A new marina in French Guiana?


Meanwhile, back in Saint Laurent du Maroni, the proposed new marina development was under threat of abandonment.

Lamentably, France is world renown for its administrative red tape, and slowly but surely, project: Marina – Saint Laurent du Maroni, was drowning in it.

While the concept had been largely approved, a seemingly endless number of prerequisites and imposed conditions had everyone involved questioning the project’s feasibility. Obtaining the necessary authorizations was looking more and more like a quest for the impossible.

While some concerns are clearly warranted (the site is in a protected zone of historical importance), there are limits…

I had reached mine and was almost at the point of calling it a day. Perhaps my efforts would yield better results and find a more receptive audience in Guyana…

Reluctant to abandon a years work, and in a last ditch attempt to breathe new life into the project, I lobbied the mayor’s office for a definitive answer on whether the undertaking should go ahead or be shelved.

To my pleasant surprise (see, there are advantages to being a born cynic, you get to be pleasantly surprised on a regular basis), the response was both swift and positive…

In a meeting of key stakeholders, convened by the mayor, representatives from the many departments with a significant interest in the matter, gathered to discuss the councils commitment to the plan. While many administrative hurdles still remain, I’m happy to report that those currently blocking progress have been effectively sidelined.

Good news for the project, and equally good news in my opinion for Saint Laurent du Maroni.

The show evidently must go on…

Pleasure before travel…

s/v Sandpiper visits Saint Laurent du Maroni

Would you look at that! A UK registered vessel here in Saint Laurent du Maroni, and all because they read about it here.

What did they have to say about their stay?

  1. Click here:
  2. here:
  3. here:
  4. not to mention here:
  5. here:
  6. did I mention here:
  7. and here:

to find out.

While all set to sail to Domburg in Suriname, I’m certainly not going to miss out on Saint Laurent’s “Fête patronale”…

Why are my internal organs vibrating so?

While the idyllic anchorage becomes relatively noisy during the 5 days of festivities I’m not one to complain.

What harm can a little music do?

Buy your hair here! All shades all textures!

So let your hair down and join in on the fun…

Move over…. I’m driving!

Lots of activities for the children,

Welcome welcome… to the greatest show on the Maroni….

in fact, everyone is welcome.

A little more light over here please!

As you can see, the stage is set….

Testing 123 testing testing…..

Sound systems are go….

I’ve been assimilated by the borg… resistance is futile….

The cameras are rolling…

Ground control to Major Tom….

And all brought to you “live” from the Amazon!!!

Who will be Miss Saint Laurent 2012???

Election 2012 of Miss Saint Laurent du Maroni…

You dare wonder why I have not yet left for Suriname?

 

 

Eileen of Avoca is back in French Guiana

Maroni River at sunset… but no Eileen!

The motor sail to French Guiana from Guyana was a breeze… not even worth writing about… so that’s my excuse, and I wont…

It’s when I arrived that some real excitement started. As I’ve stated before, excitement for a sailor is a always a bad thing. Dull is infinitely safer, despite offering poor copy. 🙂

Motoring along the Maroni River I somehow managed to do my back in…don’t ask, I haven’t a clue how, but those who have experienced an attack of sciatica know the subsequent effects, ouch!

Needless to say that deploying my anchors in the usual spot was an immense chore. So much so, that I opted to use rope rather than chain on my trusty CQR and Danforth. Not the safest option, but a case of following the path of least resistance (or pain).

After several days of being confined to my bunk, I made tentative sorties for provisions and it was during one of these rare ventures that I had the fright of my life.

Just after dusk I made my way back to the anchorage by the tourist office only to find that Eileen of Avoca was missing!!!

How would you feel left standing there with just the clothes on your back (and a plastic kayak)?

Why didn’t the anchors hold?

Was it stolen?

Would I find it at all, and if I do will it be stripped of everything of value?

Queue the French Gendarmerie!

I immediately reported the disappearance to the authorities and luckily a river patrol was in the area. They took my details over the phone and began their search without hesitation.

