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…

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…

 

You don’t impress me because I’ve been to Tobago too…

The absurd Trinidad & Tobago pirogue

Five days sailing north and I’m back in the Caribbean! Tobago to be precise… Since I’ve already written enough about Tobago….

 

This space is intentionally left blank…

OK, I’ll add just one anecdote:

When you are in Trinidad and Tobago you will definitely come across one of these “pirogues” (local fishing and / or leisure boats, and yes, I know they look more like a traditional rowboat than a native canoe but they’re still called a pirogue)…

Pirogue, French Guiana style

If you want to see a real pirogue (some boast 40HP outboard engines), come to French Guiana. (Not so subtle plug for a certain marina development). 😉

In fact, having talked to some elderly people who remember the days before outboard engines… (OK perhaps an old seagull engine or two were to be found)… they were just that….. rowboats.

With a high prow and heavy keel, is it not obvious the design wasn’t meant for towing water skiers? I’m sure they’re quite nimble under oar or sail, easily reaching 5 knots or so, but try telling that that’s the optimal speed to one of these locals! 🙂

Somewhere along the line, an entrepreneurial individual decided to take a mould off an old wooden “pirogue” and produce this craft on mass in fiberglass. Way to go…. except that that’s also when they then started fitting them with 60 plus horsepower outboards!

You’ve probably got to do a lot more travel than I have to see a more absurd vessel than this… Under power, the rear end digs in so far and the bow lifts to the point that the driver hasn’t a clue where he’s going… Worse still, at speed the whole thing starts oscillating, so that even on smooth water its an incredibly rough ride.

It’d be a laughing matter if they didn’t kill or injure so many people with these boats. Though I’ll admit that whether it’s humorous or not can depend of who gets injured… and whether I get to do the driving… 😉

 

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…

 

 

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!

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.

10 days at sea

Iles de Salut, French Guiana

It’s one thousand sea miles to the Iles du Salut (which includes the infamous Devil’s Island) in French Guiana! Time to sail the distance I’ve postponed by taking my Brazilian shortcut across the Atlantic.

No big deal. It’s a comfortable sail (with both favourable current and winds), provided I stay in deeper water (100 nautical miles out from the Amazon). At this distance, I’m not likely to hit any stray tree trunks or other Amazon jungle debris, I need only worry about the occasional squall or cargo vessel.

As it turned out, I had good cause to worry about both, especially when a mighty squall hit on the 7th day out from Fortaleza.

Rolling under stay sail alone

Let me share the details with you….

I’d had to weather a couple of uncomfortable days (with gusts to Force 7) on days 2 and 3, but was generally pleased with the progress I’d made since leaving Brazil. Especially when you consider that I’d logged 120 nautical mile daily runs (a new record for Eileen)! This was sufficient motivation to tolerate any discomfort and while the distances travelled were considerable (for a small boat under stay-sail alone), in future, I’ll think twice before running before the wind without my mainsail. Why? Because incessant rolling is liable to turn the stomach of even the hardiest of sailors, and I’m hardly hardy!

What followed were 3 days of gentle breeze so I opted to burn some fossil fuel and maintain my 100 nautical mile average to day 5. Eileen can easily manage 100NM in a 24hr period when motor sailing. Even if the winds are under 10kts. And since she consumes just over half a liter of diesel an hour (with her new 10HP Beta engine), I rarely feel compelled to wallow about for days on end in the tropical heat for the sake of conserving fuel.

That night more gale force winds arrived. Well, I assume they were gale force, but I did little to verify this empirically. Too busy concentrating on feeling sorry for myself (a touch of sea sickness coupled with a migraine headache can have that effect). Plus, I’m not to fond of braving downpours to measure wind speed with my portable ammeter, (though I did note a consistent 8 knots on my GPS).

Fancy that! No sails and Eileen of Avoca is making way at top speed with comfort and ease. No more rolling either! I’d have confidently gone to bed if a Chinese freighter hadn’t chosen this particular moment to play chicken with me.

Guess I’ll give them a call over the VHF radio…

“Motor vessel Sunny X (X to thwart potential defamatory action)…. you are within 3 nautical miles of my current position and closing. Are you currently tracking me by radar?”

I know they aren’t because my radar detector is uncharacteristically silent….

Yesh, I shee you…. your SSI number ish…..”

“No, that’s not me. I don’t have a transponder so you will not see me with your A.I.S. The ship you are referring to is 6 miles to port. I am a small sailing vessel currently 2 miles ahead of you…”

At last my radar detector starts to sound. At least they are now really trying to look for me…

I don’t shee you…Two miles? You shtay away from my ship….shtay clear….. you hear?”

“I’m trying… please maintain your course as I’ll adjust mine so that we pass port to port.”

rOK I adjust my course 10 degrees to port….”

“Not that way!!!! You’ll run me down!!!”

At this point I started Eileen’s engine and leapt (or rather crept) to the tiller. A close call. In appalling visibility (due to the worsening downpour), the cargo vessel passed within three cables! Much too close!

Lesson learnt…. Dodge before talking….

Evidently English isn’t as widely or well spoken on commercial vessels as I’d thought, so contacting a vessel via VHF might at best turn out to be counterproductive as it was in this case… or at worst…. well…. I’d rather not think about that….

But why didn’t they seem me on radar?

That mystery was only solved upon arrival in French Guiana. My over sized reflector had apparently “Gone with the Wind”…

A friend from the Amazon

Fortunately, the remainder of the voyage was pleasant enough. I picked up a hitchhiker…

I-pod? Nah… I listen to d-pod….

Listened to my d-pod all day (that would be a dolphin pod) as they whistled, clicked and whirled about playfully….

Worms with your dorado?

Caught my biggest catch of the day yet…. But didn’t get to eat any as it was full of parasitic worms… Yuck!

To finally find tropical paradise….

Catching up with old friends!

With two of my South African buddies (from the old Fortaleza gang) minding a spot for me at an idyllic anchorage (how had they known I was coming?). 😉

Tourists take the cat from Kourou

Time to join the day tourists and explore… but only after I make myself a little more presentable… After all, there are certain standards to uphold, and the “wild man from Borneo” look hasn’t been too well received of late…

The wild man from Borneo?

Yes… the beard and long haired hippie look will have to go. I’m in France now… how odd… never really realized that France extended to South America…

So it’s back to European prices, the Euro, and speaking French… I’m not complaining…

It’s also back to good wine, more than one sort of cheese and bread that doesn’t disintegrate when you touch it…

My taste buds are already celebrating in anticipation!

Vive la France!