Monsters on the Mana

The Mana River in French Guiana

The Mana River in French Guiana

It’s the rainy season, it’s hot, and I’m whiling away the hours of my free time fishing, swimming and playing tourist on the Mana River.

People often ask me if it is OK to swim in French Guiana. Nobody likes the look of the sediment filled water and it’s assumed the water quality is poor.

Well, it isn’t, and I have the study (Water Quality) to prove it… But….

…what of the creatures hidden in the murky depths?

I have it on good authority that despite what Hollywood would have us believe, the monster I caught on my fishing expedition the other day, isn’t the kind that eats swimmers…

I caught this one evening on the river Mana...

I caught this piranha one evening on the river Mana…

Yes, I share your doubts…

Bathing in the Mana has been taken off my list of things to do, more-so after locals explained to me that I should be more concerned about anacondas than piranhas!

The scale is in cm

The scale is in cm

Given what passes for a harmless common house fly in these parts, I’m in full agreement…In future,  I’ll stick to my occasional dips in the Maroni River where I’m more likely to come across a manatee than a monster.

Who owns the Maroni?

The islands on the Maroni River

The islands on the Maroni River

Marouini River – Thomas Donovan

A good question. One I finally found addressed in a fascinating paper by Thomas W. Donovan who states…

In perhaps the most desolate and under-populated area in the South America lies one of the most lingering boundary conflicts of modern nations.”

Could this pose difficulties for some poor sod planning a marina development in French Guiana? Especially when at first glance (i.e. a look at Google Maps), the entire river appears to belong to Suriname?

Well, Google’s Map sources apparently have a history of getting it all wrong. Sometimes with dire consequences…

For example, in November 2010:

All because of an error on a map!

All because of an error on a map!

Click here for the full article

Apparently Google has done it again with respect to the Maroni because in fact…

“ a treaty was finally concluded at Paris September 30, 1915 between the Dutch Minister De Steurs, and the French Foreign Minister Déclassé. The treaty was limited to the islands in the Maroni River between the northern point of Stoelman’s Island (Dutch) and the Southern extremity of Portal Island (French). It provided that

  1. a line in the middle of the river (at normal flow) should mark the boundary (thalweg);
  2. islands entirely or largely to the west of this line should be Dutch while those entirely or largely to the East of this line should be French;
  3. navigation on the river should be free to both nations;”

Which would make the current maps only about 100 years out of date….

Don’t sail south in April!

Why it's no fun sailing South in April...

Why it’s no fun sailing South in April…

I was told that April is the worse time of year to sail from Trinidad and Tobago to French Guiana. Now that I’ve done just that, I concur. Not that I had much choice. My visa for Trinidad and Tobago was about to expire and I was well overdue for another visit to Saint Laurent du Maroni to follow up on marina developments.

But, if you have the choice, take my advice and don’t do it.

Of course those who know me are well aware that I don’t readily take advice, least of all my own, so I can’t honestly expect many to follow this recommendation.

But I like being annoyingly pedantic, so I’ll repeat it anyway…

Don’t sail south in April!

April and May is when the mythical contrary current becomes not so mythical, and while I did everything I could to find an easy way around it (including the sailors equivalent of ritual voodoo), my improvised flirtations with the occult proved futile.


Let’s play dodge the oil rig…..

Perhaps the only way to escape the northerly flow this time of year is to is to hug the coast near the 5m depth contour. Much as I hate giving up easting, I’ll give it a try sometime, despite my healthy aversion to single handed sailing near the coast. When it’s bed time, I’ll thwart running aground by dropping anchor. It’s what the local fishermen do, and I have it on good authority, (Bernhard from Guyana), that the strategy works.

In a horrendously agitated sea I motor-sailed against the prevailing current for 12 days…

Daily runs were often less than 40 nautical miles and as evidenced by the censored comments in my ship’s log, it was not much fun.

Fortunately my little 10HP engine is in good running order and I’d stocked up on plenty of diesel in Tobago, because otherwise I’d probably still be at sea.

Guess what this fisherman is about to do!

Guess what this fisherman is about to do!

A warning to yachts approaching both Suriname and French Guiana. Do not trust the placement of navigational buoys! They are often dragged away from their position by fishermen who use them as anchors for their vessels and nets.

The official positioning of buoys marking the thoroughfare on the Maroni River is given here. It will be a considerably less exciting trip across the bar if you take note of the coordinates.