Impressive, especially so when you consider that within an hour Eileen was duly spotted and intercepted.

With the equipment (including night vision) afforded the Gendarmes, I’m not surprised they made short work of tracking down Eileen. I was however pleasantly surprised by the high level of service afforded me. Taking me aboard their vessel to personally collect Eileen was an unexpected boon.

The subsequent trip at 30 knots or so in pitch dark did little to relieve my anxiety, but I needn’t have been so worried. Within minutes Eileen was under the Gendarms spotlight, her wayward attempt to make a leisurely tour of Suriname without her captain over. It’s true that I’d been recently making plans to visit Paramaribo, but I’d intended to be aboard when we cast off. I’ll have to have words with her! But none that are too harsh, especially after discovering that the anchors had been shocked loose after an impact… I still don’t know who or what hit Eileen but I have some minor repairs to do on her rubbing strake and toe-rail.

My wholehearted thanks go to the Gendarms at Saint Laurent du Maroni! They do a tough job, what with half the illegal miners in the jungle shooting at them, a somewhat porous border to police, and now, even the occasional stray yacht to recover!

That evening, two anchors redeployed with all the chain I carry, (despite the lingering ache in my back), I raised a glass to their health…

 

How to get to Saint Laurent du Maroni

Heading North from Fortaleza, Brazil

Already on your way to Saint Laurent du Maroni?

From Brazil it’s a leisurely sail with favorable winds. It took me 10 days to reach the Salvation Islands (Iles du Salut) following the rhumb line and while it would have been nice to visit São Luís (Saint Louis) and Belem on route, my tourist visa had already expired. They will have to wait for Eileen of Avoca’s…. Brazil take two adventure…

Reaching Saint Laurent du Maroni from Trinidad and Tobago

Heading South from Trinidad and Tobago isn’t as hard as it’s been made out to be. Yes, you may have days where the wind is on the nose and yes, there are places where you will battle a ferocious half knot of current, but if my boat can get there, so can yours…

The best departure point is Store Bay in Tobago. Head past Toco Trinidad, and take a direct bearing from there. The only obstacles you will encounter are Trinidad’s oil platforms to the southeast of the island.

Friends who have experimented with a more coastal route, following the 20m depth contour along Guyana and Suriname, have found that the winds and current are more favorable. Go for it by all means if you have crew. It takes about the same amount of time but you will avoid some motoring.

Here is the official list of buoys marking the entrance and route to Saint Laurent on the Maroni River.

Position of buoys on the Maroni River

NOTE: M14 may have been moved… I’ll check the position shortly.

Last but not least, tide data can be found here and here.

I expect to have a number of supervised moorings available for sailors wishing to leave their boat during the hurricane season. For inquiries contact www.marinaslm.com

For flights in and out of French Guiana, you have the choice of Paramaribo and Cayenne as departure points. They are about the same distance in terms of travel time from Saint Laurent.

 

 

It’s carnival… French Guiana style!

Is this carnival... Brazilian style?

French Guiana has the worlds longest carnival… It can run for months….. As you can imagine, I’ve been busy…. but only on weekends!

The rest of the time I get to play castaway…

Sleepy Saint Laurant du Maroni

For those of you who can’t come join the party, here are a few photos to add a little colour to your day…

Carnival queen 2012

Looking rather leafy, it’s the carnival queen for 2012 leading the parade of… of…

It's Pirates of the Caribbean... not...

Pirates?

Closely followed by….

Dancing incognito?

The masked… the masked… OK, your guess is as good as mine…

You got something to say about my hair?

Apparently anything goes as long as it’s colourful…

Let me guess... Is it shrek?

Green is good…

It's Eliza Doolittle in French Guiana!

and so is pink…

Feeling blue?

But I’ve always thought I look better in blue…

So I’m off to the laundromat to take my mind off all this partying…

Now things are really heating up...

Friends think that this is more my pace…

More my pace? I hope not...

I beg to differ…

While I’ll never be able to compete with this fellow…  despite occasionally being labeled something of a  “space cadet”,

Welcome all Space Cadets!

