ASA students, Fritz and Maryke had a bumpy flight down to Saint Lucia as they arrived on the tail end of two weeks of unstable weather in the tropics. Fortunately, this system was on its way out and we had a week of beautiful sailing weather.

Fritz and Maryke had a desire to one day experience the Caribbean under sail. They had already taken ASA 101 and 103 with Narragansett Sailing School (NSS). While strolling the Newport Boat Show last fall the couple discovered that NSS was now offering higher level ASA courses in the Caribbean. Needless to say, they jumped on the commitment to fulfill their sailing dream.

Captain Ron meets Fritz and Maryke at the Hewanorra airport to drive them to the north end of Saint Lucia. It’s a great way to ease guests into the Caribbean vibe and for us to get better acquainted as we will be spending a week together on a boat. I invite the students to stay the night at our house, it’s a nice place to shake off the state-side pressure and stress of travel. Not long after arriving Fritz and Maryke are in their swimsuits enjoying the pool. We have dinner, drinks, and conversation on the pool deck with my wife Loretta.

Day 1: In the morning we prepare the online customs departure forms to streamline our exit out of Saint Lucia. The truck is packed with our sailing gear and basic food to get us by until we make a menu for food shopping in Martinique.

It’s a lot to take in from a student’s perspective as we walk down the dock to the boat slip. There is a nice waterfront in Rodney Bay with a variety of restaurants and shops. The marina is filled with offshore sailboats of every style. Local friends stop by the boat to chat with my new friends while I do my clearances with Customs to get our departure forms. Fritz and Maryke explore the boat before we go over safety, systems, and sailing equipment. All gear stowed, it’s time to get underway.

With Fritz at the helm, we depart the dock around 2:00. Maryke and I stow the dock lines and fenders while giving Fritz directions through the cut out to Rodney Bay. It’s a huge oval edge with sandy beaches and resorts. We pass the anchored boats into open water and turn into the 15-knot wind for Maryke to raise the reefed main. As Fritz falls off the wind towards the open ocean, we ease the mainsheet onto a nice beam reach, then deploy the Genoa. The 24 nm channel between Saint Lucia and Martinique had relatively small seas. The landfall will be in Sainte Anne, Martinique. The wind made for a fast but easy sail – a perfect start to our ASA 104 course. We sailed into the anchorage as the sun was low on the horizon leaving just enough time after the anchor dug in to launch the dinghy from the foredeck. Before leaving the boat we hung a distinctive light in the cockpit to locate the boat amongst the hundreds of anchor lights.

Day 2: An early start as we dinghied to town to buy freshly baked baguettes and chocolate croissants before moving the boat to an anchorage in Le Marin. Here we can clear customs at the marina and go food shopping in the French grocery store. In the afternoon, we weigh anchor to take the boat back to Sainte Anne and drop the hook in front of a picturesque beach. We beach the dinghy and enjoy a swim in the warm tropical water while we discuss rules of the road, lights, and sound signals. That evening, Fritz, Maryke, and I, grille up some very delicious cheeseburgers under a star-filled night sky.

Day 3: Fritz and I take another dinghy run to the French bakery before we set sail to Fort de France on the western shore of Martinique. The wind was strong and behind us making it a challenge to keep the headsail drawing in the rolling waves. Shortly after passing Diamond Rock, we jibed the mainsail onto a fast starboard beam reaching toward the large bay. The winds were blowing into the twenties making for a sporty sail in relatively flat waters. Our upwind destination of L’Anse Mitan was a great opportunity to practice our tacking skills. The small anchorage was crowded, a wind shift prompted us to re-anchor after observing our relative position to another boat. We explored the quaint little peninsula town in the evening before heading back to the boat to cook another gourmet dinner.

Day 4: After breakfast, we dig deeper into navigation techniques. Fritz and Maryke took several lines of positions – one with a hockey puck compass and another with binoculars with built in compass. To their satisfaction, the 3 LOPs from the edges of the land and buoys, crossed perfectly. The Lat/Long from the chart matched the GPS reading to within 600 feet. Not bad guys. Then we set sail into the back of Fort de France Bay – a tricky area as there are reefs and shoals to navigate through. I decided these backwaters were the perfect place to practice MOB drills – plus it was blowing 20 knots and gusting higher. Exhausted from all the grinding as it was getting late in the day and we had to decide where to spend the night. Maryke was always keen to do research in the cruising guide and found a sweet little spot in Les Trios ilets (three islands). It’s another tricky spot with a nearby shoal but it has no makings. We found it just fine on our own, clipping the edge. Fortunately, we were going slow and came to a soft stop. This was a great opportunity to put some grounding techniques into action — we had to work fast. The wind-driven waves were slamming at our stern inching us further onto the shoal. First, we deployed the headsail to turn the bow – nothing happened. Reverse propulsion didn’t work either. The boat has a wing keel so the normal heeling the boat tricks would be useless. I told the crew that we were launching the dinghy along with its twenty horsepower Honda. We had it over the side and motor mounted in record time. With Fritz at the helm and Maryke handling lines, I used the dinghy to spin the bow around windward. Next, we set up the dinghy to hip tow at the stern quarter. Fritz and I ran both engines at full throttle for a seemingly long time. All of us mentally willing the boat to break free. It finally did break free as Fritz and fast thinking rocked the helm causing the keel to bore a channel out to deep water. I have to admit, in the back of my mind, I was getting a bit skeptical, seeing my boat as another Hulk symbol on the chart. I was very proud of my crew as nobody panicked and we used every second to its fullest because we grounded on a full moon and falling tide. It’s never a good thing to go aground but it’s going to happen at some point in your sailing career. Regardless of the situation, we carried on to the chosen anchorage and dropped the hook like nothing had happened. We took the dinghy to town for an evening stroll.

Day 5: Up early, we did our position fix with high success and charted a course to a better anchorage. We sailed through the reefs and shoals on a downwind breeze to another site that Maryke chose from the cruising guide. We set the hook alongside the fleet of sailboats at L’ Anse l’ane. It was an overcast afternoon and Fritz and Maryke were eager to get the exam behind them. In the evening we took the dinghy to the beach with waterfront bars and restaurants to relax and celebrate the successful scores on their exams.

Day 6: Once again, Maryke did her research and found an anchorage in L’ Anse DuFour that has good snorkeling and wind protection on the western shore of Martinique. We dropped the hook close to the white sand beach. The water was perfectly clear in the twenty feet of depth. The cruise was coming to a close. Fritz and Maryke snorkeled from the boat to all edges of the snug anchorage while I made fresh water from the pristine ocean.

Day 7: Finishing up the 104 cruise, we set our course back to Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia. The wind was light and coming from where we wanted to go. We sailed close hulled and the wind became variable. It was an anticlimactic motor sail back to the marina. Hey, that’s sailing. We are grateful for the fantastic winds all week. We made it back to the marina in time to clear customs. The 104 was a great experience for all pushing the skills of students and instructors. Well spent from our sailing adventures, we went back to my house for cold beer, dinner, and a good night’s sleep.

 


 

See Fritz and Maryke’s Caribbean Review and Sailing Adventure here!

 

 

Meet the Author, Ron McBain

Sailing School Instructor

Ron lived aboard his boat home schooling his kids and sailing around the Caribbean for several years. Hugely experienced and mild mannered; he owns a 47′ cruising boat. Mostly Ron is simply a good teacher using a “coach like” style that produces good sailors!