On my way in to Saint Laurent, I did try and prevent one of the above mentioned culprits from inadvertently displacing one of the remaining buoys. With smiles all round they politely waited for me to sail by before ignoring my advice.

Remind you of anyone?

Time is short…

The real reason we travel to the Caribbean

The real reason we travel to the Caribbean?

Not that I dare assume the slightest responsibility for this, but readers may be under the false impression that sailing a yacht through the Caribbean island chain, is just an elaborate way of going on an extended pub crawl, or an excuse for gate crashing parties in exotic locations… Heaven knows where they came up with such a notion…

It’s abundantly clear (my standard line for the folks back home) that the real reason I travel here is because:

  • I’m bettering myself through cultural immersion and by savoring the phenomenal natural diversity of the islands (almost wrote islanders), and that it’s an enlightening and deeply spiritual experience.

For some reason (I can’t imagine why…), few seem to credit these claims…

Free tastings at the Saint James distillery in Martinique

Free tastings at the Saint James distillery in Martinique

Why just the other day I was doing exhaustive research into the plight of spirits at the Saint James distillery.

How much more spiritual can you get?

You see… Being a man of quasi-constant leisure (I’ve been downgraded), isn’t just about admiring the pretty girls after all….

One can but admire such fine plumage!

One can but admire such fine plumage!

Though I’m occasionally willing to apportion a smallish fraction (say 80%) of my attention to this field in appreciation of the finer arts…

But sadly, I will have to postpone further studies. Time is running short, and I must see to the noble cause of furthering the yachting infrastructure in French Guiana (I’ll take a modest bow to your polite applause here)…

Can't go anywhere without stocking up on white goods!

Can’t go anywhere without stocking up on white goods!

So while my preparations, including provisioning are fortunately in no way as burdensome as some, it will not be long before I must weigh anchor once more and return Eileen of Avoca to the Amazon basin.

Now if only the weather would improve…

The bit I don’t understand…

Martinique, where men are men... or...

Martinique, where men are men?

For those of you who wonder why there are so many photos of women on my blog, I present Exhibit A (photo above)… Need you any additional explanation as to why I don’t often photograph the men?

A mini Miss beauty pageant?

A mini Miss beauty pageant winner blows the crowd a kiss…

The very young,

95 years young.

95 years young.

and the very old on the other hand, make excellent photo models. Both were found celebrating on the streets of Fort de France in the true spirit of carnival. A rarity however, as the predominant group (at least for this year), was the teenager. I have no idea where the mid twenties to mid thirties set were hiding… That remains a disappointing unsolved mystery!

Not that I have anything against teenagers out having a good time. It’s just that the generation gap occasionally feels like a chasm. For example:

It's not carnival.... It's Lolita ville here in Fort de France

Carnival teens.

Is it just me or do the girls look like they’re auditioning for the next production of Lolita?

Carnival mini thug

Give me your wallet or else…

And the boys…. What’s with the I want to look like a thug theme?

Hot pants with a use by date of this evening???

Hot pants with a use by date of this evening???

Frankly, I don’t get it…

Oh well, guess I’ll just get back to something I do understand…. Leopard hunting…


Bunnies, Mouseketeers and… and…

The bunnies are everywhere!

The bunnies are everywhere!

I’m back for another day of bunny watch… For some reason rabbit ears are all the rage at this years carnival.

Pa bunny and baby bunny out for a stroll.

Pa bunny and baby bunny out for a stroll.

But it does look better on some…. than on others….

The mouseketeers are alive and well.

The mouseketeers are alive and well.

If it’s not rabbit ears its mouse ears….

It will all be on facebook tomorrow.

It will all be on facebook tomorrow.

I photographed the lot..

Not that I wasn’t ready to participate in the festivities! I had quickly acquired my carnival essentials kit.

Carnival kit... Because sometimes less is more....

Carnival kit… Because sometimes less is more….

Energy drink, check…. Red nose, check…. odd voice whistle (makes you sound like you’ve been breathing helium), check….

Tailing carnival leopards... Dangerous work...

Tailing carnival leopards… Dangerous work…

I wasn’t just going to be a spectator at this party… Especially when I found myself on the tail of a young leopard or two…

So, did the great red nosed hunter catch his prey?

Now that I've caught myself a leopard, what next?

Now that I’ve caught myself a leopard, what next?

With the right camouflage it was even too easy….





A feast for the eyes!

I'm not sure that her smile can match mine!