I pride myself as being more the pensive type…

While everyone was at the parade, someone stole my hat!

But back to the parade… where young…

Young Amerindian on parade

and younger…

Children taking part in carnival parade

Make their way through the enthusiastic crowd of bystanders…

It's great to bee here...

Enthusiastic that is… until the weather puts a damper on things…

Don't rain on my parade!

Surprise surprise… a little rain but the party continues….

Bring forth the backhoe…

Even the backhoe gets a makeover for carnival

I mean the dragon…

Follow the music...

and the… the whatever it’s supposed to be…

one short cat nap later….

So that's what they carry in their handbags!!

and it’s off to my favorite bar for a nightcap…

Service with a smile at Mambari

Times are obviously tough… 🙂

 

 

 

Getting the ball rolling…

No marina... yet....

There are currently just four yachts other than Eileen of Avoca anchored off Saint Laurent du Maroni. Two aren’t all that seaworthy and the owners of the remainder have apparently settled in for the long haul (they’ve been living aboard in the same spot for years)!

So with new services (marina phase I) in the works, I guess it’s time to do something about attracting the active cruising community. Not so easy when you consider that there’s hardly a mention of Saint Laurent du Maroni in the sailing literature or even on the Internet for that matter.

Mind you, noonsite has recently updated its listing and Sail The World  (the Standard & Poor’s of the French sailing community) may be forced to upgrade its marina rating (currently CCB) once the word gets out!

Gendarmerie on river patrol

The security rating is particularly harsh given that the Gendarmerie regularly patrol the area ( I can report that there have been no thefts in the time I have been here), and I certainly don’t see how a free anchorage could have attracted a C rating… 😉

For your web browsing pleasure, I’ve collated some web links to fill the information void:

First up, the official web site for Saint Laurent du Maroni:

Run through the translator it even starts to make sense:

More importantly (for sailors of course), what’s the weather like today?

And how’s the provisioning (for like-minded souls who also regularly think with their stomach)?

For the virtual tourist voyeurs, here are some photos of the place that I didn’t take:

And for the budding botanist, a video of the local flora. 😉

Well, I guess it’s a start… More soon, of course…

 

 

A little more information on Saint Laurent du Maroni

The secluded anchorage of Saint Laurent du Maroni

As I am now involved in this ambitious project to promote and develop Saint Laurent du Maroni as a commodious stopover for visiting yachtsmen, I might as well pass on the following supplementary information….

Despite what noonsite states, Saint Laurent is in fact situated on the Maroni river rather than the Moroni…., though I must say that the later does have a certain humorous dyslectic ring to it.

Oh, and it really doesn’t rain here 9 months of the year…. It’s more like 7… lol. OK, so I’m nit picking, but some of you might find the following useful given that the only data currently available for yachtsmen on Saint Laurent is…

Quote (without spelling errors): “This is French Guiana’s biggest and busiest river, and is is on the border with Suriname. There is reported to be a marina 20 miles up the river, at St Laurent.

If this can reach Saint Laurent, so can you...

 Climate:

  • The big dry, from August to November
  • The small rainy season, from December to February
  • The small summer, from February to March
  • The true rainy season, from April to July

Paperwork:

Saint Laurent du Maroni is an official point of entry.

Visit the PAF (police aux frontières ) at the car ferry to have your passport stamped (entry and exit). Not obligatory for European citizens, but prevents issues when your next stop is Suriname.

Customs (la douane) is in the administrative center.

See image for directions (X marks anchorage, yellow highlights for offices mentioned above).

X marks the anchorage

 Docking:

Saint Laurent is approximately 15 miles from the mouth of the Maroni River. A buoyed channel for cargo vessels marks the route (3m minimum depth at high tide). If in doubt (buoys are widely spaced), keep as close as possible to the French side of the river.

Beware of fishing nets when approaching the Maroni river’s safe water mark. While night entry is possible, it is not recommended as buoys closer to Saint Laurent are not lit.

Yachts anchor on the upriver side of a semi-submerged (tree covered) wreck in 4 to 6m. Holding in mud and sand is good.

