has a wonderful organization called PAYS, Portsmouth Area Yacht Services. This organization was form in response to crime against yachts and a dwindling yachting presence in Dominica. The men from PAYS will come out to your boat as you round the headland into the bay. They will help you moor or show yow a good spot to anchor. They will take you on tours of the island, they have a presence at night guarding your boat and, specifically for what we needed, they will take your propane tank to be filled.
Alexis was our contact. He came out to talk to us and we said that we wanted to anchor rather than paying for a mooring ball. We always prefer anchoring, and not just because it is free, it tends to be much quieter without a mooring ball bumping against the hull all night. We explained to Alexis that we wanted to get our tank filled quickly so that we could keep moving down the islands. This was Sunday so we knew we couldn't get it filled on that day, but our hope was to get it filled early enough in the day that we could continue our journey by the afternoon. Alexis said that it should be no problem, and that he would return that same day to collect our tank so that he could deliver it to the filling station before 8 AM and we could soon be on our way.
5 PM came and went.
No, problem, we thought, he'll come by in the morning.
Soon there was a band playing on shore very close to where we were anchored. It began to play louder, and louder and continued to play until 1AM. The winds picked up, the anchor chain began making noise as it was dragging over the bottom, the snubber (a line tied off to the chain that takes the pressure off of the chain and windlass) was creaking and groaning with every gust of wind. All of this led to a very sleepless night.
Monday AM, no Alexis.
We called him on the radio, no answer.
Finally we spot him in his boat and we wave him over.
"It's a holiday " he said. "Nothing is open, you cannot get your propane filled today"
This explains the band playing.
It would have been nice to know this the day before.
We check the weather.
Can we head to Roseau (Rose-O) and get our tank filled early tomorrow and continue on to Martinique?
It seems like it might be a little rough, but do-able.
The winds are predicted to be 19-22 knots, and we typically find that once we are out in the open ocean that we need to add 5 knots to that prediction. 27 knots is a lot of wind, but we know that we will be in the wind shadow of Dominica the entire way so we feel that we will not have more wind than we can handle.
As we set out, we are in the wind shadow with the wind blowing about 14 knots. The ocean is calm, almost lake - like. There is barely enough wind to sail. We were beginning to wonder if we should head off shore for a bit to pick up some more wind when we rounded a headland. Suddenly we had gusts up to 36 knots and we are heeled over. We furl in the sails until we only have a tiny bit out and we are going 7.3 knots, plenty fast for Rhapsody, and then just as suddenly the wind is back to 18 knots and our speed is only 3.9 knots.
We played this game all the way to Roseau, either too much wind, or not enough, never hitting the sweet spot in between.
We made it safely to Roseau and Demetrie was our greeter, offering to take us to a mooring ball. "No thanks, we'll anchor"
"OK" he said, giving us a rather dubious look.
It turns out the the harbor at Roseau drops off very quickly making it too deep to anchor easily, and those few spots that were anchorable were already occupied. Demetrie had not gone far from us and quickly can over when we waved to take us to a ball. At least it will be quieter than the anchoring last night, I thought (we'll get back to that in part 2)
To be continued. ..