Monday, March 27, 2017

1980 - A Boat Named Lyra

The anchorage at Fort de France, Martinique.  Internet photo

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

On April 21st, we sailed from Ste. Anne to Fort de France, to clear customs to leave Martinique.  While we were in Fort de France, a boat named Lyra arrived.  We had been anchored near Lyra for about a month in St. Maarten, but had only met Sandra and Leo when we were leaving the island. The day after Lyra arrived in Martinique, I invited them over to Tropic Moon for drinks. 

Sandra’s first comment, when she climbed on board, was to mention that the boat people in Martinique must be really lonely.  While they were still putting down their anchor, a boat they didn’t know invited them over for drinks.  Then some people on a powerboat extended a dinner invitation, to follow after Sandra and Leo had drinks with us.  Rather than be cool about it, and say I’d just wanted to see them again, I started telling them they wouldn’t believe how lonely I’d been.  I missed having a conversation with someone who spoke English.

Sandra and Leo were from Montreal (where he was in electronics, and she was a psychologist).  In 3-1/2 years, they had sailed Lyra as far south as Martinique.  We had finally met someone who traveled as slow as us….  Whenever Leo and Sandra were running low on funds, they stopped and worked.  They’d spent eight months in Puerto Rico, where Leo had a carpentry job.  They had just been in St. Barths (a French island) for four months, while Sandra worked in a boutique.  They’re bilingual in French and English; Leo also speaks Dutch, as he was originally from Holland.  While in St. Barths, Leo rewired a house for a man who collected solar panels.  Leo took one in payment for that job, so Lyra, like us, charged with solar energy. 

We bonded with Sandra and Leo.  We talked about the loneliness, the boredom, and the alienation from the life back home – as well as the many good parts of the cruising life.  We talked about politics, and religion, and not having children.  We both had some funny stories on that last one.  The people of the islands placed a high importance on having children.  We were frequently asked if we had kids.  I told one taxi driver that no, I didn’t have children, and didn’t want any.  He snapped back that I’d better not let my husband hear me talking like that!  He mellowed, and then waxed eloquent, after I asked him if he had kids.  He described his little daughter to me, obviously the prettiest and brightest child there ever was!  Large families were popular.  My “vegetable lady” in Grenada, and my “laundry lady” in Antigua each had ten children.

I asked Sandra how she answered the question.  She said she’d given up trying to explain about birth control pills.  She just shrugged her shoulders.  Sandra and Leo had spent four months in Haiti, probably the poorest island in the Caribbean.  While the Haitians were the poorest people they’d ever met, they were also the happiest and, in Sandra and Leo’s opinions, the most beautiful, physically, of all the islanders they’d seen.  Children and family were very important on Haiti.  Because Lyra stayed there several months, they became well known to the local people.  There was general concern that Sandra and Leo didn’t have children.  Leo said that after several months in the Bahamas, he had lost a lot of weight, and was skin and bones by the time they reached Haiti.  People looked at Sandra, and looked at Leo, and decided he was the one with the problem.  Several people approached him to offer potions to help him out!  Even the immigration officer was concerned, and told Sandra there were good doctors on the island who dealt with those types of problems.

Having company on a boat was a far cry from having company in a house.  We had to think about weather, and other environmental considerations.  The anchorage at Fort de France had the tendency to be very rolly, and this night was one of the worst.  All the boats in the harbor were rocking heavily from side to side.  We were sitting in our cockpit when the people on the powerboat, who had invited Sandra and Leo for dinner, came by in their dingy.  They said they had to cancel, because it was too rough to cook.  Our new friends were disappointed, so I invited them to stay and have dinner with us.  They accepted.  Ed, who was thinking a little more clearly than me (too much rum & coke), asked me what I planned on fixing.  I said, not to worry, and headed down below.  I quickly realized how difficult it was going to be to cook, despite the gimballed stove.  It was too late for my company quiche, which takes an hour to bake.  I decided on a tuna, macaroni, and cucumber salad.  The only part needing cooking was the macaroni.  With French bread, a cake I’d baked earlier, and the bottle of wine Lyra had planned on taking to the powerboat, we managed fine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

1980 - Bourg Ste. Anne, Martinique

Diamond Rock (small bump on left) at sunset.  Taken from Bourg Ste. Anne

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

All the churches in the French islands ring their church bells, tolling the hours.  In Fort de France there were two churches within hearing distance, plus a noon siren, as well as our own marine clock, which chimed ships bells.  No two ever sounded at the same time, making the changing of the hour rather noticeable.  On Easter Sunday, at 10:00 a.m., I thought I heard the church bell chime eleven times.  I listened more carefully at 11:00 a.m., and counted twelve bells.  I mentioned this to Ed, and he, (not being one to fool around), glanced across the water to the clock on the church steeple, to verify Fort de France was, indeed, one hour ahead us.  We realized the island had gone on daylight savings time, but decided not to change our clocks, and to live in our very own time zone. 

Ste. Anne's Chapel

We didn't hear any church bells in Anse d'Arlet.  When we reached Ste. Anne, we were surprised to find their church on Tropic Moon time.  We decided it was some sort of independent move on their part.  Some time later, a Martinique student solved our time zone mystery.  We learned that for the first time in ages (maybe forever?), Europe had decided to go on daylight savings time.  Martinique, being a Department of France, had followed suit.  When the clocks were set ahead and everyone had to get up an hour earlier, the students weren't too happy about it.  After a week of protests, and student demonstrations, the government had returned the island to Atlantic Standard Time.