 Local services:

  • The anchorage is within walking distance to all amenities and the city center.
  • The tourist office is situated beside the anchorage.
  • A public swimming pool is located at the opposite end of the park from the tourist office.
  • Water by Jerry can from the old prison yard (turn left upon entering the main gate. Fuel at local service stations.
  • Several Internet hot-spots,and cybercafes in town.
  • Good provisioning.

Proposed Marina:

Development is currently underway for a marina, providing finger pontoons, mooring buoys, secure dingy dock, club house, and Wi-Fi.

 

Mixing business with pleasure

Eileen at anchor, Saint Laurent du Maroni

After a week at sea, the little blue boat is back in French Guiana…. Saint Laurent du Maroni to be precise. Why?

Is it because the leopards here are considerably more desirable than zebra?

Perhaps… I’ll certainly endeavor to devote some of my time and energy to properly reflect upon the pros and cons of each regions disparate fauna. 😉

But there is another underlying reason for my abrupt shift in sailing itinerary…

Model of proposed marina

Had my stay in Chaguaramas been pleasant, had it adequately accommodated my yacht maintenance requirements and had it more or less met my expectations, I would now be on my way to Martinique and beyond.

Instead, my disenchantment with the yachting services and facilities in Trinidad and Tobago have prompted me to seek out alternatives….

Model of boat yard

Unfortunately, there are very few, and evidently the yards at Chaguaramas are well aware of this, (having adjusted their pricing and work ethic accordingly).

This particular sailor wasn’t happy. Nor were many others I’d met along the way. So, with a little help from my friends, some of us decided to do something about it.

The idea of a marina and yacht maintenance complex in Saint Laurent du Maroni was born. Plans were drawn up, a proposal submitted to council and upon acceptance, I sailed back to French Guiana to make it all happen.

View of proposed yacht service complex

Does this spell the end for the adventures of Eileen of Avoca?

Not likely, if anything, it is a new impetus, the stimulus required to ensure Eileen’s adventures continue. My Yarmouth23 has simply found a temporary home in the jungles of French Guiana, and if all goes well, Saint Laurent will soon offer everything a sailor needs.

Undoubtedly I will derive considerable satisfaction in developing a new viable alternative to Chaguaramas.

Feel free to come and visit!

The ultimate stopover for sailors in French Guiana!

Ahoy there! Arrrr

Ahoy there fellow and would be adventurers!

I might have a tale or two to tell about Saint Laurent if you can spare me a moment or two…

Not so deep in the amazon jungle… err in fact not that close either… lies a small town forgotten by all..(except those seeking French welfare payments)… It’s “the place”, the ultimate stopover for hardy sailors seeking refuge from the torturous (flat) seas and tempests (10kts today) of South Americas Northeastern coast! Paradoxically, it’s the penal colony of Saint Laurent on the Maroni river in La Guyane.

No prisoners left these days, but curiously enough the place doesn’t even warrant a mention in any of my guide books.

Despite this, St. Laurent boasts:

  • the safest, most sheltered anchorage in French Guiana;
  • wild leopards!
  • easy access at high tide along a buoyed, lit channel;
  • wild leapoards!
  • great provisioning at Super U (and free WiFi);
  • wild leopards!
  • and plenty to see and do (more on wild leopards later).

I’d expected the town to be packed with tourists of all nationalities, but for some unknown reason St Laurent sees only a trickle of French visitors. Why the secrecy?

Hidden wonders!

For yachtsmen it is well positioned, (the Maroni defines the border between Suriname and La Guyane) so one can visit both countries from the one anchorage. However, from what I’ve seen of Suriname, I’d strongly suggest sticking to the French side of the river!

Here is what I’ve been up to over the past 3 weeks:

Spot Eileen!