I’m not sure that her smile can match mine!

Breaking the world kayak speed record, I paddled ashore to take a closer look at the festivities….

All the colours of the rainbow...

All the colours of the rainbow…

Rainbows to the right…

Suddenly I'm an enthusiastic lepidopterist.

Suddenly I’m an enthusiastic lepidopterist.

Butterflies to the left….

I'm tickled pink...

I’m tickled pink…

Feathers everywhere else…

Smile for the cameraman?

Smile for the cameraman?

All to the accompaniment of festive music…

I have no words.... I'll let the camera do the talking...

I have no words…. I’ll let the camera do the talking…

and wow… the dance…

That’s enough for today…. Understandably I’m suffering sensory overload and my camera battery needs a recharge…


A Caribbean Carnival

Time to party in Fort de France, Martinique

Time to party in Fort de France, Martinique

I made my dash for Martinique the moment forecasts promised winds of no more than 15kts… (because I’m the sailing equivalent of a wuss).

Ten miles from Fort de France I was busy cussing and vilifying all weathermen because, surprise surprise, I found myself confronting a consistent 40kt breeze in an increasingly agitated sea. At least I didn’t have to add to the buzz on the VHF radio, which had come to life with numerous warnings and distress calls…

No matter… I’ve arrived… wet and somewhat shaken, but as luck would have it, just in time for the big party!

Have I died and gone back to Brazil?

Have I died and gone back to Brazil?

For some reason I’m feeling a whole lot better…





Putting the students to work…

Little house on the Maroni...  Almost sounds like an old TV series

Little house on the Maroni… Almost sounds like an old TV series

Back in Saint Laurent du Maroni, it was time to finalize plans for the construction of the marina’s club house / bar restaurant…

Meeting with technical college directors, it was decided to put the task to the students in the form of a design competition. Several colleges will be involved and the winning design (judged by yours truly, the mayor’s department and town planner), will be the one that I build… Err… That they build….

Yes, not only will the technical college students design the marina, they will be put to work building it!

My part will be the construction of the jetty upon which everything else will stand.

Perusing the visitors book in the tourist office opposite Saint Laurent's anchorage

Perusing the visitors book in the tourist office opposite Saint Laurent’s anchorage

But all this will take time, and can only be undertaken during a scholastic year. So in the interim I’m concentrating on the first rally. No point having all this infrastructure if there are no  real sailors to make use of it…

The fish at hte entrance to the Maroni River literally jump into your boat...

The fish at the entrance to the Maroni River literally jump into your boat…

So I spend my free time fishing…

The Saint Laurent du Maroni sailing club is back in action!

The Saint Laurent du Maroni sailing club is back in action!

while watching the next generation of sailors hone their skills….

Next stop, Trinidad and Tobago for more boat maintenance and rally preparation.




More sailing?

Would you rather be at work?

What is the perfect remedy for board meeting induced blues?
A short sail to a deserted island where you get to do nothing much all day  every day, of course….

Eileen of Avoca has passengers!

What’s new?

Well, this time I decided to do it in company. I’m beginning to think that too many solo passages can’t be very healthy, besides, the view is considerably more interesting this way…
Those of you with a keen eye will note that I’ve been here before (ahem… the first photo… not the second..).
Where is here?
The Salvation islands, or Îles du Salut (for the French speakers), off Kourou!
In my boat it’s a 35 hour motor sail from Saint Laurent and while there is a bit of a current to contend with, by sticking to the 8m contour it can be reduced to less than half a knot. At the 20 to 30m mark it’s a whopping 2kts!! Great for the return journey, which I managed in just 24hrs.

I hate to disappoint those of you wondering if I’d finally landed myself the catch of the day (you really should be moving on to the next photo), but the truth is… no…. I didn’t…

My man “Friday” gets the girl….

While trying to play a rustic Robinson Crusoe, I confess to having fallen out of  character… The latent Captain Bligh personality keeps resurfacing, no matter how hard I try to suppress it… Drat!
As you can see, Friday paddled off with the girl…

Club Med gold medalist “yours truly” couldn’t catch up…

and no matter how hard I swam, I just couldn’t catch them… 😉

A silhouette was the best I could catch… on camera…

I was left to content myself with watching silhouettes of the natives from afar…

Do you really want to see yet another sunset photo?

Or taking yet more photos of sunsets at sea…

Mind you, there are worse ways to wile away a week or so…