The Calvary is at the top of the hill

Ste. Anne was a small, pleasant village, and the people were friendly.  A beautiful Calvary, with stone monuments, climbs the steep hill behind Ste. Anne's church.  The Calvary formed the Stations of the Cross, marking the fourteen steps on Christ's journey to his death.  There were stone steps, and gradual inclines, zigzagging between the Stations, as they wound their way up the hill.  My Catholic upbringing came in handy, because I could explain to Ed the background behind the religious statues and monuments.  I told Ed that people are supposed to stop and pray at each Station, and what they pray for is the strength to make it up to the next one!  That wasn't such a joke in Ed's case.  Because of his pains, he stopped several times to stretch out on the walls, to relieve the cramps in his leg.  It was the week after Easter, and each marble monument was covered with partially burned candles. 

Station of the Cross, with burned candles

The view from the top of the Calvary was magnificent; you could see miles of island and seas in several directions.  The beauty was enhanced by the contrast between the white marbles and stone steps, and the bright reds, oranges and purples of the bougainvillea and flamboyant trees.  I had brought the camera along and took several pictures, including some of a miniature Tropic Moon floating far below us.

The view from the Calvary.  Tropic Moon is the second boat out.
Diamond Rock is the small bump on the horizon.

We moved the boat again, this time to the mile-long beach to the north of Ste. Anne.  The beach was lovely, and usually deserted.  It was part of a park and campground; cars paid a fee to come into the area.  I walked in and out several times with no one paying me any attention.  When Sunday came around, our beach really sprang to life.  Cars and buses arrived in the park, disgorging crowds of people onto the beaches.  Wind surfers and sunfish zipped across the water, making colorful patchwork against the blue green of the sea.  Tropic Moon became the tacking buoy in a sailboat race, giving us a grandstand view.  Snorkelers risked life and limb, finning their ways facedown through all the activity; some trailed bright balloons as warnings to the boaters.  Music and laughter wafted out to us across the water.

Three young women swam out to Tropic Moon, and were complimenting Ed on his "pretty boat."  I came on deck and invited them aboard.  They told us they were French language exchange students from Wellesley, Massachusetts.  They were highly flattered when we mistook them for Wellesley College students.  They explained they were mere "enfants" from the high school.  The young women were part of a coed group of fifteen exchange students.  They were at the beach with the fifteen Martinique students who had visited them in Wellesley a few weeks before.  Over the course of the day about twenty of the thirty young people visited Tropic Moon.  It was fun at first, but we did get a little tired of answering the same questions over and over.  One of the young women asked our ages, and I told her we were in our thirties.  It was a little disconcerting when she replied, "So are my parents"!  They enjoyed being on the boat, were very polite, and apologized for imposing on us (which they weren't, really).  Most asked to dive off the bow (the highest point of Tropic Moon's deck), when they headed back to the beach.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1980 - Health Problems

Ed in his pareu - bought at Ste. Anne, Martinique

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

During our fourteen years on Tropic Moon, receiving mail from home was an ongoing challenge – especially in the islands.  When we decided we’d be staying in Martinique for a while, we’d given our family a ‘Poste Restante’ (General Delivery) address for Fort de France.  We had our mail addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Edward Baardsen. 

The guardian of Poste Restante was ‘tres formidable.’  When I tried to collect our mail – though I had both of our passports with me – all I got was a slew of French in my direction.  I finally caught the word ‘Monsieur,’ and called Ed over.  He’d been waiting by the door.  That made her happy, and she gave us our mail.  You see, my name, ‘Jean,’ wasn’t written in the address….  The same lady was usually at the window.  After a while, she was getting to know us, and came really close to smiling.  We only checked the mail twice a week, so as not to antagonize her.

Post Office, Fort de France.  Photo from the Internet

Ed had started having some pain in his lower back while we were home over Christmas.  When we were back in Antigua, he decided to see if he was better by trying to touch his toes.  Somewhere along the way, he did some serious damage.  For about a week in Antigua, he could barely get out of his bed.  Ed rigged up a pulley system, with a rope noose, at the foot of his berth.  He would put his foot in the loop, and pull on the rope to lift his leg, putting some traction on it.  After a certain height, he wasn’t able to straighten out his leg.  He was also having problems if he sat up too long.  We weren’t able to imagine what was causing the problems. 

Though Ed would improve for a while, the pains returned, affecting different areas in his back and legs.  While in the Saints, he was getting cramps in his right leg.  Not one to let a little pain stop him, he and I hiked over hill and dale, into town and back.  Ed even climbed the local mountain, Le Chameau (by himself, it was too steep for me).  By Martinique Ed was in worse shape, and could only walk a short distance before getting shooting pains down his leg.  He finally quit going into town, except for the mail, as the post office was just down the street from the dinghy pier. 

Map, Martinique

We left Fort de France after three weeks, and sailed to Anse d'Arlet, a bay on the southwest corner of Martinique, where we stayed for almost a week.  From there, we decided to go the Bourg Ste. Anne, a small village on the south coast of the island.  It took us seven hours to sail from Anse d'Arlet to Ste. Anne.  I was getting rather tired toward the end of the day.  We’d been traveling to windward, tacking several times to avoid the shallows near the coast.  Ed was in one of his "sailing purist" moods, and didn't want to start the engine to motor in.  It appeared to me we’d need at least a couple more tacks to reach the village.  So I suggested we anchor off a beach.  Long, curving beaches graced either side of the town.  Ed asked, “Which one?" I pointed straight ahead, and said, "That one!"  I didn't want to face even one more tack.  We anchored off the beach, and then sat through two days of heavy rains.  When the weather cleared, we motored over to anchor off the village of Ste. Anne.