I’ve hung out at the anchorage for yachtsmen, where I’ve made new friends…. Beware of the ferocious guard dog on their catamaran! I’m the almost invisible yacht in the photo…The pontoon is currently under repair but should be fixed by the time you read this… (in hardback at a bookstore near you…)

Buildings in the administrative quarter, Saint Laurent, French Guiana

The first thing I do when I arrive at a new destination is to take a few photos of buildings. It gets me in touch with the place and makes me feel suitably touristy (I’m just a touchy feely sort of guy) . No buildings in particular mind you…though a church often makes the cut (for karma points?)

For some reason, they wouldn't let me in....

Then it’s a matter of photographing whatever happens to take my fancy (architecturally) on the day:

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more

Focusing on some of the more extreme examples that draw the eye.. or nose… (no not many live like this nowadays!).

A country cottage in French Guiana?

It would appear that the French government is happily handing out nice new commission houses for all takers… I was tempted to take three! But join the queue, there is a rush on them from clients on the other side of the river…

Nevertheless, St. Laurent isn’t just about burgeoning housing estates! Transport and communication have obviously had significant growth over the last few years…

Ground control to Major Tom.....

Can your television dish grow any bigger that this?

Runs like a dream... honest...

Perhaps a little more manure is needed here for adequate growth…

But I’m sure none of this superficial sophomoric photography is what truly interests readers… What if I venture to tell you of the more sinister aspects of St. Laurent?

Just take a look at this!!!!

Insidious hair extensions... what next?

OK, it looks like a local girl with a pretty smile. But what you may have failed to notice is the platted creature attached to her head! Fake hair extensions!!! Indeed, just the tip of the hirsute iceberg, as I was to discover during my three week investigation.

Upon closer inspection, a good 60% of the female population has succumbed to the diminutive form (i.e. the extension) or full grown variety (the complete wig or peruke). Twilight Zone music queued here….

I’m told they are all the rage in parts of Africa, but I’d never seen them…. ’till now that is… and I’m strangely fascinated…

Double trouble.... New found friends from Martinique

No, these girls are not wearing wigs… I checked… There are secret ways….

It’s Regina and Anne, from Martinique stepping out of cell number 47.

So?

Papillon

Ever read the Henri Charrière book Papillon?

Apparently he was holed up here while waiting transport to the Salvation Islands off Kourou where political troublemakers were kept.

Now that could be a wig…

What to do to kill time in the Amazon....

It’s Pamela Anderson on the Maroni river… Or perhaps it’s Pamela superimposed on a photo of the Maroni river. It was proudly displayed to me by an Amerindian in the jungle and has pride of place in his hut next to the chain saw…

Yes, in the few hours of leisure time afforded by my hectic schedule, I managed to wander about in the amazon jungle seeking calendar girls and wildlife…. and here is proof..

I can't figure out why I'm wearing shades...

Not that I managed to see much wildlife. In fact there was more on display in town.

I have a lizard this big...... lol

Oh, and did I mention the wild night leopards of Saint Laurent?

Too dangerous to approach for a close up...

Apparently they come in all sizes (both with and without wigs…)

To be expected when I hang around rather dubiously named establishments such as this:

Just hanging out at a "titi" bar....

Don’t worry… I didn’t spend all my time there…

The three wise men...

We three wise men (see photo) have considerably more cultural pursuits in mind with regards to entertainment…

Apparently this means "courting women"...

Like admiring the local tribal art…

View of the Maroni River

Enjoying nature

Local dragster... or smugglers delight...

Checking out what passes as a hot-rod streetcar in these parts…

Listening to a little Bach before tea...

And other high brow cultural pursuits… 😉

No mosquito is going to feast on me!

Not taking my anti-malaria medication (Malerone), because thankfully there aren’t too many mosquitoes, has probably been my most daring accomplishment do date!

Thrilling, isn’t it?

Go get them Buffy....

Though I was kind of tempted to wait for this bus on a dare,

Thierry taking his lunch break

In a borrowed canoe we explored some of the Maroni’s tributaries…

The treasure hunters of Saint Laurent

hunting for lost treasures…

Unearthing the lost treasures of Maroni

I found a spoon!

It could have at least been a silver spoon 🙁

Sneaking across the border...

Sneaking across the border to buy 10 liters of dingy fuel at half price was also rather adventurous…

The photo that almost cost me my life... lol

I could have done without almost getting myself mugged (by the fellow in the black and white striped shirt) for taking the above photo. Apparently smugglers are camera shy.

Public transport Saint Laurent de Maroni style

Lucky for me it isn’t very difficult to play the stupid tourist that doesn’t understand what all the aggravated fuss is about…. Frankly, it isn’t worth the bother crossing to Suriname and the Gendarme have enough to worry about as it is without having to look for lost visitors.

Gendarme on patrol

So, most of my time has been spent keeping out of trouble and watching what the locals do to pass the time.

Endless entertainment with a wheelbarrow...

I’m not that fascinated by wheelbarrows (though I did borrow one to see if I could extract a fraction of the enjoyment this girl managed with hers… I failed…)

Your bird goes with you everywhere...

Nor did I find lugging a bird cage around with me everywhere (in order to train its contents to win singing contests) my thing… but then again I’m always difficult to please…

The restaurant I didn't get invited to...

But always keen to eat at a good restaurant.

Hanging out with the gang.... It's Champagne and foie gras

Unfortunately nobody invited me to eat in this one (violin music starts here), so I’ve resorted to plan B. Good food and company to be found on Thierry’s boat Ti’nga. Even if his boat has cockroaches!

Next stop is Tobago…

I’m so keen… I’m already on my way…

Who needs a boat when you can do this!

Kourou has everything you need!

It's a good sign!

First impressions? Encouraging.

For yachtsmen on route to the Caribbean from Brazil, Kourou provides a welcome oasis of European living in a convenient if rather unexpected location, (i.e.the Amazon). As I am a man of simple tastes, (I’m told it compliments my simple mind), European living means access to delicacies (of the culinary kind), I’ve craved since setting sail from the Canary Islands.

So, I think with my stomach…. what’s wrong with that?

Not that I’ve disliked the staple Brazilian diet of black beans with lumps of suspicious looking meat served on a bed of overcooked rice. It’s just that I do so enjoy a varied diet.

Splish splash.. he was having a bath.....

All this is possible in La Guyane, thanks largely to its primary industry….

Which contrary to what you see, isn’t in fact, children!

Missed the launch... but I did make it to the car park!

Though they seem to be very handy here at making those… Perhaps it comes a close second, given that French Guiana has the largest population growth in France. It certainly is not uncommon for the locals to have half a dozen children, or more…

No, the big industry here isn’t babies, it happens to be satellites, sent to orbit via the Ariane spaceport.

Fisherman's jetty, Kourou

Not that much of this high tech is visible to the visiting yachtsman. Quite the opposite if the fisherman’s jetty is anything to go by….

A look at the past...

or you happen to find yourself wandering in some of the older parts of town.

Anyone for granita?

Speaking of old, who can remember the last time they saw an authentic “snowball” or “granita” vendor? I thought they were extinct.

Visiting Kourou is just like time travel….

Trendy new housing in Kourou

Look a little more closely however and you realize “La Guyane” is really just like any other part of France. The modern suburban real estate may look a little odd,

Where do you think you are going?

and what passes for house pets might also surprise,

Room for one more on the scooter?

but the life-style is certainly very European (minus the miserable northern winters).

Bikinis beyond Brazil....

I felt much healthier emotionally (ahh, no more PBBS), once I spent a day or two at the beach…

The best place for sailors in Kourou to hang out....

and my regular doses of fabulous ice cream (plus a “planteur” or two) from this establishment did wonders for raising my previously somber spirits. Can you imagine why?

Going nowhere....

Well, I can now understand why some sailors have taken drastic measures in order to stay….

Taking root in Kourou

Though some crews might have exaggerated a little.

Late night action to be had at Beaubourg

While Kourou isn’t quite party central (that was Brazil),

Head south (to N41) for authentic Saramacca furniture

if you are looking for a place to unwind, Kourou, with its unusual mix of low…

Hmmmmm

and high tech…

is definitely worth an extended visit.